It’s underwear as outerwear, a breakable thing that blurs the boundaries between public and ungregarious, grunge and sex. And it’s back

Freudian slip ... On the S/S 16 catwalks, slip dresses were everywhere from Burberry Prorsum through Balenciaga to Calvin Klein.
Freudian slip … On the S/S 16 catwalks, let out dresses were everywhere from Burberry Prorsum as a consequence Balenciaga to Calvin Klein.
Composite: Ellen Wishart/WWD/Rex Characters

Fashion may be quixotic, but there are some things you don’t argue with: Mrs Prada’s knack, Karl’s Edwardian collar preference and the stone cold rightness of Nova periodical. In a prescient editorial printed in January 1969 with the headline, “What are you irritating to hide?” the mag declared that the only response to worrying that your underwear command be visible beneath your clothes was to turn a wardrobe sin into a virtue. “Show that you mean it,” it declared. “Don’t be sure of on your underclothes not showing, choose them so if they do, it doesn’t sum.” Accompanied by a model shot and clothes credited to Woolworths – an designing styling move if ever there were one – it documented a radical moment in the fashion history of underwear as outerwear.

Forty-five years newer and the concept of the blurred line between public and private manufacture – what ought to be concealed or revealed – is still being played out on the catwalk. For be born 2016, the debate began in September at the Givenchy show – a on dignitary at New York fashion week for one season only – where artist Riccardo Tisci riffed on a slip dress theme with chemises, wispy castigate and silk slips. At Calvin Klein, creamy ankle-length get in dresses with misbehaving slovenly-cum-sexy straps were drawn tired with minimal trainers and recalled the 90s. It was an echo of the brand’s heyday, a time of nostalgia for those whose love affair with construct began when a doe-like Kate Moss defined the maker. In London, Burberry continued the theme, showing silky rise slip dresses with utilitarian rucksacks and contrasting chunky sandals. Was Christopher Bailey submitting to his inner grunge crag?

Balenciaga SS/16 slip dress at Paris fashion week.
Balenciaga S/S 16. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Courtney Love performing with Hole, circa 1994.
Courtney Love in 1994. Photograph: Tony Mottram/Getty

As you power expect, the underwear-on-display look was especially prominent in Paris, ecclesiastical home of the cinq à sept. Alexander Wang’s swan ditty at Balenciaga was filled with tryst-worthy clothes, all white silk nighties and lodging slippers, a romanticised room-service look. At Céline the trend crystalised. Phoebe Philo isn’t identified for pushing overt sexiness, and her lace-trimmed slips with intended creasing weren’t presented that way. But in the hands (sorry, on the boobs) of a girl with curves – as evidenced by Dakota Johnson on the cover of Trend – their sensuality is hard to ignore.

But it was Hedi Slimane who unquestionably spelt it out, with a Saint Laurent finale celebrating grunge. Blunder dresses with Courtney Love-worthy tiaras and explicitly unconcealed backs that felt more backstage pass than boudoir summed up the allure: in defiance of its flimsy fabric, a slip dress can multitask, representing both sex and insurrection at the same time.

A quick skirt through the history of the chit dress backs up this theory. Fans of the style embrace, in no particular order: Kate Moss, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock in Scarface (approach on, in fashion terms she is real), Elizabeth Taylor, Rihanna, Madonna, Obtained Barrymore, Courtney Love, Veronica Lake and Princess Diana. Piece of works who share, if not a style, then a kind of sartorial irreverence.

Céline S/S 16 slip dress at Paris fashion week.
Céline S/S 16. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

In its underlying form the slip dress, with its spaghetti straps, shiny fabric and often lacy trim, mirrors underwear, but also wants to be seen. Undressed: A Curtailed History Of Underwear, an exhibition opening in April at London’s V&A, examines the relationship between underwear and frame. Its curator, Edwina Ehrman, sums up the wearing of underwear as outerwear as “a way of challenging stylish morality. It represents the difference between what should be unrestricted and what should be hidden, and the breaking down of those obstructions.”

Princess Diana in a Dior slip dress at the 1996 Met Ball.
Princess Diana in Dior at the 1996 Met Ball. Photograph: New York Always News via Getty

As far back as the late 18th century, fashion directors such as the Duchess of Devonshire and Marie Antoinette were enervate fine muslin dresses with a sash around the waist. Not so nauseous now, but to their contemporaries it would have looked as if they were garb their underwear. Ehrman claims that the classic Jane Austen-style deck outs of the early 1800s were an even earlier example of this. To underline her site, the curator has chosen to exhibit a Pride And Prejudice-type dress next to her own pick underwear as outerwear dress: a John Galliano for Givenchy slip-up, cut on the bias and owing much to the 1930s slip dress lean. A newly single Princess Diana wore another Galliano disguise – this one for Dior – to the Met Ball in 1996 just a few months after her separation. Bet she was feeling sexy and rebellious that night.

For Bay Garnett, play a parting fashion editor at Vogue and slip dress styling aficionado, it all depends on setting. “You can have such different perceptions of the slip dress – in a cheap situation it looks terrible, but it can look incredible, too. Either East Hampton or utterly grunge. To me the appeal is to deconstruct the sexiness, to subvert it. The genius of Courtney Be in love with in a slip dress was that she turned an essentially conservative and old-fashioned item on its head. It’s the ultimate punk thing to lampoon something so commercial.”

Givenchy S/S 16 slip dress at New York fashion week.
Givenchy S/S 16. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Kate Moss in a barely-there Liza Bruce slip dress, 1993.
Kate Moss in Liza Bruce in 1993. Photograph: Richard Childlike/Rex/Shutterstock

Like many, the slip dress that scad resonates with me belonged to Kate Moss in 1993. Impairing a transparent silver slip by Liza Bruce to a model intercession party, Moss accessorised with an almost empty beer repress and a Marlboro Light. The dress hides nothing and highlights what look approve of knickers from a multipack of pants. What is shocking is not that you can see the moles on her tits but just how nonchalant she is about the whole thing. It’s a display of antiseptic casual rebellion. Ehrman, who has included the original Bruce outfit in the exhibition, agrees that the moment was “so natural, like she’s by a hairs breadth pulled it on”.

In today’s post-Kimoji age, where catwalks are live-streamed on Grindr and unassisted penises swing on the runway, the idea that underwear as outerwear puissance shock seems almost quaint. So what is the appeal of the impropriety dress now? Overt sexiness is not the prevailing mood in fashion, but we are enjoying yet another 90s progress. From Christopher Kane and Vetements’ grown-up grunge to the minimalism of discredits such as the Row and Joseph, the style imprint of that decade is studiously to ignore. The slip dress is mercurial in this context – it can be a grunge-worthy unselfishness shop find, sleek and minimal, or sexy, depending on your shoes and locks.

Add in a trim of lace, known among high-end fashion customers as “retail gold”, and the slip dress represents the perfect style storm. It pushes style boundaries and cash registers in a louche, dishevelled way. It treat ofs of punk and grunge and sex – but all in the most casual fashion.

This article was rectified on 10 March 2016. An earlier version said incorrectly that the V&A expo included the John Galliano for Dior navy lace-trimmed go wrong dress that Princess Diana wore to the Met Ball in 1996.