Just like with everything else that dares break the rules of conservatism and that is easily defined by ambiguous terms like right or wrong, sheer clothing had its own share of drawbacks throughout its controversial existence. Over the past years, the see-through clothing trend managed to evolve from a seasonal accent into a year-round trend, meeting a fabulous ascent during the spring and summer of 2013 and settling in comfortably ever since.

This season, the sheer clothing is here to stay, runways all over the world caving in to the alluring aesthetic, proving that the sexiest of fashion trends is still very much in. That explains how for spring 2016 sheer managed to work its way into most trends, while also presenting itself as a stand-alone one, a fact that translated to an automatic increase in both its dominance and wearability.

Learn how the sheer clothing evolved for spring 2016 and how to wear the trend now, by reading on after the break.

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Sheer clothing for spring 2016.

Sheer clothing may have started out as a pure sensual statement, in both of its subdued and more obvious of interpretations, but that changed the moment transparency turned omnipresent and became suitable for easy wear. For spring 2016, see-through clothing goes back to its roots, looking more daring than ever before, its newest expression divided in between the super-sexual and the super-feminine.

Here’s what you need to know for the season:

Bare it all.

There’s no time like the present to bare it all. The sexiest of sheer dresses left little to the imagination on the spring 2016 runways, proving that transparency doesn’t need to be toned down, nor made subtle anymore; and while alluring, it goes without saying that this particular facet of the trend doesn’t work for everyone, nor is suitable for all occasions.

However, there’s something liberating in knowing that flaunting your body can look this good. Off the runway, an extra layer or matching lingerie, can always make transparency feel more approachable, while still conserving its relevance.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Genny & Alberto Zambelli, S/S ’16

Ultra-feminine sheer.

On the other side of the spectrum, the sheer that’s ultra-feminine sure makes things exciting and more accessible for spring / summer 2016, because who doesn’t love a good, ethereal, goddess-like look that gently hints to what’s hiding underneath?

In order to perfect the look for the upcoming season, go for lightweight fabrics in delicate, pastel shades, bearing just a shred of transparency, and work them in romantic, floor-sweeping silhouettes. Complement with bronze cheeks and golden jewels.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Alberta Ferretti & Philosophy, S/S ’16

Complementary trends.

The easiest way to introduce sheer into your wardrobe for 2016 is by playing around the other majors themes in fashion this year:

Girly Lolita.

Perhaps the sweetest of fashion trends, the girly Lolita is all about the unexpected mix of innocence and sultriness, and in spring 2016, the unlike combination is made anew with lots and lots of transparency.

To ensure the trends work well together, think about a playful kind of sheerness (about as much as you feel comfortable flaunting) juxtaposed against cute ruffles, dainty fabrics, sweet embroideries or prints, and of course, flirty silhouettes that always hit above the knees.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Gucci & Burberry Prorsum, S/S ’16

Modern bohemian.

The modern bohemian, the gorgeous, free-spirited woman we’ve come to adore on and off the runways, is clearly determined to pour some sensuality into her signature effortlessness come spring 2016. And we can’t say the combinations isn’t striking. To recreate the look, you can either go with:

  • flowy, maxi silhouettes in bold colours, made whole with layers and layers of sheer fabric, and perfected with crochet detailing and statement jewellery;
  • or with the more laid-back, but equally beautiful kind of sheer, boho dresses that bear long sleeves and comfortable lengths, begging to be styled with flat sandals and natural waves.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Alberta Ferretti & Blugirl, S/S ’16

Sports luxe.

The rise of activewear proves, if anything, that sporty-chic clothing has never looked, nor felt better. The most luxurious of its interpretations see the trend reach new horizons, and it’s the unexpected mix of sexy sheer and cool, relaxed silhouettes that puts a mark on the spring 2016 season.

The best way to channel the aesthetic in real life is to either:

  • top your favorite sporty pieces (think tank dresses, short shorts, bralletes) with a see-through cover up; for a polished look aim for minimal silhouettes, long lengths and matching colours;
  • slip the sporty bralletes underneath the more sophisticated of sheer button-downs; bangs and high platforms can only increase the cool factor.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at DKNY & Vera Wang, S/S ’16

Prairie chic.

You think prairie chic and you think high necklines, floral prints, long hems and ruffled trims, but for spring 2016, the new revival of the Little House on the Prairie theme comes bearing a fresh sensuality. And when it is not exuded by the shorter hems or exposed shoulders, it clearly comes breathing through the beautiful use of transparency.

If you want to make the best of both trends, do invest in sheer but delicately patterned dresses, tops and skirts, to layer on top of simple bustiers, or matching lingerie pieces.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Philosophy S/S ’16

White shirt revived.

The revival of the classic white button-down for spring 2016 plays with exposed shoulders, architectural cuts and innovative details, but it doesn’t leave out the use of transparency.

Never has the wardrobe staple looked so sexy, so whether you intend to add it to your closet in its long-sleeved, sheer and fitted, or its short-sleeved, see-through and more relaxed of interpretations, just make sure to layer it on top of matching bras, bralletes and bustier whenever putting it on.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Aquilano Rimondi & Vera Wang, S/S ’16

Runway to the street.

While the super-daring and the super-sheer may look good on the runway, to be able to work in real life transparency needs a bit of toning down:

How to wear sheer in real life.

  • add lingerie or a slip underneath: if you aim for super-feminine and still plenty sexy, nothing easier than layering your favorite sheer pieces on top of matching bodysuits, sharpers, bras and high-cut briefs;
  • you can also play around the idea of sheer layering with a semi-transparent slip dress in a complementary hue.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Dolce & Gabbana and Francesa Liberatore, S/S ’16

  • layer a blazer / jacket on top: for when things need to look polished and chic, you can pick a solid, menswear-inspired jacket, blazer or suit, and layer it against a sheer top; a leather harness or a sexy pair of heels can help balance out the strict tailoring;
  • if it’s a sheer skirt / dress you want to sport, use an interesting and slightly longer jacket to cover the extent of your body you don’t want revealed; the hard vs. soft elements usually make for striking results.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Ann Demeulemeester & Vera Wang, S/S ’16

  • the best way to make sheerness feel casual, effortless and relaxed is by pairing it with culottes or tailored shorts; opt for interesting textures for your bottoms (think silver metallics, faux leather) and basic silhouettes on top + minimal accessories to even out the obvious sensuality.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Alberto Zambelli & Wes Gordon, S/S ’16

  • if it’s a chic, polished look you’d rather create around transparency do keep away from crazy colours and instead build around the classic shades of black and white; go for elegant cuts in your blouses, and for high-waists in your pants or skirts.
  • if you’re after a sophisticated look, never go sporting full-on transparency on the streets, especially during the day; make sure to always balance out a sheer top with a solid bottom and a sheer bottom with a solid top, or use layering, or embroideries to tone down the transparency.

sheer clothing fashion trend spring 2016
Sheer clothing at Animale & Blumarine, S/S ’16

The trend in the past.

Exposed shoulders & sheer hems.

Transparency served in small doses is definitely suitable for everyday use. Particularly when the see-through accents work towards highlighting those areas that look best when exposed: shoulders, arms, midriffs, knees. Done tastefully and complemented with a minimalistic styling, the exposed shoulders and sheer hems can bear a luxurious feel. For this:

  • highlight a body part, maximum two at a time, making sure the look doesn’t come across as cheap;
  • complement the ethereal feel of sheer with light-colours, particularly white, creams, pastels etc.;
  • let the see-through inserts work as your best accessories, limiting your styling to a fine choker and a chic pair of heels;

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer clothing at Calvin Klein, Balenciaga and 3.1 Phillip Lim, S/S ’14

See-through gowns.

At night is when sheer clothing can be used to its full potential. Lightweight and adorned with delicate prints, or exquisitely embellished and layered on top of statement lingerie (or bandeau bras, bandage skirts), the see-through gowns can turn heads for all the right reasons. A pair of ankle strap heels, subtle make-up, soft waves or a chic chignon can work towards elevating the evening attire. You can also create a more romantic look by wearing a sheer dress over one, or more sheer layers pertaining to the same colour family.

Just make sure you nail the occasion for such a daring look, seeing how a flawless silhouette is somewhat implicit.

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer gowns at Blumarine and Jason Wu, S/S ’14

’90s inspired minimalism.

That sheer clothing works best when filtered through a minimalistic eye we already know. What you can add this season to build a modern and immaculate see-through look is a good dose of inspiration dating back to the ’90s. Look out for:

  • sheer cardigans worn with matching mini shift dresses;
  • sheer spaghetti strap dresses with low necklines and easy cuts;
  • platform shoes, choker necklaces, and slick side-parts for an ultra-simple, yet on-point styling.

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer clothing at Preen, Carven and Theyskens Theory, S/S ’14

Sporty mesh.

Sports luxe has gone huge for spring and summer and as an important component of this aesthetic, the sheer mesh allows you to work two major trends into one look. To keep things relevant:

  • choose the sporty mesh in dark colours, preferably black, for more of a luxurious feel;
  • layer it on top of triangle bras, or underneath tailored blazers and cropped jackets;
  • style the mesh with track pants in luxe fabrics, and ankle strap heels to keep the look sophisticated;
  • opt for bold, graphic eyes and wet-look hair to complement the sporty-chic aesthetic.

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer mesh at Gucci, Anthony Vaccarello and Emilio Pucci, S/S ’14

Sheer lace.

Impossibly refined and bearing a timeless elegance, lace turned better and more feminine for spring 2014, just when you would have though it unimaginable. Of course, the sheer element working its way into this trend had a lot to do with the fresh feel defining lace this season. Wear sheer lace:

  • under the guise of see-through lace skirts, either flared or pencil cut, making sure the hem hits below the knee or even lower;
  • choose warm, pastel colours to complement the ethereal feel of the fabric;
  • style the skirts with a pair of leather heels and a statement sweatshirt for a hard & soft feel;
  • or opt for a classic button-down also in sheer lace, worn underneath a light cardigan to keep things classy and ultra-chic;

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer lace at Christopher Kane and Burberry Prorsum, S/S ’14

Modern bohemian.

The modern bohemian trend didn’t precisely escape the sheer dominance either. What is supposed to come to sight ethereal, laid-back and lightweight gained even more of an effortless feel thanks to the see-through choice of fabric. To sport the modern bohemian gone sensual this season go for:

  • flowy silhouettes, long sleeves and floor lengths;
  • light colours and subtle prints;
  • spice it up with plunging necklines, gold jewelry and wide-brimmed hats;

Sheer clothing for spring
Sheer clothing at Genny and Paul Smith, S/S ’14

Sheer layering.

The sheer overlays represent another gorgeous take on this season’s see-through trend, allowing you to control how transparent you’re willing to go, while adding a certain richness to your outfits of choice. From super-sheer to opaque, an entire string of artful layers are waiting to inspire you.

how to master the art of sheer layering

How to master the art of sheer layering

Sheer clothing became mainstream long ago, but each season brings new interpretations and new rules of the game. One of the key ways to wear see-through fabrics in spring 2014? By layering. From sheers layered with opaques to sheer-on-sheer, here's how to master the art of sheer layering.

Sheer / see through clothing styling inspiration

What follows is a list of links to photo shoots, catwalks and street style photos designed to give you ideas for how to style the sheer clothing trend for yourself. The most recent examples of the look are at the top of the list.

The sheer trend in the past

Nearly impossible to avoid, see-through clothing filled the spring 2013 runways with fresh and exciting takes on the trend, thus offering even more tantalizing alternatives to go sheer for spring and summer. From subtle to pure sexual, from classy to sassy and from subdued to obtrusive, this trend leaves plenty for the imagination, while still pointing towards your best features in a totally unexpected way.

Sheer clothing at Blumarine S/S ’13

How to sport the trend without baring it all.

Sporting the sheer clothing trend doesn’t imply baring all, allowing you to still feel comfortable and establish a reasonable limit for how far would you actually go.

  • The safest way to embrace the trend remains highlighting your assets through sheer elements subtly injected in your clothing (sleeves, trouser legs, midriff)
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with total transparency, opt for translucent or delicately embellished fabrics instead
  • Keep your overall look clean and choose a minimum of accessories
  • To achieve a sophisticated feel, select neutral colors and relaxed lines for your garments

Sheer clothing at Gianfranco Ferre  S/S ’13, Felder Felder S/S ’13 and Blumarine S/S ’13

  • If you opt for a see-through top, layer it on top of statement lingerie, another sheer undergarment or wear it underneath a blazer
  • Rather than going sheer from head-to-toe, balance the see through pieces with opaque ones (sheer tops with opaque bottoms and vice versa)
  • Embrace color in order to slightly distract from the sheerness
  • Choose delicate fabrics like lace, tulle, chiffon to complement the see through elements

Sheer clothing at Alberta Ferretti S/S ’13, Francesco Scognamiglio S/S ’13 and Temperley London S/S ’13

Day versus night

Just like sequins, feathers and obvious cut-outs, see-through clothing isn’t really envisioned for office hours, however it can carry you throughout the day with little efforts. As the sheer fabrics send a strong message for feminine dressing, they also leave little to the imagination at times – so finding the perfect balance, the perfect environment and the right ways of incorporating transparency in your looks might prove to be challenging. For night, the scenario is likely more fitting, allowing you to switch the little black dress for something more modern that accents the outer layer without calling attention to what’s underneath.

Sheer clothing at Gabriele Colangelo S/S ’13 and Francesco Scognamiglio S/S ’13

Sexual sheer: pushing the boundaries for spring

Some women are born to do justice to the unconventional, while others build the confidence and the strength progressively, across years and years of experimenting with the trends. If you’re past the subtle sheer stage and your body begs for more on the revealing side, dare make a statement but remember to keep it sophisticated. From sheer blouses worn without bras or bra-lets, to see-through dresses complemented by matching pieces of lingerie, the sexualised sheer implies taking a risk and being fearless.

Sheer clothing at Anteprima S/S ’13

For summer embrace lightweight fabrics, subtle lace accents and lots of white to complement the sheerness. Highlighting your femininity by using heels and wedges, alongside floral crowns, hats and delicate jewelry. Play with the lengths and layers, but keep your beauty look as close to natural as possible.  For an alternative to the delicate see-trough clothing, check the transparent / clear plastic trend.

Sheer clothing at Blugirl S/S ’13 and Moschino S/S ’13

How to wear sheer

As a statement look the question really isn’t whether to wear sheer clothing or not, it’s how to wear it. Some will argue with that and it’s likely that such people will be imaging the breast-baring, sheer fashion of the catwalks – but remember that it doesn’t have to be worn that way. Thus the question arises as to how you want to wear it. And here’s the number one tip for doing just that:

Sheer fashion is about showing something off. Sometimes it’s a sheer fabric layered over a nice cloth, but more often then not sheer is about showing off skin. Like all things in fashion, that means when you’re wearing sheer don’t do it to shock but to flatter – wear sheer to show off a great asset.

If you’ve got great arms that could mean sheer sleeves. A great midriff? There’s sheer for that. From plunging necklines to backless dresses there’s a sheer interpretation of it, thus no reason not to be wearing the statement this year as long as you have something worth showing off. Once you’ve decided what to hide and what to reveal, you can theme your pieces accordingly.

Sheer fashion: the evolution

What follows is Fashionising.com’s coverage of the past interpretations of the see through clothing trend:

In a short few years sheer clothing has transformed itself from a seasonal accent into an ever green fashion trend. It started off as a statement that, with its chest-baring qualities, was only to be found on the catwalks. No more. Now chests are bared, shoulders highlighted and legs made to look longer. In fact, from the sexual to the subtle, sheer elements now can be found highlighting and accenting every desirable part of a woman’s figure.

Sheer clothing trend: S/S 2012

When sheer fashion first made its current trend debut on the catwalk some 5 years ago, it was considered something of a frivolity. After all, it was effectively see through clothing that various designers were highlighting their interpretation of. Given just what the sheer accent revealed – catwalks being what they are few designers shied away from creating see through tops and stylists were keen for them to shown accordingly – few women were willing to invest in the look. In fact, most baulked at it and continue to with varying degrees of conservatism. But gradually sheer clothing defied the odds, moving from the catwalks to the street, from a seasonal statement to an all-year-round trend.

That change meant that in spring 2012 sheer elements were used to highlight many a different part of a woman’s figure, and were interpreted in every which way, from the sensual to the sexual.

Sexual sheer: how sheer can you go?

The sexual interpretation of sheer is considered the statement to make when it comes to this trend, and there’s a lot of reasons for that. First and foremost, it’s not shy. Statement fashion is about confidence, and you need confidence (not to mention the right features) to wear sexualised sheer. The second reason is far less tangible: there are those people who still turn their noses up at sheer clothing. People who says it’s improper. Immoral. Vulgar. And whenever something is labelled as immodest or immoral, there’s a queue of the young (and young at heart) vying to be a part of it.

There are elements of sheer clothing that’ll feel immediately familiar: the see through tops and the see through skirts. Deciding which to wear (though you wouldn’t be the first to wear both at the same time) first comes down to what you want to show off, and then becomes a question of your personal style – you’ll find chiffon worked across every personal taste, from the elegant to the alternative.

In spring 2012 we looked to Haider Ackermann for minimalist dresses that worked in sheer tops with opaque bottoms, Alexander Wang for a sporty interpretation where the designs hid the chest, and Anne Demeulemeester for some of the strongest instances of summer layering of sheers. In all the basic premise was the same, but the choice of style remained yours to decide.

see through tops
Sheer tops in black and white from John Galliano and Anne Demeulemeester.

It was the same story for sheer skirts and dresses and, to a lesser degree, sheer pants. We saw a lot of silhouettes and ideas, from grunge to glamourous, that evolved from past seasons. But the most hyped entry into the 2012 sheer trend was the sheer maxi dress, which was truly in abundance.

They’re were at all ends of the fashion spectrum: from the studs of Felder Felder to the glamour of Christian Dior.

sheer dresses
Sheer dresses from Felder Felder and John Galliano.

Even more so were they on the street as daywear, which – in 2013 – is not so much the case. Last year a sheer long skirt was edgy, now they’re better kept for night time.

What felt freshest in 2012 and continues to feel fresh in 2013 is the layering of sheer. While lace clothing stood apart as a separate trend last year, this year its dominance wanes and it’s subsumed by the sheer trend. Some designers have noted this and their creations have been things of beauty. For inspiration last season we looked to Valentino, where wholly sheer ensembles beautifully layered black lace and sheer chiffon.

valentino chiffon lace dress
Black lace and chiffon dress from Valentino.

Given spring / summer 2012 opened us up to new levels of sheerness, there were very few things limiting the way the trend was interpreted. Even colour made its mark.

colored chiffon dresses
Coloured chiffon dresses from John Galliano and Valentino.

How to tone down the sexual.

You’ll note that a lot of the above examples of sheer clothing show off more skin than most would be comfortable with. I say most because the truth is that liberal society has moved far enough along that there are women who are already wearing them as you see on the catwalk: last year we spotted the outright, the layered and the slight.

Not everyone will dare go there, however. In fact, most won’t. Or won’t unless there’s a way to tone down the overall look. Which is where the layering of sheer with other trends comes in. That can be the layering of opaque pieces over sheer ones, blazers over sheer tops are ever popular, or the layering underneath (thus requiring an investment in statement lingerie). For some examples you can look to the above inspiration gallery. Also look to other seasonal trends, especially the embellished clothing trend which provides a perfect counterbalance without the need to layer.

Subtle sheer

Like with the sexualised interpretations of sheer, a lot of the subtle interpretations work with summer layering, the density of the layering removing the revealing elements of sheer. In spring 2012 we saw examples like Mulberry, who offered up a chiffon maxi skirt so weighty that its sheer layers became opaque. Like a sheer that borders on opaque, however, that’s an obvious interpretation of the trend. More interesting is where sheer has been worked through as a detail as opposed to a statement.

mulberry sheer maxi skirt
Mulberry sheer maxi skirt.

On the spring 2012 runway we saw various subtle interpretations of sheer. At the subtlest end of the spectrum Cacharel showed how well a sheer panel can work, chiffon forming part of the shoulder and working down the side before disappearing into a pocket. Stepping it up a notch was the more elaborate panelling of Kevork Kiledjian. A true-spark was to be found on the catwalk of Roberto Cavalli, however, where the inside of pleats were made sheer.

chiffon dress / skirt with pleats
Chiffon panelling from Cacharel and Roberto Cavalli.

The dominant interpretation of subtle sheer in spring / summer 2012 came via the sleeves and shoulders. While there were a variety of interpretations, this sub-element of the trend saw sheer imagined through the many vintage fashion revivals apparent in all of 2012’s trends. Hence we saw chiffon sleeves made unforgettable during the season 5 premiere of Mad Men, and then saw them classically interpreted by the likes of Christian Dior and given a modern interpretation by the likes of Alexander Wang and Iceberg.

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Chiffon neckline and sheer sleeves from Dior and Iceberg.

Sheer fashion in autumn / fall 2011

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3 interpretations of sheer clothing for autumn 2011 from ADAM (L), Louis Vuitton (M) and Emilio de la Morena (R)

Sheer fashion in spring / summer 2011

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3 interpretations of sheer clothing for summer 2011 from Jaime Lee (M) and Alice McCall (L,R)

  • Sheer was all about soft, light colours for spring / summer 2011, particularly white
  • Summer clothing is often light enough, so to avoid fully sheer clothing we were looking to clever designs such as Alice McCall’s half hatching, white summer dress where the squares between the hatching were sheer. It’s pictured above
  • Black sheer pieces largely remained the domain of maxi dresses for summer
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