This Is What "Sexy" Looked Like in 2018
Looking back on the last few decades, each one is marked by a set of fashion moves that defined what it meant to dress "sexy" then. But what could that possibly mean in 2018 — biker shorts with an oversized Yeezy hoodie and Archlight sneakers? Not for everyone.
In the '80s, as we recall, sexy was showing off the uppermost part of your thighs in a Baywatch-style bathing suit, or wearing a floppy trench that suggested a power suit (or maybe nothing) was underneath. The '90s brought lumpy denim and flannel shirts, but also the concept of wearing a satin, spaghetti-strapped teddy as a dress. In the aughts, Britney Spears-esque bellybutton piercings and Herve Leger bandage dresses both delivered on a pretty overt form of sexualization through style.
And now? The most obvious trend of this decade has been a rejection of the homogeneity that defined attractive dressing in eras past. Normcore came in hot like a direct challenge to our libidos, and then atheisure demanded we both relax about style, and pay incredibly close attention to the way our bodies fit and feel inside clothing. There is no longer a definitively sexy look, and the "Freakum Dress" is merely a concept: An individual's outfit that carries with it swag, sensuality, and the ability to make them feel the most lip-bitingly hot. For some, it may be an old tee shirt and jeans. Today, "flattering" is in the eye of the wearer.
We asked four women to talk about the clothing that makes them feel sexiest, and what "sexy" means to them, and we got four very different answers. One woman’s lace lingerie is another woman’s floor-length gown, which is another woman’s Spandex biker shorts. Ahead, meet Le'Andra, Zoe, Stephanie, and Gizelle, and see what they wear to channel that certain something, whatever it is.
Zoe Chodosh, 24, Software Engineer
Feels most sexy wearing: bike shorts.
“I've always had a thing for Spandex. I danced when I was little, and my favorite part of that was always getting my recital costume, which was usually Spandex and heavily embellished. I also love the idea of a Spandex unitard, something that covers my [entire] body but fits my form and is easy to move around in. I think my ideal look is something that a comic book superhero might wear: skin-tight, stretchy, full coverage but still revealing.
"For some reason, bike shorts are about the sexiest garment in the world to me. I'm still trying to figure out why this is. There's nothing inherently sexy about them, but they really do it for me. I feel sexiest when I feel physically strong and centered, so this usually comes into play when I'm practicing Pilates. This look (apart from the earring) is a very standard Pilates look for me, and I felt extremely powerful in it.”
On what “sexy” looked like when she was younger:
“Growing up, 'sexy' was Christina Aguilera on the cover of her album Stripped. Xtina oozes sex appeal in that photo in the most entry-level way, the lowest common denominator of the world's definition of sexy. I'm a bit repulsed by this definition of sexy because it relies very heavily on the male gaze for confirmation. I've struggled to define 'sexy' on my own terms because its meaning is internalized as something driven by what 'look' others define as worthy of sex. I believe this idea came from the fact that sexy is used in media and pop culture to describe a very specific look, and I probably picked up on that as a girl.”
On feeling “sexy” for the first time:
“I can't remember a single time I felt sexy in my youth, and I haven't had the best track record with loving my body in the past, so I'd say the first time I felt sexy was probably pretty recently. I can't remember what I was doing but I think the look involved leopard print Live The Process shorts and a big tee shirt, walking around Soho listening to A$AP Forever.”
On the sexiest pieces of clothing she owns:
“I have this really sick pair of fishnet bike shorts that remind me of a Rihanna look: sheer socks with a single stripe up the back, my Live The Process unitard, and any threadbare vintage tee shirt.”
On what “sexy” means to her:
“Sexiness, for me, correlates so much with strength. I feel strongest when I'm using my body to its full potential, so days when I'm lazy or feeling slow definitely aren't 'sexy' days for me. I mostly felt sexy at the shoot because I looked so cool, and the confidence my look gave me translated to sexiness.”
Zoe wears Live the Process Oversized Knit Hoodie, $238; shopbop.com; Celine Earrings, stylist’s own; and model’s own spandex shorts.
Le'Andra LeSeur, 29, Artist
Feels most sexy wearing: something with meaning.
"I actually found this shirt at a Goodwill, and when I found it I was like, 'This has to be the best Goodwill find ever!' It was $4. It pretty much just exudes exactly what I feel: Black Women. I feel like me, as a black woman, I have so much strength; my mother as a black woman has so much strength, my grandmother… and so when I wear that shirt, I just think about generations and generations in my family of black women who taught me how to be strong and be that backbone.
"My earrings and necklace are really, really important to me. I got them in Spain on a trip with my mom, who loves silver jewelry. I found this cross earring and I didn’t think I could wear it. When I started wearing it, I remember that moment: I was like, 'I’m gonna own it.'"
On what "sexy" meant to her when she was younger:
"It was this confidence thing. Every time I saw someone doing something I considered sexy, they always had this confidence about them. And that’s something I always strived for: to be able to be confident in myself and my body and in everything that I carry along with me."
On when she first felt she looked "sexy":
"I think it was when I cut my hair. I was very nervous because I thought people were going to look at me differently. But it turned out to be me coming in to myself. Being able to have confidence without hair, without clothes, without anything, was really really important. So, when I cut it, it was a real moment of clarity. I realized I am who I am. I felt more comfortable in that look, so it really allowed me to be myself."
On androgyny being sexy:
"What about dressing androgynous is sexy? Being uniquely me. Not conforming to what someone says I have to wear. And being comfortable in what I’m wearing. I’ve always liked to wear comfortable clothes. Being able to dress androgynously gave me the option to do whatever I want."
Le’Andra wears vintage tee shirt and overalls, Converse sneakers, and heirloom jewelry; all model’s own.
Stephanie Cedano, 28, Country Club Floor Manager
Feels most sexy wearing: whatever turns heads.
"Sexy to me is this energy that you’re giving off. It’s a mixture of confidence and knowing who you are. Knowing who you are is super sexy. I can’t even explain it, honestly. It’s this aura of where you can just walk into a room and everyone will just stop and look at you."
On her photo shoot outfit:
"Lace is everything to me. And a good bodysuit to hold it all in is magic. [This look] was so perfect. My booty was poppin' out (not too much booty, but just the right amount of booty), and then the boots! They were so good. Being able to balance it like: You don’t need to wear heels. You can wear a combat Dr. Marten's and lace and still be sexy. You don’t need to be in stilettos to be sexy."
On finding her sexiness again:
"I was super insecure for a really long time. I was pretending that I knew that I was beautiful. But it kind of just came to me a couple of years ago. After I had my son, I knew that, 'I am a woman,' and my body can do all this. It felt like my body and my heart and my soul were for him, as far as breastfeeding. Just raising another person [can be] very draining. So once he started going to school and I got time to myself and I was able to pursue different things and be creative with friends, I started to feel, like, 'Oh! I’m kind of cute.'"
On her son's fashion advice:
"I definitely try to not look too crazy out here in these streets because he is a boy. Now he's six and, definitely, he gives his opinions on my wardrobe. He’ll say stuff like, 'that’s too much,' or 'that’s only for the house, mom!'"
On being you, no matter what:
"[Judgment] comes from immediate people around you who are like, 'You can’t dress like that! You can’t be on the Internet showing your booty! You have to hide it! You have an example to set for your child!' And it’s like, yeah, I do — and I should be able to show my child that I am who I am. Be who you are, whatever that is. Whether you want to show off a little bit or cover it all up, whatever makes you happy is what you should do."
Stephanie wears Fleur du Mal “Poppy” Lace Dress, $398; orchardmile.com, and Dr. Marten’s 1460 Smooth Boot, $140; urbanoutfitters.com. Jewelry model’s own.
Gizelle Begler, 32, Creative Director
Feels sexiest in: a look that says "listen."
"Growing up as a Muslim-American woman, I was always taught that being sexy isn't about flaunting one's body but rather flaunting one's ideas and abilities. I want to create a wardrobe that doesn't say 'look at me' as much as it says 'listen to me.'"
On what “sexy” looked like growing up:
"A sexy woman was always a powerful woman. She was strong and independent. She was Cat Woman who had no problem standing up to Batman. She was my mother who raised me single-handedly while also managing the conquer the world."
On what “sexy” means now:
“I always link sexy with being confident. To be secure in who you are and to let that security radiate through how you carry yourself. Sexy is also having the confidence to wear things that no one else would. To make daring fashion choices that reflect all of the beautiful contradictions that make me who I am. I’m sure I came up with this definition of sexy from watching my Muslim-Egyptian immigrant mother slay as a fearless entrepreneur and a woman who was known for her modest yet elaborate fashion sense.”
On when she first felt “sexy”:
"When I realized that I was able to turn heads and leave a lasting impression on someone without showing any skin."
On the “sexiest” pieces in her wardrobe:
"Anything unique and unusual. It can be a simple cape that I dreamed up and designed or a vintage find that I know no one else has. As a designer, I regard my body as blank canvas just waiting to be ornamented and decorated. I don't think there is anything sexier than a woman who is unafraid to have her external self reflect the complex and eclectic spirit she carries within."
Gizelle wears Marchesa gown, available for rental on Armarium.com and model's own jewelry and accessories.