The Age of Transparency
What does it mean when our clothes don’t cover us?
During your final days in college, there’s not much else to do other than get naked. The first all-senior party I walked into was a nude one. I arrived, unaware of the dress code (or lack thereof), fully clad in jeans and a sweatshirt. Immediately, a girl wearing nothing but bodypaint scolded me. She clutched her breasts and said, “I’m sorry, but your clothing is making me really uncomfortable.” I looked around. I was a sore thumb in a sea of flesh. I turned to my friend, who was also fully clothed. She shrugged and removed her shirt. I frowned and left.
The “naked party,” or so it will go down in collegiate tales of lore, happened right after the “naked run,” a tradition that involves seniors streaking through the library at midnight before finals week. I didn’t do this one either.
Instead, I stood outside with the underclassmen and cheered on my classmates. It was a euphoric experience for some of them, a total shitshow for others. Runners in the front were immediately trampled. Some people wound up with concussions. Unathletic hipsters puked from the adrenaline rush.
The oddest consequence, however, was the number of people who lost their phones. The runners were stripped of everything, carrying nothing but their own junk, yet they were bound and determined to Instagram, Facebook, Tweet and Vine the whole experience, regardless of potential mobile-device casualties. After all, if their nudity wasn’t captured on camera, then it might as well never have happened.
I was reminded of this particular scene when I saw Rihanna’s nearly-naked CFDA outfit. This collision of sharing information and what’s underneath your clothing is, I would argue, a byproduct of an age where everything is public, even our privates. Instagram may have banned Rihanna’s account for nudity, but she found another, equally as public platform to share: fashion.
Though it’s resurfaced again recently by way of sheer paneling and bare nipples, the transparency trend is nothing new. In the early 2000s, designers like Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana began to play with sheer fabrics in a serious way. By 2007, the trend had fully taken hold: powerhouses like Chanel were sending nearly topless models down the runway. “This is a season of transparent fashion (haven’t you heard?),” said Cathy Horyn of the Spring 2011 shows. Now well into the year 2014, see-through clothing is no longer shocking, and you can thank social media for that.
Parallel to fashion’s decision to reveal, Internet culture was in the process of doing the same at the beginning of the millennium. In 2005 PostSecret‘s website was founded; in 2006 WikiLeaks was created. It’s no coincidence that fashion started shedding layers the minute others started whistleblowing.
Twitter was also launched in 2006, which provided a platform to be transparent every second of every day. Now, we know everything about everyone, whether we want to or not. We share Instagram photos, Facebook statuses, even our exact locations. Sure, nudity is still news, but at this point everyone and their mother feels comfortable showing some skin. We’ve got nothing left to lose.
Gertrude Stein once said with regard to trends in art, “Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen.” For today’s generation, there’s nothing we can’t see. Call it invasive, or vain or downright unethical. Whatever’s going on, it’s probably not going to stop. There’s no unseeing things. We can only have a critical eye. So, if you don’t like it, don’t look.
Images via Style.com