Lingerie goes public and out for the evening


In the 1850s, suffragists advocated the end of the restrictive corset. In the late 1960s, the bra became a symbol of female bondage, and went up in flames.

Then came the 1990s, and Madonna rekindled the issue when she churned across stage in her Jean-Paul Gaultier bustier, defying anyone to see the bra as a symbol of oppression.

Today, while some may still call for the overthrow of a lingerie dress-code, designer Donna Karan -- who is launching a line of intimate wear in the fall -- says the renewed popularity of intimate fashion "allows a woman to be free to be a woman."

Underthings have come a long way. In fact, this season lingerie is not necessarily an underthing at all, and one would be hard-pressed to distinguish some lingerie from eveningwear; the marriage of the two has produced a great many evening looks crafted of lace, chiffon and "point d'esprit."

And the Gaultier-cone bra has evolved into a somewhat less geometric, more feminine form. Layers of crinoline and tulle petticoats have flourished on runways at spring and summer '92 shows in Paris and Milan. Stretch lace bodysuits, fishnet stockings, bra-seamed dresses and bustiers are -- one might say -- busting out all over.

Even footwear has born the intimate influence; mules are back, affecting comfortable bedroom slippers in classic black, white or gold.

While some women would rather not get all the way down to bare essentials, many can still achieve the look without showing too much, creating an image of sheer sophistication.

Recall the elegance of Olympic ice-skater Nancy Kerrigan, for example, in her sheer-shouldered, sheer-sleeved and swan-white bodysuit by Vera Wang. Or the Chanel ballerinas in tulle or long chiffon skirts.

A similarly evocative look might be achieved with a long, sheer shirtdress worn over leggings and matching bra.

Or with the simply elegant slip dresses of Giorgio Armani, Gucci or Calvin Klein. For a touch more heat, try the sultry "Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof" slip dress from Valentino.

Karl Lagerfeld speaks of his version of the look as "mysterious-sexy, based on transparencies," interesting because it "puts the imagination to work."

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