There’s a new romance afoot, as some of our biggest red-carpet stars have turned a page recently. Witness Jennifer Lopez floating into the Met Gala, almost regal, in a caped Tiffany-blue chiffon. Or Rihanna at the Cannes Film Festival in modest full-skirted ball gowns from Ralph and Russo and Dior Couture, with a sweet stole wrapped around her shoulders (she was also decidedly covered up Monday night at Parsons wearing an oversize Matthew Dolan suit). Or Vanessa Hudgens at Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards, in blush Marchesa satin with charmingly oversized bows.
For Lopez and Rihanna, it’s especially noteworthy, given their past epic appearances in versions of the brazenly trendy “naked dress.” Consider J.Lo’s last stroll at the Met Ball two years ago in a dragon-emblazoned Atelier Versace nude column and Rihanna’s sparkly see-through at the CFDA Awards the previous year.
Yet as the Billboard Music Awards magenta carpet revealed, there are still a lot of nods to full transparency, especially of the gauzy black variety.
“I’m looking at Hailee Steinfeld and I see her bra and her panties. Olivia Munn, Rita Ora, Lea Michele, even Kate Beckinsale, and it’s so samey-same,” says fashion critic Tom Fitzgerald, who, along with partner Lorenzo Marquez, regularly reviews and roasts the red-carpet regulars at their eponymous website. “But here we are, how many examples did we cite from tonight’s awards? It’s losing its power, but it’s not losing its popularity.”
Contrast that with a Rihanna, who “shut it down” with her twinkly transparent CFDA dress and has since moved on. “Seeing Rihanna in Dior Couture at the Cannes Film Festival — well, of course that’s what Rihanna is going to wear. It’s who she’s becoming now. She’s like this modern-day Grace Kelly, and more power to her,” Fitzgerald says. “That’s why Rihanna is who she is. She keeps it fresh, she’s not recycling old trends. It’s not that surprising that we haven’t seen Rihanna’s panties for a while.”
The Billboard Music Awards also provided a genuine meta moment, given the filmy fashion legacy of honoree Cher (and her longtime designer Bob Mackie), provoking a sort of subconscious homage from the likes of Lorde and Rita Ora.
“So many of the naked dresses we see today are variations on Bob Mackie. They were not dresses for every woman, but Cher is certainly not every woman. Cher is a larger-than-life character,” says author and vintage fashion retailer Cameron Silver of Decades. “Unlike many of the stars today, who don’t have the gravitas that Cher commanded. So many times when I see a woman in one of these dresses, her soul looks naked. But when you look at Cher, it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s performance art.’”
And speaking of performance art delivering a jolt of pure fashion, one need look no further than Celine Dion’s voluminously sleeved stunner from Stephane Rolland, a confection that was nearly as unforgettable as her emotion-packed performance.
“I’ve never been a fan of the naked dress for my clients [who also include Zendaya],” Dion’s stylist Law Roach said the day before the awards. “Right now, we are more interested in things that are more sophisticated and we are playing a lot with silhouette. Women are now finding themselves sexy in things that men might not. There’s this whole new generation of these new silhouettes and shapes and lengths that are becoming huge trends.”