Always has done, actually: think of those Sunday night period dramas, where ankles are kept strictly under wraps even as bosoms heave and quiver. Fast-forward to 2014 and the flesh-flashing choices are many and varied. Which bits to show, from what angle, and how far to go? When clothes get this personal, the politics are a minefield. Do you know where to start? And — more importantly — when to stop? Before you strip off, read our guide to contemporary exposure protocol.
No doubt you, like me, have often pondered the question: in what light will history cast the role of Elizabeth Hurley in late-20th-century fashion and sexuality? Contemporary thinkers believe she will be remembered as a pioneer of the art of finding newsworthy body parts to expose, a calling that is now the driving force behind several newspaper websites. It is two decades since Liz Hurley turned the premiere of Four Weddings And A Funeral into a fashion event, with a Versace dress that made an erotic feature of an unknown area since christened the sideboob. Its owner is showing off both perky bosoms and the fact that she is not wearing a bra. (It is no coincidence that 1994, the year of That Dress, was also the year of the Wonderbra Hello Boys ad. Eva 0, Liz 1.)
Sideboob is the posh girl’s cleavage: Cressida Bonas has been working the look to the tabloids’ glee, and Lady Victoria Hervey seldom leaves the house without it. And check out Jennifer Lawrence at Dior.
The crop top is back. But be warned: flash the wrong two inches of abdomen and you might as well not bother. The alpha abdomen has migrated north since the crop top’s 1990s heyday, when All Saints were the poster girls. In those days, the look meant a top that ended at your tummy button and trousers that came up to the top of your knickers. This time around, it’s about a skirt that comes right up to your waist, and a top that starts two inches above that. See: Dolce & Gabbana spring/summer 2014 catwalk; Emma Stone at the Met Ball (red skirt, pink racer-style tank); Alexa Chung in Chanel at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (gold skirt, lacy cream top); Laura Whitmore at the Transformers premiere in Dublin. Whereas the crop top in its previous incarnation was boudoirishly provocative, this is all about sporty discipline and clean, straight lines of neat abdomen. The power flesh to flash of summer 2014.
Before we get in a tizzy about the cult of hipbone exposure and how it openly drools over thinness, we should perhaps pause to recall how shoulderblades and spines have been fetishised by fashion for centuries (corsets scooped low at the rear, 1930s satin dresses dipping to a daring back plunge). Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the vogue for hipbone-flaunting is a bit creepy and joyless, like chatting someone up by telling them how long you can hold a plank position for. It started with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Antonio Berardi dress last spring, with sheer panels at each side that were so wide, her hipbones were clearly visible. (Indeed, they were so wide, she said later, that her team were “scrambling to find a razor… I rock a ’70s vibe”.) Then there was Anja Rubik at the Met Ball in an Anthony Vaccarello dress slit to the waist on one side, the first recorded case of a supermodel being upstaged on the carpet by her own hipbone. Tipping point was surely reached by Kendall Jenner — she’s sort of a Kardashian, that’s all you need to know — in a dress that revealed not one hipbone, but both.
One for the boys. Popeye biceps and Chippendale pecs are so very over. The trophy body part for the 2014 male is the inguinal crease: the v-shaped dip between the waist and groin. This is nothing new — Michelangelo’s David had it going on — but after a slow buildup (think D’Angelo, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and David Gandy modelling Dolce & Gabbana), this year they are everywhere. (See: David Beckham’s underwear adverts.) What’s interesting is that this is not a muscle, but a ligament – in other words, to expose it requires not building muscle, but losing fat. Men’s Health magazine reports that for an optimal inguinal crease, you need to get down to between 5% and 8% body fat. The inguinal crease craze is, in other words, the size zero scandal reinvented for men.
Who remembers the whale tail? That unholy alliance of low-cut hipster jeans and high-cut thongs, which resulted in a T-bar of lace or cotton above the jeans every time the wearer bent over or sat down. Well, in the past five years, the whale tail has been turned on its head. Where once trousers rode low enough to expose your bottom from above, this summer’s shorts are belted high, but cut off so abruptly that the lower part of your bottom is exposed. What began with the Daisy Duke, cut off to bum-crease point, has been succeeded by the poke short, so short that your pockets (not to mention your buttocks) poke out. Now, no one is pretending this is an easy look to pull off, but whereas the whale tail was shaming because it was a fail — the byproduct of you scrabbling in the bottom of your bag for your Oyster card — the underbum is at least bold and brazen, in a lollipoppy, Katy Perry or Rihanna kind of a way. Heart-shaped sunglasses to be avoided; twerking technique an advantage.