Underwear as outerwear is one of those trends the fashion industry loves to welcome back every few years — and this season is no exception. The notion of wearing our intimate attire out the front door is on another roll, thanks, in no small part, to last season’s Calvin Klein collection. With a parade of slips in every variety, from irresistibly elegant to boxy and loose, Klein joined designers, like Céline, Rochas, Burberry, and Givenchy, to name a few, in celebrating all things floaty, lacy, and semi-transparent. Take a look at how this season's collections are unfolding, and you'll see the bedroom aesthetic isn't disappearing any time soon. I recall the last big underwear-as-outerwear moment back in 2009. I was in my mid-teens, and that stage of development where glossy fashion magazines felt like the most exciting thing on earth. I’d pore over the pages and dream of slipping a Marc Jacobs satin bra over my top, trying a Dolce and Gabbana corset, or one of Dior’s gauzy confections.
I wholeheartedly embraced the look. Along with the handmade frocks and the array of hats in my wardrobe, I’d also inherited a few lovely, flimsy things from my elders: A whisper-thin pink silk slip, for example, and some cream camisoles. I loved the pair of beautiful lace bodices — one black, one white — that had belonged to my great-grandma, although I could hardly match them up with the little old lady I knew, in her shapeless skirts and wool cardigans. These pieces, all Elizabeth Taylor-style glamour, belonged to a very different era of her life. I developed a taste for pre-owned lingerie. On eBay and at junk stalls, I sourced pastel-shaded baby doll nightdresses from the '60s, satin bed-jackets, lace vests, and one particularly good pink bolero trimmed with ribbons and marabou. My silk slip collection grew, albeit slowly (those things weren't cheap). I incorporated plenty of this into my day-to-day outfits: camisoles worn over jumpers; bed-jackets shrugged on with floral skirts. Most found a home on my blog, where I would play dress up against a backdrop of hills and fields around my home in the countryside.
Despite their seemingly obvious after-dark associations, underwear actually communicates a certain innocence. I appreciated them because they were pretty and easy to layer. The bias-cut silk pieces fell straight down my very slender adolescent body, which had little in the way of hips or boobs to fill out the fabric. I must have had a vague awareness of the erotic implications of a silk slip, but those connotations largely belonged to other people. To me, they were just feminine, comfortable clothes. Clothes that made me feel confident. Obviously, I was already thinking about sex, like most teenagers do. But for me those thoughts were about sex in the abstract, sex at some point in the future, sex as a hazy, idealized thing. And while I admired pictures of movie stars in their slinky garb, the fact that their garb was intentionally seductive, and not merely beautiful, was largely lost on me. If this article were a coming-of-age tale, I might insert a passage about how I was a late bloomer, the girl who lost her virginity a few years after many of her peers. That's rather simplistic, though — and besides, I don't regret it a bit. That timing was right for me. But looking back at those designer collections of underwear-as-outerwear half a decade on, I feel a provocative charge that I didn't register at the time. Just as it should be. I learned one thing from them when I was 15. And I now get to interpret them anew.
These days, my favorite slip is a slightly translucent silk beauty shaded in pale salmon. It has a deep V at the front and a wide green waistband that ties at the back, creating the illusion of an hourglass figure. There’s something incredibly sensual about the way it falls: the way it covers everything, but is thin enough to hardly be there. That’s the great thing about a silk slip: It’s as much about what it conceals as what it reveals. When I wear this one, I feel extraordinarily sexy. Like most relationships, the ones we form with our garments (and the body beneath) aren’t static. Sometimes we outgrow them. At other times, we find new potential to explore and further ways to live within them. I think I find the notion of outer-underwear — say, a sturdy slip worn over a turtleneck — so compelling, because it upends things. The invisible becomes visible. Silk slips, in particular, tap into a wide web of associations, from '30s screen sirens to '50s pinups to '90s grunge bands. And whether the reference is Jean Harlow or Courtney Love, the appeal is immediate. To be honest, I still wear the majority of my slips, and the men's silk pajamas I've added to my repertoire, for myself — in the privacy of my home. Even when I'm the only one watching, they give me a certain confidence. Call it playing up a persona; call it the art of learning to love this body I own, after struggling to accommodate its changes throughout my teens; call it that simple revelry of silk next to skin. Whatever it is, it feels good.