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Why undergarment companies have a lot to worry about

You have to hand it to the fashion industry. It must be hard to keep coming up with ideas for what the world should be wearing. Sometimes, designers recycle trends. And other times, they invent new ones. So guess what? This spring, it's all about non-clothes clothing.

Transparency is in. You dress in clothing with sheer panels in order to strategically undress. Expose that under- and side-boob, that side-butt, that mid-section! As a concept, it feels all sort of post-modern and ironic. Who has anything to hide in a world that has destroyed any semblance of privacy? We live in a culture of exposure. Or maybe someone had the brilliant idea that if we're throwing out many of the ways we used to do things then maybe we should rethink one of the primary reasons to wear clothes. It's so yesterday to think of them as a way of preventing nudity, I suppose.

All I know is that if I worked for an underwear company, I would be worried. The whole point of the sheer panels seems to be the, um, cheeky revelation that you're not wearing anything underneath that gauze.

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The sheer-panel trend is another iteration of look-at-me dressing, which is as old as sandals, of course. But it is also a fallout of celebrity fashion, with which underwear, needless to say, is always just an option. Last November, the British press started calling the extreme examples of sheer-panel clothes Why Bother Dresses or WBDs for short. (In fashion, you have to have an appendix for all the abbreviations: There's the LBD or Little Black Dress, the VPL or Visible Panty Line and of course the problem of TTH or Trying Too Hard.)

Under scrutiny at the time was actress Jaimie Alexander, who showed up in an Azzaro Couture gown that made it abundantly clear, with a sheer panel running between her breasts and down one side of her crotch, that she had nothing else on. If you don't know who Alexander is, that's, well, the point. Now you do. The WBD is a public-relations vehicle, one sure way for a C-list actress to get her picture in the paper. And yes, it's a case of TTH.

Abbey Clancy, a model and onetime winner of the popular British TV series Strictly Come Dancing, also once showed up for an event in a risible excuse for a dress by Welsh designer Julien Macdonald. The gown, if you can call it that, was a thin strip of fabric with wide sheer panels down each side. There was no way she could move freely and her pasted-on smile suggested as much. She was one wrong move away from the kind of overexposure that even an ambitious wannabe would dread. Paris Hilton, another B-to-C-list celebrity, recently appeared at a pre-Grammy party in Los Angeles in a sheer-panel dress that almost showed more than a sex tape. It was a plea for people to gawk while the innocent expression on her face could say, "A vulgar attention-seeker? Who me?"

But the trend is not confined to quasi-celebrities who will do anything to get attention. Gwyneth Paltrow, who prides herself on the privacy she guards for her family, wore a daring Antonio Berardi dress to a premiere for Iron Man 3 last year. Was it more evidence of her control-freak personality that she will expose what she wants when she wants?

And last fall, Jennifer Lawrence, the darling-of-the moment who appears as if she has merely stumbled into the bright lights of fame, showed up for the L.A. premiere of Catching Fire, the Hunger Games sequel, in a transparent Dior gown, exposing a black, strapless bodysuit underneath. The red-carpet moment felt like a contemporary expression of the classic Hans Christian Andersen parable The Emperor's New Clothes.

In that tale, the king wore a new fabric that he was told would be invisible only to people who were stupid or unfit for office. It wasn't until a child in the crowd exclaimed that the king wasn't wearing any clothes that people believed their own eyes. See any parallels to modern celebrity? Nowadays, you can look at Lawrence in that dress and buy into the hype that she is an amazing, shining star dressed in beautiful, awe-inspiring fabric – or you can see her as a 23-year-old woman who is out in public in her underwear.

At least she was wearing some.

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