There's a scene in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls in which Lizzy Caplan’s character cuts two holes out of the tank top of the mean girl-in-charge, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), in order to undermine her popularity. When Regina puts on the slashed top, she pauses as she takes in the two poker chip-sized holes on her breasts, revealing her purple bra underneath, before shrugging and walking out of the locker room. Soon, all the other girls in school follow suit, wearing tops with peepholes that show off their bras. Seventeen years later, fashion, too, seems to have gotten the message about confounding cutouts.
Take, for example, the autumn 2021 collections: Moon crescents, marking what would be the top outlines of a bra, were cut onto a hot pink Herve Leger shirt that members of the Plastics would have fought to wear on a Wednesday. ADEAM’s collared shirts featured underarm slits, an ingenious design I could benefit from should I ever return to a crowded subway commute. Markarian, the designer behind Jill Biden’s Inauguration look, and Jonathan Simkhai showed pants that were missing fabric underneath the belt loops, revealing part of the hip and sides that require its wearer to get innovative with their underwear (or lack thereof). In the outerwear department, Christian Siriano sent out a coat that featured triangular cutouts that landed at the ribs and thighs; this may defeat the purpose of having a coat in the first place, but is appealing for when you’re both cold and hot for some (well-deserved) attention.
Why are designers so keen on highlighting parts of our bodies that we usually hide away?
For Regina George, the top’s brazen ridiculousness was part of its appeal. Likewise, after a year marked by comfort wear, designers and shoppers are also ready for risk-taking fashion. Look, for instance, at the popular pull-apart dresses and sweaters, featuring buttons appearing on the verge of popping off and bursting side seams — the epitome of extreme cutout fashion. Created by cool-girl brands like Rui Zhou and Poster Girl and worn by celebrities like Dua Lipa and Kylie Jenner, the trend has dominated social media since last year. And while some were quick to joke that the Swiss cheese-like fashion mirrored our mental state after a year in the pandemic (hanging by the thread — ha. ha. ha.), and our desire to break out of the confinement of our homes when it’s finally safe to do so — to pull apart our clothes, Hulk-style, and hug everyone we know — the attraction is in the apparel’s unabashed boldness. It is the antithesis of the matching sweatsuits that have defined our style since the pandemic took hold. It incites strong emotion, good or bad, after a year of sartorial indifference.
Then there's fashion’s general move toward the skimpier. After isolating at home for months on end, with an overabundance of shapeless house dresses and hoodies, it was inevitable that a craving for more revealing styles was going to set in. Since the summer, trends like lingerie-as-outerwear and swimsuit bottoms that could be mistaken as face masks have been on the rise. Pants and dresses with back cutouts that give the illusion of a whale tale, from the likes of Kendra Duplantier, Subsurface, and Aya Muse flooded our grids. Sure, fashion is cyclical, so it was only a matter of time before the visible thong came back in style, but it is telling that something as statement-making as the infamous early aughts trend made a comeback during a decidedly unsexy time in our lives.
Will we all look like Regina George come autumn ‘21, with cutouts revealing all sorts of unexpected parts of our bodies? With vaccines rolling out, there’s a good chance that we might actually be able to hug our friends and family in the autumn, setting stage for trends that promote maximum skin-to-skin contact. Or, we could still be at home, wearing skimpy fashion in protest of our confinement.