From Marlene to Conchita and Kim: Gender performativities and iconicity in ‘naked’ dresses

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This article presents a whistle-stop tour through fashion history from Marlene Dietrich to Conchita Wurst and beyond, illustrating the complex iconicity of ‘naked’ dresses, also referred to as ‘nude illusion’ dresses. It interrogates notions of selfhood and performativity in relation to gender and celebrity. The article utilizes the embellished costumes made by Jean Louis for Marlene Dietrich as a starting point to explore the recurring image of a celebrity clad seemingly in nothing but rhinestones, sequins or similar embellishments. By providing an overview of notable instances of such ‘naked’ dresses, the article explores the accumulation of meaning through historical reference points ranging from the 1950s to the 2020s. In particular, it analyses images of femininity and desirability as evoked through these particular garments. The seeming exposure of the desirable body is set in relation to the careful construction of the image which brings together vulnerability and apparent truthfulness through the specific nature of the garment. The article explores how seemingly ‘baring it all’ is a carefully orchestrated performance with a long history and subversive potential.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFashion, Style and Popular Culture
Early online date13 Dec 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Dec 2022


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