Decent Exposure : It Takes Sheer Nerve to Bare the Transparent

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You can see right through many fall fashions, and that's just how designers want it.

Sheer looks, from flowing chiffon pants to clingy mesh bodysuits, have turned the runways of Paris and New York into peep shows.

Karl Lagerfeld's models flashed the audience recently when they paraded down the runway in the designer's completely see-through wool chiffon skirts and pants that showed off their thigh-high stockings and other unmentionables.

This season, Thierry Mugler showed a lot of leg with his see-through black chiffon skirt paired with a sculpted jacket, while Calvin Klein bared the midriff with a cocoa-colored silk evening dress.

"There's always something new to do with sheer," says Los Angeles designer Caron Schwartz, who has created romantic dresses and skirts in chiffon, tulle and lace under her Caron Joy label. Her designs are carried at Flora Hills boutique in Corona del Mar and Michael Nusskern boutique in Fullerton.

"Sheer makes women feel feminine," she says. "It's kind of timeless."

Barely-there fabrics such as crisp organzas, chiffons, netting, mesh and lace are responsible for this overexposure.

Some designers use sheer insets on a blouse or jacket to unveil just a swatch of skin. Others are more daring, turning out all-over sheer skirts, dresses and flowing pants.

How to wear the new looks without getting arrested for indecent exposure? Mix them with a concealing "hard piece" made of a heavier fabric. That's where cat suits, leggings, bustiers and long jackets come in. When worn with a sheer garment, they allow one to look suggestive without actually revealing much of anything.

"We like combining the hard and soft together. By mixing fabrics we can cover the trouble areas with the thicker fabric and use sheer for illusion," says Flora Hills, owner of the Flora Hills boutique. Thus a striped see-through blouse looks almost Victorian when worn under a velvet vest with vintage lace doilies.

Sheer styles cover a wide range of looks, from romantic to tailored and even avant-garde, Hills says.

Romantics can choose flowing dresses made of floral chiffons from Caron Joy with drop waists and full skirts that are worn over cat suits or slips. Caron Joy's black lace jumper ($170) comes with a button-front knit dress "that almost looks like Long Johns underneath," she says.

For those who favor more sophisticated looks, there's Tina Hagen's ivory-colored chiffon blouse ($98) with strategically placed lace panels in front for coverage and matching pajama pants ($102).

"There's all kinds of ways to wear sheer," Hills says.

Sheer can be as formal as a black organza blouse with a sequined collar and cuffs or as casual as a T-shirt made of fine mesh.

"If they like tailored suits, they can wear it with the sheer T-shirt. If they like short skirts, they can wear a sheer one with a long jacket. As long as it's done with taste," Hills says.

Michael Nusskern, fashion designer and owner of the Michael Nusskern boutique, favors vintage-looking sheers, especially romantic skirts in crinkled or pleated chiffon and embroidered tulle.

"The newest way to wear sheer is to make it look antique," he says. In his shop, one skirt with black embroidered netting layered over a red knit lining looks like something from the '30s ($160).

Would-be ballerinas might prefer Lulu Bravo's full skirt made of black netting with a built-in mini underneath for coverage--eliminating the need for a dancer's leotard. It's available at Michael Nusskern for $200. Caron Joy's silk organza blouse in emerald green ($130) solves the see-through problem by adding a green stretch velvet tank.

"You don't have to have a Lycra-type body to wear sheer," Nusskern says.

Silk chiffon dresses and tiered skirts in crinkled floral prints have been the rage at Melrose in Laguna Niguel range from $125 to $175, according to co-owner Cher Truskowski.

"I was surprised. I didn't think people would be that daring. But the print camouflages the body, and people wear them with tights and leggings. They're feminine and flowing," she says.

Lingerie and swimsuit shops are a source of often inexpensive see-through styles that can be worn day or night. Everything But Water carries beach cover-ups, including chiffon sarongs and blouses, that can be worn almost everywhere.

"They're not just swimwear. They're evening wear or active wear. They can go out at night with jeans," says Judy Gregorios, manager of Everything But Water stores in Brea Mall and South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court.

There are sheer full pants in white or black ($83) that look great with a bra top "if you're bold enough," says Gregorios or a long jacket if you're not. Other sheer options: mesh T-shirts in every color ($28), chiffon sarongs trimmed in pearls or crystals ($26), or the store's top-of-the-line plum-colored chiffon jacket by Michael Kors ($274).

"You can wear the sheer pieces over everything," Gregorios says.

Designer Karla Colletto's one-piece tank bathing suit ($144) has a mesh inset that exposes the midriff. It's being worn as a top with jeans or skirts.

Hills cautions people against going overboard on the peekaboo fashions.

"We believe less is more," she says. "You can wear just enough sheer to be suggestive, but leave a little to the imagination."

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