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Sheer Clothing Styles for Older Women? Is This Serious?

Every few years some designer gets the hare-brained idea to feature sheer, see-through clothes on women models. In some earlier years these models wore attractive undergarments, making the “costume” (because that’s what it was, basically) less shocking.

But this year we’re actually seeing sheer clothes on naked breasts. It’s being labeled the “free-the-nipple” movement, as if to give it some authenticity. These sheer fabrics are even appearing in another popular trend, “utility” style (i.e., lots of pockets, although I can’t think of anything less utilitarian than organza pockets on an organza jacket.)

So, who started this so-called “movement?” And why aren’t feminists who care about “objectification” of women screaming in outrage? And why are women, notably Hollywood actresses, grabbing these items off the racks!

Well, outrage aside, by now we know that what comes down the fashion runway aisle is toned down by the time it reaches the ready-to-wear customer. You will still see the more extreme versions on younger women attending fashion week designer shows or at the awards show after-parties (the networks still enforce SOME “decency” laws for live TV, although years ago Cher came pretty close to violating them in that black top-to-bottom sheer Bob Mackie outfit.)

Some younger women are simply ditching their bras, revealing what are clearly un-tethered breasts beneath their sweaters and t-shirts. I’m not opposed to going bra-less at home. As the saying goes, “home is where the bra isn’t.” But in public? No, thank you. Not at my age and not in my youth. And I never burned my bras either. They were expensive and necessary!

Nonetheless, the whole concept of going “sheer” has become one of the big spring trends this year. Let’s look at how we will see it and what versions might – maybe, possibly – work for us.

Who Can Wear Sheer Textiles?

Fundamentally, sheer, transparent, flowing textiles, especially if they are shimmery or glowing, tend to only flatter those women who have a fair amount of what we call an “Angelic” style in their features and bone structure.

These are the types who have fine-textured skin, finer wispy or cloud-like hair texture, and hooded, somewhat bedroom-y eyes. Their overall look has a slightly unearthly quality. Think of actresses like Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Redgrave, Cate Blanchett and to some extent, Diana Ross.

But it’s hard to image Redgrave, at this age, wearing see-through anything. Swinton and Blanchett, possibly. Ross, not likely.

For those of us with little-to-none of those Angelic style qualities, we would have to be strategic in how we might embrace the trend. A few years ago, we started seeing a lot of bathing suits with sheer panels along the sides or in areas just above the breast up to the neckline. That’s a version that you will still find and that could definitely work for some of us older women.

Now, we’re also seeing the trend in blouses and tops that feature sheer textiles in the arms or along the shoulders. This is a variation on the cut-out features we saw in blouses and dresses the past two years.

If you’re not worried about exposing upper arm flab or bulges, this could be a very pretty alternative, worn with two other trends this year: looser, flowing pants or skirts, blinged up with a pair of long fringed or cascading drop earrings to wear as a special occasion outfit.

We’ve also seen some long chiffon scarf-like pieces worn over dresses. It feels a bit like a throwback to Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame. But again, for a special occasion, this could be a lovely finishing piece for a mother-of-the-bride type outfit or even possibly a daytime outdoor dressy event.

Shine on, Angel!

Glitter, glimmer and shine, style elements usually reserved for the year-end holiday season, are also big trends this year. Combining both that with the sheer textile trends we are seeing a lot of gold and silver-shot sheer linen textiles for the summer. It gives them a little more texture and a little more opacity.

But again, they are still fairly revealing. So, you would likely want to wear them over a bathing suit or with a tank top either in your skin tone or in the same color as the blouse. We’re seeing a lot of younger women wearing them with “fashion” bras in black or in a color exactly matching to the blouse that are intended to be part of the whole look. I’m not convinced that will work for a lot of us.

Shiny organza, a very sheer fabric not usually associated with casual wear, is also making a strong appearance in blouses, long jackets, “coats,” and shrugs as well as a lot of ruffled dresses. Ruffles add enough texture as to make those dresses not terribly transparent. But you might want to tread lightly when it comes to wearing ruffles.

Full-on ruffled dresses typically say “bridal.” But a pretty pink, blue, or other colored organza blouse with neckline ruffles, cascading ruffles, or even ruffled sleeve cuffs, might appeal to a lot of women, especially after seeing three years of mostly neutral toned oversized, loose, “menswear” type fashions. It could add the lovely feminine touch to your wardrobe that you might have been craving.

Because almost anything goes these days, especially if you have the confidence to carry it off, pair it with jeans, shorter skirts, or even with leather pants. But a more on-trend look would be to pair it with a silk or wool maxi skirt or satin flowing slacks.

Loose Knit Weaves and Peek-a-Boo Textiles

If you held onto your long, flowing, hand-made crochet topper from your hippie days, you are in luck! And very much in fashion!

Loose-weave knits, including crochet stitching, are a new option for the warmer months. Some of these pieces started showing up in the market at the end of last summer in the form of loose pants worn over matching panties or bathing suits. Younger women, of course, were the first adapters.

But now you will see this trend a lot in dresses, tank tops, blouses, and pants, often combined with another see-through weave, lace. Many of them are see-through around the legs and arms and lower torso, but strategically more tightly woven to cover specific areas: the bust and waist to thigh area. If you love the idea but just don’t want that much exposure you can find a lot of dresses and blouses with crocheted and lace sleeves. Still, be prepared to reveal your upper arms.

Lastly, for decades we haven’t seen anything in eyelet. It was considered kind of passé or just for children. Personally, I’ve always loved it. Maybe that’s just because it does remind me of my youth. We’re also seeing two other youth-related features: Swiss dot and polka dots.

Eyelet Button Down Blouse

Eyelet Button Down Blouse

Retailers that cater to older women, like Chico’s, offer a version eyelet blouses with solid linings over the torso area but not on the sleeves. Some also feature another trend which is the billowy sleeve, another feminine touch. Similar styles, but without any lining, are being worn with nude camisoles or skin colored bras.

Eyelet Billow Sleeve Shirt

Eyelet Billow Sleeve Shirt

So, what to make of all this? Well, it could indicate a broader sociological desire to move away from feelings of restriction and despair for the past several years. A lot of younger people felt the brunt of this greatly. That’s because at their time of life when they are first looking for a mate, they want to say, “Hey! Look at ME!”

Nothing says “Hey, look at me!” like walking around half-naked.

Will I Be Wearing These Styles?

Then there is always the consideration of climate. Most of these clothes are designed for warm months and warm climates… and warm bodies. As for me, until the temperature climbs above 70 degrees daily, I’ll most likely be curled up with my cup of tea, wearing my comfy loose cardigan, and let the trendy fashionistas deal with the whims of the elements.

Getting a Visual

Crochet

Beach cover-up from Anthropologie

Beach cover-up from Anthropologie

Anthropologie crochet tunic

Anthropologie crochet tunic

Crochet top and skirt Bloomingdales

Crochet top and skirt Bloomingdales

Macy’s crewneck cotton crochet sheath dress

Macy’s crewneck cotton crochet sheath dress

Sheer Blouses/Sleeves

Macy’s Casper blouse

Macy’s Casper blouse

Ruffle neck polka dot sleeve blouse Walmart

Ruffle neck polka dot sleeve blouse Walmart

Sheer Polka Dot Blouse Walmart

Sheer Polka Dot Blouse Walmart

Amazon sheer sleeve blouse

Amazon sheer sleeve blouse

Sheer Dresses

Halston Cape sheer dress Bloomingdales

Halston Cape sheer dress Bloomingdales

Sheer Ruffled Dresses

Macy’s belted ruffled dress

Macy’s belted ruffled dress

Dillard’s Ruffle Tulle corset dress

Dillard’s Ruffle Tulle corset dress

Topper/Cardigans

Sheer “Cardigan” at Dillards

Sheer “Cardigan” at Dillards

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Would you wear any of the new sheer styles? Which type might you experiment with? Have you already and what reaction did you get?

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The Author

Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, Shopping for the Real You, and an e-book, She’s Got Good Jeans. She has been a regular contributor to Sixty and Me for more than five years and blogs from her home in the San Francisco Bay area. Her most popular online course is Discovering Your Inner Style: an Adventure in Dressing Authentically.

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