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

  • Rose Vivienne Gray

    Obscure vision with tears

    • Rose Vivienne Gray

      of despair

  • ee_by_cc

    I’m no prude, so some strategically revealing clothing doesn’t make me cringe. But I can’t help but feel that there’s something excessive about what’s happening with the overall nakedness. But who am I to begrudge anyone who feels comfy enough to wear it.

  • Ajnira Muminovic

    I enjoyed reading it. I do agree, an I believe it shouldn’t be that big of a news, omg we saw Rihanna nude, in my opinion the news should be if she found this new amazing way of singing or if her nudity sends some kind of message, and her “novelty” choice of wearing just for the sake of novelty is boring!

  • HenryJMorton

    I can’t help but feel that there’s something excessive about what’s happening with the overall nakedness.

  • Savannah Jual

    This is a great article, Emilia. I appreciate your insight into how our world molds our fashion concepts and vice versa, and I think you nailed this phenomenon on the head. This is truly the age of transparency, and like Pandora’s box, there’s no going back.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Smiles and all the best,

  • KittenRainbowMagicKatie

    What a crazy world we live in! Hopefully young women & even kids aren’t feeling too much pressure to conform to this. I recently watched the doc “Miss Representation”.. it definitely discusses similar themes you’re exploring here- worth a watch!

  • Emilia! Fabulous essay. So thorough and entertaining…one of my favorite MR pieces as of recent.

    I hope you will become a regular….?

    • Leandra Medine

      Does this mean the slaying Amelia and I have been doing is your less than favorite as of late!!!!!!!!??

      • FUCK no. I love everything I read on this site, and you girls are my cyber mentors. Just saying I really enjoyed this piece!

        • Leandra Medine

          I joking. The point is always to seek better-than-we-are

  • Aubrey Green

    It means that we’re cold and everyone knows it – I haven’t read the post yet, but I think that’s what it means when our clothes don’t cover us ;).

  • Rihanna’s nudity is totally socially acceptable. Breastfeed in public, and you’re a monster. Gives me the sads.

  • Sally

    Counterpoint: Kate Moss did it in 1993.

  • Tamara

    i find it totally boring, actually. like the “wearer” is challenging the world, to find it daring or cool; challenging us to look or not look, and where to put our eyes when we speak to you. i remember the days when guys wore speedos to the beach and pool; my trying to talk to them was comical! me? i like it best when folks wear clothes. if i want to see someone naked, i’ll let them know…

    • I agree Tamara. The speedos thing, soooo true. But it was only the guys with big d-cks which made even more pathetic. LoL .Sorry to say those guys were carrying such a heavy load down below, had nothing left for an intelligent conversation.

  • I wonder if this is something from more down south? I’m from Michigan and have not heard of any nude parties around here. Super informative and fun article though.

  • Bronte Mac

    If anything I found Rihanna’s outfit boring, yes its pretty and sparkly, but I feel like the nude aspect was a cop out. Rihanna’s style is killer, she didn’t need to rely on nudity to get people to talk about her outfit.

  • Zina Scimemi-O

    The point of it is that men can be nude without it being sexualized while women are not afforded that same ability. The human body should be able to be presented without being sexualized

  • Amazing article, straight to the point. One of my recent favorites here on MR!

  • june2

    I love the more discreet transparent items but the fully sheer ones are just too much info and really a bit inconsiderate to men, I would think. I mean, how insecure do you have to be to need this much shock value? Men don’t show up to formal events shirtless, neither should we.

  • Hermy

    I beleive in dressing for who you are. So I gues Rihanna can do it because she’s “bad ass”, but the problem is everyone thinks their “bad ass.”

  • MSCFBeeches

    Never heard of naked college parties! Sounds a little scary. As for near-nude fashion I thinks it’s all about context, context, context–where, why and how. Done tastefully, with style, it can be daring, elegant and sensual. The body’s beautiful thing. A naked library run for finals week…ok, cool. An after-sex selfie just to overshare and put your naked person somewhere–f*ckery.

    I hope for a happy medium–when we can be comfortable with showing and seeing skin without doing it cheaply for attention or boredom. (I think Rih looked amaze by the way. I want her ass as my ass for Christmas!)

  • Cristina Feather

    Cool article, Emilia! But I’m sorry, you Americans have the strangest college traditions! I find that all running naked horrifying! :)) Thank you for sharing though!