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Oct 17, 2012

Nudity vs. Simulated Nudity

Friends, be honest: other than baby-making (or its gay twin) with a committed, consenting, adult partner, is there any other time you really want to see someone naked?  And even then.

I'm against censorship, but back in the glory days of Hollywood, when you couldn't show two adults kissing on a queen-size bed much less display a navel, there was something charming -- and alluring -- about the way costume designers got around the production code,  as it was then known.

Gilbert Adrian's costumes for Ziegfeld Girl.

Legendary designers like Jean Louis, Adrian, Orry-Kelly, and Travilla, using chiffon, illusion, and soufflé (or is that the same thing as illusion?), cleverly suggested nudity without exposing a lot of bare skin for stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, and countless others (many of whom were probably thankful for the cover).

If it doesn't exactly pass for the real thing, well, we get the idea.

 Dietrich in a peek-a-boo Madame Karinska creation in Kismet (1944).

Rita Hayworth costumed by Jean Louis in Salome (1953).

Jean Louis costume for Salome.

Orry-Kelly covers up Marilyn Monroe (barely) in Some Like it Hot (1958)

Jean Louis gown designed for Dietrich's cabaret show.

My Scheherezade -- or whatever I'll end up calling it -- costume is a tribute to campy Forties Hollywood exotica, so I'm including as much simulated nudity as possible while maintaining a classic Forties silhouette.  The midriff top, complete with shoulder pads, is based on a vintage Advance playsuit I made for Cathy the summer before last.

On Monday, I bought a nude bra at Marshall's for a whopping $6.99 -- and girls, you really don't have to pay more than that: mine fit fine (wink) -- which will form the foundation for the top.  I draped the flesh-toned power net over it, and to give it sparkle, draped the gold mesh over the power net, and then treated the layered fabrics as one.

I used a very short stitch and a narrow zig zag to keep the stretch in the seams.

Still very much a work in progress -- I haven't added the beads or other trim -- but I think you get the idea.  I'm practicing my Marie Montez hauteur here.

Readers, do you agree that simulated nudity is often more erotic that real nudity?

Have you ever worked with fabrics like illusion or soufflé?  Did it create the nude look you were going for or would you have been better off walking around in pasties?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I am totally stunned by the workmanship that went into those illusion costumes. No boning lines showing, no VPL or visible bra lines. And sexy - WOW! Granted you could get away with alot given that it is a B&W movie, but still. Now a Ziegfled Girl costume is something I might strive to make for DD next year.

  2. I'll copy & paste what I said on Facebook: "Right on! Besides, *real* naked bodies aren't really all that pretty. You can't photoshop real life."

    Adding on to that... Being able to disguise the flaws we all have and create the illusion of perfection is what costuming is all about. You can hide so many things with a sequin here and a cabochon there.

    It's also a way to maintain modesty if you're one of "those" people who has a moral objection to showing EVERYTHING you own. :raises hand: I'll admit I'm one of them. I like my lady parts covered, thankyouverymuch. If I'd wanted to show them off, I'd be working in Vegas.

    I've never worked with nude fabrics, YET. I will one day.

  3. I love openwork or sheer backed with opaque nude. It is very sexy though, since you can't look at the illusion without wondering how the goodies are hidden.

  4. I'm with you on the nudity thing. People are much sexier with clothes. Claudine

  5. love your post, as always. Very entertaining, and the picture of you in simulated nude is a feast for the eyes . I'm talking of mine and my as bored at work as me, colleagues's eyes. Yep, I shared.
    So thank you.

    But what is "soufflé" fabric ?
    To me a soufflé is an edible thing (my mother makes a fantastic one with Reblochon cheese).
    I could only find this :
    as reference for fabric soufflé .

    I'm quite curious about that soufflé fabric. Could you give me a clue ?


    1. There are many references to it in David Chierichetti's "Hollywood Costume Design book.

      I found this image of Rita Hayworth:


      It looks like it was a very sheet silk knit.

    3. thank you so much for those references. I checked them up, and now, the word "soufflé" sounds glamorous to my ears!

      Is this word used because the gowns are puffy like a soufflé ?
      I'll investigate this, when I'll have another idle afternoon at work.

      Thanks again.

    4. "Is this word used because the gowns are puffy like a soufflé ?"

      -I think so, based on the meaning of the word - as a noun means breath/whisper. The fabric itself probably has a lightness/airiness about it.

  6. Marlene D's dress is fabulous.

    What year is your Kenmore. I have a 1971 which comes with "cams".

  7. Peter, you're right. People look better with clothes. ;) I've drawn and sculpted a few dozen naked people in my years of art school, so I've seen naked people more than most... And clothes are better!

  8. I don't know how I feel about simulated nudity; on the one hand, it's cute, and you get to retain a pretense of modesty... on the other hand, the intent is there, you know? You're still intending to show off all the goods, but have hangups about your personal body or bodies in general and kind of fudge it.

    It's not real modesty, it's just a way of pretending like you're not emulating a Vegas showgirl, as someone put it. (Actually, Vegas showgirls work with nude and sheer fabrics a lot, with fantastic and beautiful - but still very slutty - results.)

    I guess I'd say I think it's pretty, the workmanship is gorgeous and I can appreciate the look, but I feel weird about the reinforcement of problematic female expectations.

    Be sexy; but your real body is undesirable. Be alluring; but make sure that you can *say* that you're modest. I think I'd rather let it all hang out and be honest about it, or cover myself up!

    Besides, my nudity is for me, not for anyone else, and that kind of alluring and coy pretense is definitely showing off for other people, not for me.

    And if that's your goal (like the showgirl example above, or the actresses in the post), that is totally sexy and fine, but I feel like a lot of times the illusion is just used as an excuse to pretend like you're *not* showing off for others.

    P.S. That Jean Louis gown is breathtaking. Holy cow. Nude fabric as a way of making jewelry dresses? Yes please.

    P.P.S. Sorry for commenting anonymously; it keeps saying I don't own my Wordpress name. But my site is; it occurred to me I shouldn't be all controversial and pro-nudity and then be scared to attach my name, face and my own rather revealing costume to it!

  9. I think the simulated nudity is way sexier - as soon as I saw the post my mind immediately jumped to that Marilyn Monroe dress in Some Like It Hot!

  10. Pro-tip, tan/flesh colored bras work better under light clothing than white. Any girl wearing a white bra under light clothing simply has friends who don't like her enough to tell her that.

    1. Or she doesn't own a flesh-toned bra or it's in the wash. :)

    2. In which case she should own two. Or manufacturers should stop cruelly making white. They're never white for more than a few weeks anyway.

      On the same token, I think my friend will be spending Halloween in women's nude colored briefs because the yellow satin I made his pants out of shows EVERYTHING slightly darker underneath.

  11. Dietrich's Jean Louis illusion gowns were indeed works of art, on which she was an active collaborator in terms of the placement of each bead and sequin.

    They were also miracles of engineering, as the effect was dependent not merely on the dress itself, but on an equally ingenious understructure armature that grew more elaborate as the years passed (by the end, I've heard, the combined costume could more or less stand up on its own).

    There's a story that Marlene was once asked to lend one of her stage gowns to a fashion show, and did so - but sans the foundation, and so only solidified her legend when the model looked like hell wearing the heavily encrusted illusion dress with nothing but her own anatomy to hold it up.

    1. I believe Marlene's foam foundation inspired the Tempur-pedic mattress.

  12. Oh good on you. Nudity is for interactivity or personal whatever, not for show and display, IMHO. I think more is more - the promise of potential future more revealing is way sexier than very revealing is. Just as I feel a tan is not as sexy as pale skin, because it implies a lot of revealed flesh out in public to get that tan.
    As a teen just left school, I made costumes for nude reviews, which of course aren't anything of the sort, there are only moments of glimpsed bits occasionally. The technical challenge was all in the removing - where to place fastenings and what sort, what the inside of a garment looked like as it would also be showing, etc. And now I know a lot of burlesque performers, most of whom are old school types who are more into the comedy than skin, and really the fun of it is in the comedy and the cheek, which to me is a big reason why it is worlds away form stripping!

  13. I think that people generally look better with clothes on. I also think that it doesn't matter how much you cover up. Have you seen this one?

    Are you a fan of M*A*S*S*H?
    With that turban and stubble you really, really remind me of Klinger. That's a good thing though, he's my favorite character.

    1. Klinger never had those legs. Peter has seriously great legs.

  14. Hi. I'm with the majority here, in agreeing that "faux nude" can be more alluring than the real thing. But sometimes, it's just creepy. If the illusion fabric is close-to-but-not-quite-the-right-skin tone, it looks like a disease.

    Personally, I prefer an outfit with "strategic skin" -- show a bit of your best, but not ALL of anything, not matter how flawless you are. So, a high-front, long-sleeve dress with a back down to almost-there. Or a plunging neckline with a modest-length skirt. Or, if you have decent legs (and I no longer do), a shorter skirt with otherwise modest cut. Anything else, and you begin to resemble something between a "real housewife" and a streetwalker.

    This doesn't necessarily apply to costumes, where anything goes and ill-matched illusion is still preferable to real skin.

    As for "souffle," have you seen the Vintage Fashion Guild's wonderful new Fabric Resource? It's free and available to the public, and can be quoted if credited properly. "Courtesy Vintage Fashion Guild" will suffice ; ):

  15. You know what I love most about that photo of you in this outfit? The five o'clock shadow! It adds that little something ...

  16. Peter, I think you need to change your name to Petra when you wear this costume. And don't be bragging about how easy it is to find a bra that fits.

  17. A turban and pearls becomes you.

  18. A big yes to the simulated nudity. Let's bring it back please. For all of our sakes: you get to be sexy but no cellulite showing? Win win!

  19. A corset bloggers definition of soufflé, the fabric. Seems to fit here (no pun intended)...

  20. Considering the diversity of the world. Nude used to describe a color is the elephant in the room.

  21. Beyond belief, Peter....................

  22. I am fascinated by faux nudity in costume! I recently watched the opening sequence of 'PARTY GIRL' starring Cyd Charisse on youtube, in which she plays one of a troupe of nightclub dancers. They appear to be nude apart from srategically placed gold sequins and motifs, however, the next scene shows the girls backstage in their dressing room and close up you can see that they are in fact completely covered in flesh-coloured mesh or illusion right up to their necks and down to their wrists it's all an 'illusion' after all!

  23. The thing I don't like about many simulated partly-nude outfits is that my eye is constantly drawn to the skin-tone "illusion" fabric and I find myself analyzing how the garment was made. In particular, I notice this a lot with skating outfits that competitive skaters wear. I don't want to find my eyes staring at the cut-aways again and again - I want to enjoy the skater's grace and skill. Partly-nude outfits can be done well, but there are a lot out there that are not.

    Peter, I *do* like your midriff top nudity suggestion - I like how it hangs away from the body rather than trying to be nude tone and skin tight. Looking forward to seeing the rest!


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