X-Ray Top

AKA: see-through top, sheer top

How to say it:  eks-rey  top

Traditional Features: 

X-Ray Top

  • a top made from see-through or sheer fabric
  • can be any style


…of the style: See-thru fabric has been around for a very long time, and has been used to make garments since 3000 BC in the form of Indian saris.

In the 5th century BC, Ancient Greek men and women wore a garment called the Ionic Chiton, which was made of finely woven wool, linen or silk and was often transparent. However, the garment consisted of many pleats and folds, so the wearers body was not exposed in the way often associated with sheer fabrics.

The chemise worn under dresses by women in the 18th century was often made from muslin that was fine enough to be see-thru, and in the 1780s Marie Antoinette introduced the Chemise a la Reine, an informal gown of sorts, constructed of many layers of sheer muslin and belted around the middle. The Chemise a la Reine initially caused quite a stir, but was quickly adopted by the fashionable women of France and England. While the original Chemise a la Reine gown was not overly transparent due to the number of layers of fabric, by 1784 the fashionable women of Paris had taken to wearing a more revealing and see-through version of the style. In the 1790s the Chemise a la Reine style had evolved into a look that was described as “a la Sauvage” which consisted of a semi-sheer muslin dress over a nude body stocking, leaving the arms, feet and bust uncovered, thus making public nudity the look of the day.

These semi-sheer gowns turned into the neoclassical gowns of the beginning of the 19th century. These short-waisted gowns with skirts that clung to the body were also made from muslin, or other sheer fabrics, and left very little to the imagination.

The trend of using sheer or see-through fabrics in women’s clothing continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, however as the trend for public nudity died away, linings were added under the  sheer fabrics to conserve the wearer’s modesty. The ‘peekaboo waist’ blouse (made from broderie anglaise) caused a stir in the first decade of the 20th century, as people complained that skin could be seen through the gaps in the fabric, the 1920s brought the sheer silk stocking, and in the 1950s chiffon and organza were popular fabrics in eveningwear (although always used with a lining).

It wasn’t until the 1960s that sheer clothing resurfaced as a trend in modern fashion. In 1967 Missoni asked models to remove their bras as the fabric of the undergarments could be seen through the knit fabrics of the clothes. Once on the show began the lights on the catwalk somehow made the clothes go completely see-through, exposing the now bare-breasted models to the audience. However the fashion patrons of Florence did not seem phased by the extra skin and by the following year Yves Saint Laurent presented the see-through look in Paris, as did Ossie Clark in London.

The transparent trend continued through the 1970s to an extent, but rose to the height of fashion again in the celebrity-influenced 80s. Stars like Madonna, Cindy Crawford and Brooke Shields were all spotted wearing see-through garments and the look was copied by fashionistas on the streets. This is wear the x-ray or see-through top really came into being, and women’s fashion featured tops of various styles made from sheer fabrics like lace, mesh and chiffon, being worn with or without linings or underclothes.

The trend fell out of favour in the 1990s but has recently been revived on the catwalks. From 2007 sheer fabrics resurfaced in designer collections and have stayed there ever since. Shirts, tops and blouses in sheer fabrics are now regularly available in the fashion marketplace and while they often appear on the runway with nothing underneath, the styles are (usually) worn with a lot more modesty (and underthings) in the real world.

…of the name: Tops made from sheer or see-though fabrics allow onlookers to see the wearers body underneath the garment. Much like an x-ray.

For more info on X-ray Tops and See-though Fabrics try Wikipedia or Fashion Diary

Random Facts

  • when the Chemise a la Reine became a popular fashion trend the French silk industry apparently took quite a financial loss as the gown was made from muslin.

21st Century X-Ray Tops

The 21st century X-ray top is firm favourite on the fashion landscape and allows the wearer to walk the fine line between sexy and socially acceptable clothing. The beauty of these tops is that they are often light enough to wear a full singlet underneath in order to preserve a bit of modesty whilst still rocking the see-through trend.

Helmut Lang Minkpink

Helmut Lang, Minkpink

Theyskens Theory The Row

Theyskens’ Theory, The Row


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