The trend can be traced back to the 1950s, starting off as a form of dancewear, and lasting through the mod era. Many dancers wore leotards over their tights in order to create an elongated, more elegant line. But sometimes, they would layer with shirts or sweaters, oftentimes belted to help clarify their waistlines. “Cyd Charisse and some of the Old Hollywood vixens and ingenue used to dance in things like that,” says image architect Law Roach. The look has become particularly associated with Edie Sedgwick, the socialite and Andy Warhol muse. In one especially memorable photograph, Sedgwick balances on a leather rhinoceros, her black stocking-clad leg extended into an arabesque, a T-shirt covering her leotard, save for the bottom.
The look picked back up—again in an exercise capacity—in the 1980s with the aerobics craze. Between Jane Fonda’s workout wear and Jamie Lee Curtis’s electric chemistry with John Travolta in 1985’s Perfect, high-cut leotards with belts were all the rage in the athletic scene. In the ’90s, the no-pants look appeared several times on the Chanel runway, as well as Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier. And through the early aughts, Christian Dior and Miu Miu took up the mantle as well.
But the pantless trend didn’t move away from the athletic associations until fairly recently. In 2022, Kendall Jenner stepped out in a look from Bottega Veneta’s spring 2023 collection—a navy blue knit sweater with white cuffs, black briefs over sheer black tights, and a pair of black slingback heels. Bottega wasn’t the only one to send the look down the runway: Valentino couture, Victoria Beckham, and Raf Simons all employed pantlessness in their collections. For fall 2023, Maison Margiela and LaQuan Smith manufactured such styles, as did Miu Miu, who made a splash with their controversial embellished panties, worn by Emma Corrin (among others). The actor and fashion plate quickly adopted the trend, wearing Miu Miu’s take to the Venice Film Festival as well as to the premiere of My Policeman.
Since then, the trend has only gained more fans. Adwoa Aboah, Cara Delevingne, and Jodie Turner-Smith all took the look for a spin at Vogue World: London in September. Rachel Zegler tested out Sergio Hudson’s take on pantlessness for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes press tour. Lori Harvey broke out the undies for a party, while Law Roach wore Calvin Klein briefs over fishnet tights with his Luar look at the CFDA Awards. And, of course, we all know a trend has truly made it when it ends up on Real Housewives and other reality stars, like at Bravocon 2023.
Celebrity stylist Amanda Lim agrees that the look is recycling old trends. “I love the confidence and power a good elevated pantless look projects. I think that as people continue to connect globally—thank you, tech boom—and elevate each other that this look provides a safe space to take control of your image, empower yourself, and hopefully inspire your fashion peers to do the same,” she says. “After all, trends are born of repetitive imitation and isn’t that the highest form of flattery?”