Farewell, cosy layers – it’s the return of sexy dressing | Jess Cartner-Morley

Party dresses and hemlines are short, and skin is on show everywhere – what better way to signal that nights out are back?

Are pandemics always as puritanical as this one? What with it being our first rodeo, as it were, I have nothing to compare it to, but I definitely expected the apocalypse to be a bit more racy. I thought it would be more, you know, all down the speakeasy with a pet monkey apiece. Fewer jigsaws and houseplants.

If you weren’t actually ill, the bad times were strangely wholesome. Everyone got excited about this crazy new sport called “walking”. The real daredevils got into wild swimming. There was a lot of talk about how much people were looking forward to hugging their grandparents and not so much about missing dancefloors. It was all very sanitary and platonic. At home, instead of lounging in silk robes, we swaddled ourselves in full-coverage cotton jersey like convalescents.

Under our masks and in the necessarily antiseptic choreography of social distancing – the exaggerated standing aside while holding a door, the scooting away as far as possible if a fellow traveller should perch the other end of a bench – we forgot how to smile at people, let alone how to wink. The acceptable tone of public conversation became very sexless.


But now that the afterparty is in sight (clutching wood as I type) the tables are turning. Sexed-up dressing is back. The first post-pandemic fashion trend is the barely-there party dress. At Stella McCartney and Off- White, hemlines are shorter than they have been for years; there are corsets at Burberry and Balenciaga. The new Chanel suits have skirts briefer than their jackets. This season is not about cashmere or sequins, but skin. Collarbones, not prairie collars. This autumn’s catwalks channel Halston’s slithery Studio 54 goddess gowns rather than Little Women frocks. Loose satin “evening pyjamas” are shaded by Hervé Léger’s iconic 1990s bandage dresses. Knitwear is slinky, not oversized.

Sometimes these clothes are a gloriously straightforward statement of lascivious intent, but this is about more than that. Sexy clothes are not just about sex, but all of its adjacencies: late nights, intoxication, novelty. It seems many of us have become jaded about that stuff. I found a photo on my phone the other day from December 2019. I’m drinking a martini in a hotel bar, so why am I dressed in a polo neck sweater and a long pleated skirt like a tragic mid-century widow? Almost two years later, when we’ve completed Netflix and read the entire internet, turning down a chance to wear a party frock looks like madness.


This time round, sexy clothes are for everybody. Bodycon dresses were once the prefect’s badge for a body-fascist fashion culture. But the past 18 months have fast-tracked the values of a younger generation who are much less inclined to be complicit in the destructive patriarchal nonsense that taught generations of women that they could only wear a short skirt if they “had the legs” for it, then condemned those who passed that test as “asking for it”. The insidious notion that a hemline above a certain height is a coded form of consent doesn’t wash with this lot. They are bringing sexy back, but without the body shaming, or the slut shaming. It’s a lot more fun.
Sexed-up dressing has a hemline (high) and a silhouette (tight) but it isn’t really a trend. It’s an attitude, and a statement of intent. It is a leap out of hibernation. It is the skin that smells of perfume, not sanitiser. It is what we can wear when we are no longer scared to have fun. I just hope the houseplants can look after themselves for a night.

Contributor

Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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