How To Style A Sheer Dress

Fashion trends are about far more than aesthetics. Like other art forms — paintings, music, and cinema — clothing also functions as a medium for social and political commentary. Maximalist fashion, for instance, was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic and popularized on social media platforms like TikTok. As trend forecaster Jessica Richards tells Marie Claire, a "post-lockdown and post-restrictions sentiment to be "seen" in the world again" resulted in "the return of bright and bold color palettes, volume silhouettes, [sic] and platform shoes." 

Similarly, the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 resulted in something Richards likes to call "dressing with empowerment." As she explains, "These silhouettes, created in sheers that emulate 'nakedness,' strip down the volume of their co-trend [maximalism] and instead promote a presence that a woman's body is her own and not to be ignored. " Within the last year, sheer fabrics have grown increasingly popular. According to Klarna — and as later documented by The Zoe Report – the demand for see-through dresses increased by 103%. The trend is here to stay, sported by the likes of Florence Pugh, Zendaya, and Zoë Kravitz on Hollywood's most prestigious red carpets (via Glamour). Given its recent popularity, here's what you need to know about stying your own sheer dresses for any occasion and temperature.

Start off simple with peekaboo styles

If you're new to the sheer trend, it's best to ease into it. Keep it subtle with mesh or lace cut-outs sewn alongside solid fabrics. For inspiration, check out this bodycon midi from Asos. For a tasteful hint of lace, see this bright green design also available on the virtual shelves of Asos. If recent runway shows are any indication, peekaboo dresses will be around for the next few seasons (via Vogue). Hoping to get more adventurous with cutouts? Look to Megan Fox's recent red-carpet appearances. In 2021, she debuted a risqué mesh look at the Billboard Music Awards alongside Machine Gun Kelly, per People

Wear over a black bra and panty set

Bergdorf Goodman's Linda Fargo created the term "body-pride-inspired dressing [sic]," according to Women's Wear Daily. In other words, things that used to be considered shameful — skin, wrinkles, and stomachs — are now proudly on display. Under a sheer black maxi — like this Hauty dress available on Nordstrom – layer a black bra and panty set. Bustle recommends leaning toward high-coverage lingerie styles like boyshorts and a bralette. Heather Rae El Moussa of "Selling Sunset" fame debuted the look (while pregnant, no less!) at 2022's People's Choice Awards.

Get creative with a printed fit

Sheer fabrics don't have to be a single color. Combine the bright maximalist trends identified by Marie Claire with form-fitting see-through designs. For instance, wear this Nasty Gal marble cover-up over a bikini for a stylish beach day. Alternatively, check out this printed slip from Free People. Embrace post-lockdown fashion, and layer over a clashing skirt, crop top, and platform shoes. According to British Vogue, mix-matched patterns are in, so don't be afraid to elevate your go-to streetwear with a sheer layer.

Hit the town in a chainmail gown

This year, stick to the "dressing with empowerment" trend identified by Jessica Richards (via Marie Claire). Channel Joan of Arc in 21st century "chainmail." For starters, layer this & Other Stories beaded mesh dress over tailored pants and a matching top for a classy night out. Alternatively, pair something like this For Love & Lemons maxi with a bra and panty set for a sexy themed event or festival. Though these stylish fabrics might not protect you from a sword, they will instantly elevate your wardrobe — Gigi Hadid even showcased the look at the Vendôme Pavilion in Paris for the Chloé Spring-Summer 2023 collection (via Chloé).

Wear over another dress for extra coverage

Sheer fabrics aren't necessarily the best choice for winter months. During the colder seasons, try your hand at layering. As advised by The Editorialist, take inspiration from luxury designers like Chloé and Miu Miu when it comes to perfecting this technique. Style this dusty pink sheer Anthropologie look with a subtle slip underneath. For even more coverage, find a long dress like this Skims commando maxi. To go the extra mile (and to keep your digits warm) dress it up with a pair of evening gloves for a fancy night out — after all, the "Bridgerton" style influence shouldn't be ignored (via Glamour).

Celebrities are embracing nearly nude styles

In July of 2022, "Don't Worry Darling" star Florence Pugh made waves at Valentino's haute couture show in a sheer bright pink gown. As later reported by Women's Wear Daily, she addressed the style — and the controversy surrounding it — on her Instagram. "Listen," wrote the actress, "I knew when I wore that incredible Valentino dress that there was no way there wouldn't be a commentary on it ... It isn't the first time and certainly won't be the last time a woman will hear what's wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what's worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be." Other celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid have fully embraced the style (via Glamour). In the words of Florence Pugh, "Respect people. Respect bodies. Respect all women. Respect humans. Life will get a whole lot easier, I promise."

Keep it casual over jeans

Sheer pioneer LaQuan Smith wants see-through fabrics to be adaptable for everyday streetwear (via Women's Wear Daily). "What I really wanted to try to achieve this season was broadening my product categories," Smith said of his Spring 2023 collection. "Obviously women come to me for sexy clothing for evening and cocktail, but I wanted to make it broader with daywear and still keep it funky and sexy and flashy." Put your spin on LaQuan Smith's daytime look by layering something like this semi-sheer Urban Outfitters lace midi over simple blue jeans. Pair with combat boots, and warm it up with a faux leather jacket in cold weather. 

Make a statement with texture

According to InStyle, sheer lace has graduated beyond the confines of sexy lingerie. These days, underwear is high fashion outerwear — simply take a look at the many see-through styles at May 2022's "Gilded Glamour"-themed Met Gala. For instance, "Pam and Tommy" star Lily James wore a beaded see-through Versace gown, per Glamour. Even without the addition of beads, lace adds texture. Check out this celebrity-worthy black lace dress from Anthropologie. Alternatively, add in some fluff with tulle. See this For Love & Lemons bright bustier gown. For a more casual fit, pair this semi-sheer Urban Outfitters lace romper with distressed tights and your favorite combat boots.

Take crochet to the next level

According to Marie Claire, '60s and '70s style crochet is making a comeback. According to Colin Welch, the Senior Styling Manager at Moda Operandi, this decades-old trend has recently made the move to high fashion runways. "Seeing how brands like Magda Butrym & Diotima took crochet for Fall/Winter '22 and really transformed it for the evening space was something I was immensely inspired and impressed by," he told The Zoe Report. These crocheted designs are ideal for warm summer weather — dress down with a pair of flip flops and a bikini or elevate for evening wear with heels and statement jewelry. For starters, check out this breezy Summersalt design.

Style over a nude bodysuit

Since 2019 and the launch of Skims, Kim Kardashian has been a champion of the bodysuit, per Vogue Business. "We started Skims with the intention of being a shapewear brand," Kardashian explains, "but now it's so much more — it has definitely exceeded our expectations." With nearly 10 shades of nude ranging from sizes XXS to 4X, figure-hugging fashion has become more accessible. Next time you're styling a sheer dress, layer a nude bodysuit – like this Fits Everybody Skims design – underneath this Urban Outfitters sheer white dress for that barely-there look. Alternatively, add a pop of color with a brightly-colored turtleneck bodysuit. Opt for even more coverage with this nude Skims sculpting catsuit.

Graduate to a flirty body con mini

If you're getting ready to attend a bachelorette party in Las Vegas – or simply want to look sexy on a night out – opt for a sheer bodycon mini like this design from God Save Queens. "If dressing sexy makes us feel good, what's the harm?" sexologist and psychotherapist Rachel Wright explains to The Zoe Report. "Part of the reason we're embracing our sexy sides could be that we've learned to give less f***s about what other people think about us and embrace what makes us feel good," she says. The bottom line? Feeling sexy is about confidence — it doesn't necessarily involve showing off skin. However, if you feel good in a sheer mini, by all means, let your body breathe.

Dress it down with outerwear

Depending on the weather, it may be necessary to pair your sheer dress with stylish outerwear. "A moto jacket and skater sneakers can easily be layered with a lingerie-inspired slip and bodysuit underneath," celebrity stylist Soneca Guadara explains to InStyle. Capitalize off of the timeless lace and leather aesthetic by matching a sheer lace dress with a long leather trench — check out this Asos design. Ultimately, in the words of Guadara, "find that delicate balance between chic and fashion-forward." Alternatively, make sure your see-through dress is business or brunch appropriate by layering a blazer on top (via Bustle).

Sheer styles don't have to be classically feminine

In the words of trend forecaster Jessica Richards, "with challenges against women's rights on the forefront, hyper-feminine and body-baring trends defy a climate created by legislation that restricts women's autonomy of their bodies" (via Marie Claire). However, femininity is versatile — it doesn't require figure-hugging designs or dresses. For starters, check out this sheer button-up from Wildfang, a brand with the goal of defying gender norms. Alternatively, pair this sheer trench coat from The Ragged Priest with your favorite platform boots and tailored pants.