Why the Legacy of the Slip Dress Lives on

Rihanna in 2012; Alicia Silverstone in Clueless; Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt at the Oscars in 1996

The American designer took a sliver of fabric from undergarment to icon and the legacy lives on.

Good jeans

Just months after launching his eponymous label in 1968, littleknown designer Calvin Klein was celebrating $1 million in sales. It was an early sign of the success ahead. In the mid-’70s came his signature jeans, which later reached phenomenal sales on the back of controversial ads featuring teenage actress Brooke Shields – “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.” Underwear and fragrance lines followed, with a new breed of model, including Kate Moss and Christy Turlington.

A fresh, raw sexuality was in, as was a garment that captured this generation-altering mood better than any other: the slip dress.

Then and now

Traditionally cut on the bias with spaghetti straps and made of a lightweight slinky fabric such as silk, the slip was only widely worn as outerwear in the last decade of the 20th century. What had previously been termed a petticoat became a true fashion item in its own right. Popularised by ’90s grunge star Courtney Love, who favoured vintage slips, the item came to represent the subversive and counter-culture cool. There were many takes: Cindy Crawford got married in one (by John Galliano) and Carrie Bradshaw wore one on her first date with Big (the “naked dress” by DKNY). But it was Calvin Klein who became synonymous with the piece.

Clean cut

Klein believed that the ’90s were, as he told Vogue, “about the personal, about staying in and being alone and not flaunting what you have on your back”. His spring 1994 runway show, dedicated to slip dressing and featuring a waif-like Moss, made an argument for clean, modern and feminine sportswear that left 1980s power dressing for dead. Fast forward three decades and his words, as with his designs, still ring true.

On the screen

Pop culture was drawn to the brand, whether it was Sofia Coppola in a black slip at the premiere of Unzipped in 1995 or Jennifer Aniston championing the piece on Friends. In a scene in 1995’s Clueless, Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone, is preparing to go out in a supershort white slip when her dad asks what she’s wearing. “A dress,” she says. “Says who?” her father asks. “Calvin Klein.” The dress proved so popular that the label reissued the style in 2010. Rihanna wore a red one to the GQ Men of the Year party in LA two years later.

And the award goes to…

It didn’t take long for the slip dress to make it to the Academy Awards. In 1996, Gwyneth Paltrow wore a white, full-length Calvin Klein slip down the red carpet (alongside Brad Pitt); it was such a hit that the Goop founder donned a black version for the premiere of Emma later that year. More than 20 years on, Zoë Kravitz wore an updated, sheer version to an Oscars party. Today the label offers multiple takes on the classic slip – such as printed and recycled crêpe. With the no-effort approach to postpandemic fashion, it’s not hard to see the appeal.

Image: Rihanna in 2012; Alicia Silverstone in Clueless; Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt at the Oscars in 1996

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