If this summer of short shorts, mercilessly skinny pants, leather and latex body-suits, snug rompers, and sheer maxis wasn't enough of a visual tip-off, the MTV Video Music Awards certainly confirmed it: The mons pubis is having a fashion moment.
After centuries of habitually camouflaging the pelvic area with all manner of fruits and frocks, women's private parts have never been more visible.
Take Beyoncé's memorable red-carpet appearance, for example, which I wrote about on Monday. The megastar and her daughter, Blue Ivy, floated onto the VMA red carpet Sunday night like a pair of cumulus couture clouds. Blue was adorable in layers of tulle, but despite the feathery high neck on her mom's sheer Francesco Scognamiglio gown, the dress kept unapologetically drawing our eyes down.
Also attention-getting at the VMAs were rapper Nicki Minaj, who went panty-free in a navy blue Bao Tranchi gown that exposed a portion of her privates, and singer Halsey's sparkling Yousef Al-Jasmi jumpsuit featuring a demure, halter neckline, that also exposed most of the singer's nipples and some of her pubic area.
"Nowadays, designers are covering women up for evening and special-occasion wear," said Anthony Henderson-Strong, 39, a fashion stylist from Philadelphia who recently dressed 59-year-old Sheryl Lee Ralph for a local fund-raiser in a see-through, see-it-all Tadashi Shoji. "Still, women want to be sexy. So they are revealing more, giving us a little tease, in a very classy way."
Classy? Well, that's debatable.
What isn't debatable is the popularity of this latest, if not boldest, interpretation of the sheer trend that officially started in 2014 when Rihanna received the icon of the year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in that completely transparent Adam Selman gown.
Not everyone is confident enough to go so bare-bummed, so in the last two years, celebrities who want to participate in the trend in a more demure way have opted to wear granny panties under the translucent sheaths. That also means you can't have any, ahem, texture, so Brazilian waxes are key.
These women - Ashley Graham and Rita Ora, for example, on Sunday's VMAs - keep the attention on the pelvic shape without looking so, well, naked.
"Underwear is a key ready-to-wear piece," said Kerry O'Brien, founder and designer of Commando, an underwear company in Vermont. The company, among the most popular brands of virtually seamless undies, came on the scene 11 years ago to hide panty lines. Now, O'Brien said, Commando supplies full underpants and thongs to celebs who are using the smooth unmentionable to tout what was once taboo. "There are really no more limitations to this fashion statement."
My, how things have changed.
When it comes to highlighting the groin, it has typically been about men. At several moments in history, fashion mores called attention to the outline of a penis with protective cups, especially during war eras, says Clare Sauro, fashion historian at Drexel University, who oversees the university's costume collection. The '70s come to mind, too.
But turning the spotlight on the vagina - considered the most revered and virtuous part of a woman - has, for centuries, been unheard of. This has been largely to keep men in check. In their eyes, when it came to the forbidden fruit, nothing good could come of it.
"By requiring that women be covered," Sauro said, "men were able to maintain their sense of authority."
That is part of the reason women didn't wear pants until well into the 1930s. It was why Marilyn Monroe's white halter-dress blow-up incident in 1954's The Seven Year Itch bordered on scandalous, as did her performance in a body-skimming, sparkly, and somewhat sheer gown singing happy birthday to President John F. Kennedy.
During the 1970s, Cher would appear in sheer dresses, and in the 1990s, punk designers like Vivienne Westwood would put body suits on the runway with a strategically placed heart or leaf. But, Sauro said, the look never became mainstream.
That is, until now. The perfect storm of tighter-than-tight trousers, formfitting underwear, Beyoncé in latex body suits, and Kim Kardashian breaking the internet has given women permission to claim their sexuality by willingly showing off their goods. If you don't think you've seen this kind of exposure, check out a teenager in her jeans shorts.
But, as with all trends, there is a shelf life.
Like celebrities, stylists feel pressure to keep pushing the edge of the envelope for their clients.
So that means one day it's crazy leg slits, the next it's embarrassingly deep décolletage. The pelvic imprint is just the latest in exhibitionism, says Arnold Milfort, a Levittown stylist who has created red carpet looks for singer Vivienne Green and who is a contributing editor for Harper's Bazaar.
This kind of exposure eventually loses its shock value, he said, and we've already seen evidence of a backlash. Alicia Keys, who is now claiming a makeup-free existence, arrived at the VMAs in a loose, prairie-style red-and-black floral print by Just Cavalli.
"There is just no creativity anymore," said Milfort, 30. "We've got to find a way to come up with interesting red carpet looks that are amazing but don't make you turn your head because they are showing so much skin. There has to be a happy medium."