Exploring the rise of see-through accessories in our social media-dominated, post-truth world
Fashion, perhaps by virtue of the fact that it’s worn on our bodies, has a way of broadcasting our inner desires. You put on a tailored suit because you want to feel professional, you put on heels because you want to feel sexy, and, weirdly, you drop four figures on a handbag because you want people to think it’s no big deal for you to do so. Fashion also has a history of keenly reflecting the times. Think of the shoulder pad of the 80s, when an increasing number of women were going to work in offices, or the popularity of the mini skirt following the introduction of the pill. So it’s worth considering what it means that, for the past several seasons, we’ve seen transparent accessories – and occasionally even transparent garments – pop up across various collections that otherwise couldn’t be more different. In an era where actual transparency, whether in politics or in the ways we present our lives on social media, is increasingly rare, could this trend mean more than initially meets the eye?
Like so many things in our culture, it may all come back to Kanye West. He’s shown some kind of transparent shoe in every Yeezy collection since season two. What Kanye makes, Kim Kardashian wears, and what Kim Kardashian wears, people – for better or worse – pay attention to. Thanks to Kanye, see-through footwear was starting to enter the market around 2015, but things reached a fever pitch when he debuted those thigh-high, lucite-heeled PVC boots for Yeezy season four. It was the same show, which took place in September 2016 at Governor’s Island, where models actually began passing out because of the heat, which in retrospect should have been seen as foreshadowing what the actual experience of wearing those kind of boots is apparently like.
Then came Loewe’s $990, fully see-through plastic pants, which the Spanish house showed for SS16. Soon after, Topshop began shilling $100 versions, the predecessor to those widely-mocked jeans with plastic inserts at the knees. Fast forward to the SS18 collections, for which Chanel showed clear, cap-toed rainboots – a less overt, more Chanel version of the OG Yeezy boots, one might say – with similarly pellucid raincoats, bags, and hats. In a case fit for Diet Prada, both Céline and Maison Margiela debuted see-through shopping totes for the same season, while Shayne Oliver created a clear, lucite briefcase at Helmut Lang. I recently saw someone carrying said briefcase filled with dozens of perfectly arranged pink roses – and nothing else – at a New York Fashion Week event and thought to myself: is there anything that more perfectly symbolises the era of the artfully curated overshare?
“We’re all constantly trying to seem like we have nothing to hide, while actually concealing everything”
Millennials are a generation defined by how much we’re willing to share with everyone from estranged high school classmates to our great aunt to people we’ve never met before. Or rather, how much we’re willing to seem like we’re sharing. Social media is, more than a way to keep in touch, an exercise in image cultivation. We’re all constantly trying to seem like we have nothing to hide, while actually concealing everything except for the parts of themselves that fit into our personal brand. For example: have you ever seen anyone who actually has bad skin post a makeup-free selfie? The only people I’ve seen get in on this most cliche of hashtag trends either have flawless skin or posses just a smattering of tiny pimples that are, somehow, weirdly pretty and also serve to make them seem #relatable.
The rest of us – or at least those who aren’t trying to make acne scars and hyperpigmentation into an integral part of what we’re known for – keep our dang concealer on and find something else enviable to broadcast, whether it’s post-workout selfies or pictures of our gourmet-looking meals. We feel we have to share something and it has to seem real without actually being too real. The transparent bag can be seen a physical manifestation of this paradox. After all, if you’re going to carry a see-through briefcase, you’re not going to fill it with your crusty old make-up case or a bunch of tampons or even actual documents. You have to use it to carry something as beautiful and aspirational as the vessel itself.
Transparent accessories are a consumer-friendly version of the “naked dress” trend that has dominated red carpets for what feels like forever but has really probably only been about four years. Pioneered by physically flawless women like Beyoncé and Rihanna, these dresses are about creating the illusion that you’re putting it all on display, when in actuality, “it all” is a facade being held together by a bricolage of double-sided tape, bizarre styling tricks, and possibly black magic. These dresses are an absurdist, rose-filled briefcase for your whole body.
It’s also hard to talk about transparency without discussing the fact that the Trump administration has been defined by, among many other things, a startling and unprecedented lack of it. Much ink has been spilled on this matter, but suffice it to say that the White House has been opaque on matters ranging from clandestine meetings with Russian officials to White House visitor logs to, famously, the president’s own tax returns. Weirdly, this all lies in stark contrast to his seemingly pathological need to blast his thoughts and opinions out on Twitter multiple times a day. Trump and his administration are simultaneously frighteningly secretive and alarmingly vocal, keeping Americans in the dark about things we should know, while using social media to do stuff like taunt Kim Jong Un. It’s understandable then that these suddenly complex notions of what we expose, how we expose it, and what it all means would be on the brains of designers.
Then again, unlike, say, visual art, where you’re likely to find out that the most seemingly inconsequential dot on a canvas is actually imbued with great meaning, fashion is sometimes just about what looks cool. That’s part of what many people like about it. But it’s also not always the case. And even if designers aren’t sitting around thinking, how can I reflect my feelings about what transparency means in 2018 via this $3000 bag?, the people who will later style and carry it inevitably are, simply by virtue of the fact that they, like the aforementioned rose-toting fashionista, have to figure out what to put in it.
Writer and influencer Leandra Medine recently posted to her Instagram a picture of a gorgeous, translucent Chanel bag stuffed to the gills with her daily fashion week necessities. Through the bag’s classic quilting and subtle rainbow sheen, you can just make out that she’s carrying a pair of cateye Adam Selman sunnies (very on-brand), several Roxanne Assoulin bracelets (even more on-brand), and a pack of Orbit gum (#relatable). “Making an honest woman out of me, this bag,” reads the text below. Medine is obviously being tongue-in-cheek, but in the sense that these trappings perfectly reflect her public persona, she’s right. It is honest. Or, you know, something like it.