Etiquetteer really hadn’t given Gwyneth Paltrow a thought since Shakespeare in Love, but she has now been forced on Etiquetteer’s attention due to an Unfortunate Fashion Choice. For the premiere of Iron Man III, La Paltrow chose an Antonio Berardi gown distinguished - if that is the word - by neck to floor panels of sheer black on each side. The gown was designed in such a way that she could not wear underwear under it, and it need hardly be said that a Lady does not call attention to her lingerie, or lack of it.
As if that weren’t Lacking in Taste enough, La Paltrow’s stylist leapt into the fray with the usual fluffy public relations denials along the lines of “It’s daring in a no-daring way,” “It’s spirit without being vulgar,” “You don’t see a whole lot of false fakeness going on there like some other people,” etc. To which Etiquetteer can only suggest that they must be showing us the real fakeness. The late Oscar Levant once said “Scratch the fake tinsel of Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.” Etiquetteer can only agree.
But the real coup de grace for Etiquetteer was later in the article, recounting La Paltrow talking about this dress with Ellen DeGeneres on the latter’s talk show - and the unexpected grooming required to wear a sheer dress with no underwear. As Miss Sweet Brown taught us, “Ain’t nobody got time f’that!” Is this what we’ve come to, America, frank discussion of pubic grooming on national television? You may be sure that Etiquetteer had to go lie down after reading that.
Please, ladies - please! Etiquetteer certainly doesn’t want to prevent you from making the best advantage of your physiques if you wish to do so, but good tailoring and fitting will go much further than the overuse of sheer fabric. Perhaps it is time for satin to make a comeback; Etiquetteer remembers the late Anais Nin writing about the skill of French tailors making black satin flow like liquid over a woman’s body. Or something like that.
A couple other examples of sheer fashion in history also didn’t end well. At the 1969 Academy Awards, Barbra Streisand was persuaded by designer Arnold Scaasi to wear a sheer black pantsuit to the ceremony. The triple layer of tulle did too little to conceal La Streisand’s undergarments. Indeed, her pantyline was made even more prominent when she tripped going up the steps to the stage. The late Mr. Blackwell accused her of mooning the audience. You be the judge by viewing the film clip here. The conventional wisdom, “You can never go wrong with a classic,” is still Sound Advice.
A much more scandalous occasion took place much further back in time when Elizabeth Chudleigh, a lady-in-waiting in the court of George II, showed up dressed as Iphigenia at a court masquerade with at least her breasts bared, and nothing else left to the imagination. A couple different interpretations of what she wore may be found here. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was said to have remarked that her tunic was so disengaged “the sacrificial priest would have no trouble finding her entrails.” (Etiquetteer is gnashing his teeth in rage at not being able to cite the source.) Her Sauciness attracted the attention of the king, who asked if he could touch her exposed breast. She replied, “Your Majesty, I can put it in a far softer place,” and brought his hand to his own head. Etiquetteer marvels that this is actually history and not from an episode of “Tales of Ribaldry” with Jon Lovitz.
Etiquetteer can only conclude that those beautiful sheer fabrics are best left in the bedroom.
Kindly send your own style-related questions to Etiquetteer at queries_at_etiquetteer.com.