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What, Exactly, Is the Pantless Look? 

fashion beauty runway what, exactly, is the pantless look

First things first: The hottest new look on and off the runway, and one of the most controversial fashion statements of the year, has nothing to do with going commando. In fact, wide, full coverage briefs are the required pièce de résistance to pull off this look with aplomb. 

The ‘no pants’ trend-of-the-moment refers to ditching trousers, skirts and whatever else you might wear below the waist, and instead stepping out in oversized sweaters, jackets or long shirts that give the impression that you’re not wearing pants underneath. Well, that settles that. 

Kudos to Sigmund Freud, who said it bluntly at the very end of the 19th century: “In a dream in which one is naked or scantily clad in the presence of strangers, it sometimes happens that one is not in the least ashamed of one’s condition.” 

The father of modern psychology was also looking into the (very distant) future of fashion, one might argue, since the ‘no pants’ look is poised to strip away even more inches of modesty — in the era of naked dresses and G-strings popping out of pants, is there any more left? — since Bottega Veneta casually sent down the runway in September 2022 a sweater paired only with dark pantyhose and heels. Miu Miu followed suit, tossing out pants and skirts for fall 2023, and bringing back demure librarian twinsets, but this time subversively matched with only casual underwear, hosiery, and dressy leather brogues. That’s it. 

At the celebrity-studded Vogue World event (some might say it’s the British equivalent to the Met Gala) that took place in London in September, the pantless look was a favourite of the night, with many attendees on the red carpet test-driving the trend, from rebel-hearted Cara Delevingne to Simone Ashley and Jodie Turner-Smith. 

Back in New York in May at said Met Gala, Kendall Jenner, one of the earliest and most ardent proponents of the no-pants look, wore a simple Marc Jacobs black sequin leotard with floor-length sleeves over a pair of flesh-coloured pantyhose (more on this later). The model accessorized her minimal look with a towering pair of Marc Jacobs Kiki boots, an ultra-high, seven-inch platform that takes Mary-Janes to the extreme, with a litany of buckles that fasten up the shin. More goth than sweet, that’s for sure. For the after-party, Kendall repeated the leggy look with a sheer sequin bodysuit worn under a black harness and bikini bottom. Again, pantless.

fashion beauty runway what, exactly, is the pantless look 1

The (Unpredictable) Return of the Pantyhose 

After literally decades of bare legs being the major theme in everyday fashion and on runways, hosiery is having a pretty significant moment, in all its incarnations: From tights and stockings to socks of all lengths and deniers (a technical term meaning the unit of measurement that expresses fibre thickness of individual threads or filaments in fabric or textiles). In Canada, innovator brand Sheertex has fine-tuned the world’s first unbreakable sheer pantyhose fibres that are up to ten times stronger than steel and used in ballistic products, like bulletproof vests.

When it comes to hosiery, a smaller denier will produce a see-through product while a higher one will be more opaque. The most surprising thing? We’re even witnessing the return of flesh-coloured pantyhose. Not fashionably safe and predictable black, no. But nude shades like Queen Elizabeth would wear. And not even sparkling, but matte. Hard to imagine just a few seasons ago…

It started at ultra-high-end American brand The Row, run by the Olsen twins, with models wearing hosiery in 2022. We’ve been accustomed to seeing some European designers like Martin Margiela use nude nylons in a few of his collections, as the enigmatic Belgian designer has been concealing the faces of his models, over the years, with full-body stockings. But then Miu Miu got on with it, too, pushing the pantyhose to be cool again. And if someone in fashion has the power to change things around, it has to be Miuccia Prada who, in 2022, brought back the micro-mini pleated skirt. Remember that one?

Once upon a time — well, in the sixties and seventies — pantyhose were a symbol of freedom. Young women wore their miniskirts in Swinging London (and Paris, and New York…) over coloured pantyhose. Style mavens of the era like fashion model and actor Edie Sedgwick wore black tights and turtlenecks, and nothing else, as a statement of boldness. So did Brigitte Bardot. Oh, and let’s not forget the Playboy bunnies, sauntering around in private clubs with their legendary uniform consisting of a bodysuit (originally a one-piece swimsuit layered over a corset), fluffy tail and headband with ears. And black hosiery. Because the hose instantly elevates the leotard into the realm of evening dressing and cocktail lounges. 

Kim Kardashian, with her billionaire brand Skims, might have been on to something during the summer of 2022, when she created a collection called Jelly Sheers around a fabric that looked and felt like a high-end pantyhose (it is rumoured Kim has partnered with high-end Austrian hosiery brand Wolford), including an item enigmatically named ‘footed legging,’ perhaps a euphemism for a true pantyhose given the name was more palatable for a younger demographic. 

Invented in 1959 by Allen Gant Sr., who called them “panti-legs,” pantyhose may have revolutionized foundation garments by doing away with the girdle, garter belt and stockings, but when Y2K came around nobody in fashion, or remotely interested in dressing stylishly, would have been caught dead wearing a pair of flesh-coloured sheer tights. 

fashion beauty runway what, exactly, is the pantless look 2

So, what happened?

What happened in the last five years has been fashion’s infatuation with balletcore — the pas de deux that keeps coming back to the forefront of fashion with its references to ballet clothing items —. And everyone knows ballet always includes some sort of hosiery. The trend also has its roots ’60s dance culture and Old Hollywood. Something performers understand intimately. 

Every successful singer has that hero moment in their career when they start dressing with bodysuits onstage. Madonna, of course, was one of the first fans of the ‘no pants’ look on tour. About ten years ago, Lady Gaga made wearing high-cut briefs her signature. On stage and in the streets of New York. Even Taylor Swift went from demure country girl looks to sparkling onesies and leotards.

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Underwear Like Outerwear 

Showing your bra is no longer shocking. In fashion history’s last 30 years, everybody, at some point or another, has revealed a snippet of a strap or the entire undergarment. Sports bras also changed the nature of the item: Is it underwear or sportswear? Some women go for a run wearing just that and a pair of leggings. Maybe bras are just meant to be paraded under a transparent top, a ‘naked’ dress, or peaking boldly from under a blazer. Nothing there. 

But what is new is showing panties and thongs. According to Valerie Steele, a fashion historian and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, “Showing underwear for the lower part of the body is extremely radical.”

Again at the Met gala of this year, Lil Nas X hit the red carpet provocatively sidestepping conventional dress code expectations, wearing only a metallic G-string and head-to-toe crystallized makeup by Pat McGrath

Let’s face it: The shock value of dressing is what most celebrities are after, to turn the algorithm a bit crazy in their favour. To be talked about and remain relevant in the era of FOMO. It is possible that we are witnessing a tongue-in-cheek redefinition of what is and isn’t appropriate outerwear, starting with celebrities and hardcore fashion trailblazers. It wouldn’t be the first time. At the beginning of the 20th century, T-shirts were solely worn as undergarments

And as for whether we’ll be seeing more and more people wearing no pants looks IRL? It depends. 

Maybe it’s just down to who you hang out with, and in what setting. Private parties might be the best place to test-drive the pantless trend. After all, corsets are now a cute addition to evening wear for the most fashion-conscious. So maybe it’s not farfetched to think many of us will end up wearing crystallized high cut briefs over a pair of pantyhose and pointy slingbacks for New Year’s Eve. After all, pantyhose are just leggings with feet attached. That’s as scandalous as they are. We’re used to seeing almost naked bodies and form-fitting clothing appear almost everywhere now. So let’s calm the fuck down. 

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