In my last article I explored a key SS16 womenswear trend, the triangle silhouette. This time I’ll be looking at translucency, which featured in a number of shows in stripes, bands, ruffles and frills.
SS16 Trend: Translucency
There were translucent fabrics used in nearly all of the shows I scanned through (about 50 in total). Their application included banded maxi dresses at Burberry Prorsum, tightly-packed ruffles at Jason Wu, and gradient-hued at Gucci.
Translucent fabrics can be beautiful when used in particular shades and cuts – and a bit trashy when they’re not. While a translucent fabric can cover the body completely, it simultaneously reveals it. This balance of visibility/invisibility is a key factor of translucent fabrics of all opacities, from the transparent plastics of Parsons MFA to the almost opaque printed textiles of Chalayan.
Exploring the triangle
Historically, translucent fabrics evoke a host of images: tulle elements of 1950s ballgowns, clear plastic macs of the 60s and bodycon meshes of the 80s (or Strictly Come Dancing). Plus there’s all the wafting, ethereal images of 1920s and 30s women in elegant layers, swathed in delicate cotton – versus futuristic executions of Barbarella-meets-Courreges visors, skirts and jackets. Translucent garments across time have a strange hidden power: they feel ‘functionless’ because they’re barely there, yet can be waterproof, warm and protective.
Translucent fabrics cover and uncover; they veil and unveil. They’re sexually charged, because you can see everything and yet it’s fuzzy, hidden, mysterious. Some of the translucent fabric applications for SS16 reminded me of my friend Het’s brilliant Pinterest board, where she collects images of transparent materials used in clothing and accessories. Translucent fabrics are like blister packaging for the body: everything is on display but nothing can be obtained until you pop the cover off.
Practically, translucent fabrics based on natural fibres with a very fine weave or sportswear materials (like mesh) are useful in hot weather, as they allow the body to be covered and yet remain cool. They can also be layered in a visually interesting way and, depending on their construction, to help regulate temperature.
Changes in the global climate are already having an impact on fashion retail, disruption the traditional pattern of when new season garments go into store. However, it’s also getting designers to reconsider how they can conceive garments which work for a variety of weathers.
Translucent fabrics can be layered effectively, so for hot weather we can wear them with nothing underneath and equally, in cold weather, can layer them up and they still maintain their uniquely delicate and feminine quality. While they might not seem like all-weather garments, they are.
Plus, this mixing of textures and ‘registers’ of garments (a translucent chiffon evening blouse with an everyday t-shirt, for example) plays very well into the high-low dressing trend and general bricolage of modern consumers.
Like Snow White in her glass coffin, totally secure and yet at any moment surrounded by dangerous shards, I see the use of translucent materials as trying to capture some of those confusions around the current fragile/secure global mentality.
Our political and military security is tighter and more insidious than ever, yet our sense of fragility – that something could be broken – continues to grow as we absorb fragments of terrifying information from multiple sources.
Using translucent fabrics give designers an opportunity to protect and clothe the body but in a seemingly ‘weak’ way, exposing fragility (the skin and body itself) while still being securely covered.
Snow White’s glass coffin was designed for everyone to see her beauty, but be unable to get near to her. In a similar way translucent fabrics could be seen as a shield, protecting bodies from aggression but allowing their beauty to be gazed upon.
Translucent fabrics have been used for centuries as a sexually-charged component of women’s dressing, so there’s nothing new about using them for SS16 to denote eroticism.
However, it is in contrast to previous incarnations of sexual allure on the catwalk. It’s less retro than nu-New Look corsetry, less macho than 90s grrrls revisited, less traditional than Ralph Loren’s suiting or Diane Von Furstenburg’s wrap dresses.
Translucent fabrics are challenging as erotic signifiers, because they protect and expose – you can look but you can’t touch. I see this as connected to the way women want to be looked at (as part of the new movement in feminism) and trying to control that gaze more effectively.
And to mention it again, the emergence of strong Muslim women as a consumer group is important here. The veil and the covered body are seen by many as an integral part of Islamic teachings, and have naturally developed their own sexual charge (because whatever women wear, anywhere, there will be sexual charge associated with it).
Potentially the use of translucent fabrics is a way to explore new ways of thinking about eroticism: a more controlled gaze, a stronger acceptance of fragility, an acknowledgement of how what you can’t see is as sexually powerful as what you can.
In the last trend article, where I explored the base down triangle, I mentioned how this strong shape could be a response to new forms of feminism: stronger and more accepting of the disruptiveness in the movement and in women.
Similarly, the trend for translucent fabrics has a relationship with new movements in feminism. The application of translucent fabrics for SS16 included minimal touches in blocks or stripes, but also a range of ‘frou frou’, super-fussy applications. Translucent fabrics were packed into tight layers of ruffles, in flounces across the body, in double ruffles with raw edges, and in paperbag waistlines.
The fastidious application of typically ‘feminine’ details was often on garments with more ‘masculine’ colour palettes and shapes, as if the two genders were colliding. This could be another indicator of designers working out the desires of new feminist consumers: translucent fabrics allow for ‘feminine’ fragility and ‘masculine’ strength depending on their application.
There’s also a feeling designers are trying to reclaim frou-frou for women. Some trends which are symbols of girliness (for example, pigtails or frilly ankle socks) are rejected by an 18+ consumer because of their pre-adolescent connotations. But the idea of frou-frou – of flounces, frills, pastels, ribbons and fussy details – could work for those adult consumers when used in contrasting colour palettes and with stronger silhouettes. If the newest feminism is about accepting diversity, then part of that must be accepting you can enjoy ‘girly’ clothes and still be a complex and self-contained woman.
Feature image: Pucci, G. 2015. Untitled (Maison Margiela SS16 Ready to wear look 5 detail). Online. [Accessed 23 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/maison-martin-margiela/slideshow/details#5
Indigital. 2015. Untitled (Gucci SS16 Ready to wear look 6). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.businessoffashion.com/fashion-week/2016ss/gucci/collection/look/6
Indigital. 2015. Untitled (Gucci SS16 Ready to wear look 57). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.businessoffashion.com/fashion-week/2016ss/gucci/collection/look/57
Vlamos, Y. 2015. Untitled (Jason Wu SS16 Ready to wear look 31). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/jason-wu/slideshow/collection#31
Vlamos, Y. 2015. Untitled (Jason Wu SS16 Ready to wear look 26). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/jason-wu/slideshow/collection#26
Pucci, G. 2015. Untitled (Damir Doma SS16 Ready to wear look 9). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/damir-doma/slideshow/collection#9
Pucci, G. 2015. Untitled (Aquilano.Rimondi SS16 Ready to wear look 24). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/aquilano-rimondi/slideshow/collection#24
Arnold, Weston K. 2015. Untitled (Gabriele Colangelo SS16 Ready to wear look 13). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/gabriele-colangelo/slideshow/collection#13
Feudi, M. 2015. Untitled (Givenchy SS16 Ready to wear look 75). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/givenchy/slideshow/collection#75
Feudi, M. 2015. Untitled (Givenchy SS16 Ready to wear look 44). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/givenchy/slideshow/collection#44
Tondo, M. 2015. Untitled (Burberry Prorsum SS16 Ready to wear look 27). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/burberry-prorsum/slideshow/collection#27
Indigital. 2015. Untitled (Ashish SS16 Ready to wear look 15). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/ashish/slideshow/collection#15
Vlamos, Y. 2015. Untitled (Dries Van Noten SS16 Ready to wear look 57). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/dries-van-noten/slideshow/collection#57
Ninomiya, Noir K. 2015. Untitled (Noir Kei Ninomiya SS16 Ready to wear look 3). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/noir-kei-ninomiya/slideshow/collection#3
Tondo, M. 2015. Untitled (Parsons MFA SS16 Ready to wear look 26). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/parsons-mfa/slideshow/collection#26
Tondo, M. 2015. Untitled (Parsons MFA SS16 Ready to wear look 16). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/parsons-mfa/slideshow/collection#16
Tondo, M. 2015. Untitled (Alexander McQueen SS16 Ready to wear look 11). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen/slideshow/collection#11
Yannis, V. 2015. Untitled (Chalayan SS16 Ready to wear look 25). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/chalayan/slideshow/collection#25
Yannis, V. 2015. Untitled (Vionnet SS16 Ready to wear look 10). Online. [Accessed 19 November 2015]. Available from: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2016-ready-to-wear/vionnet/slideshow/collection#10