Two weeks ago I noticed a young woman walking in front of me in one of Juliette Hogan's long, pleated sheer skirts. "How pretty," I thought, and made a mental note to pop into Hogan's store to see if she had any left. The skirts have become ubiquitous, the uniform of many Auckland girls who love them for their relaxed, ladylike charm. Hogan herself has six and I really want one. But what's this? The woman's knickers showing through her skirt. That's not so ladylike.
This is the problem with sheer: it's easy to forget that it is so. And this season the risk of being backlit and flashing your undergarments seems particularly high - designers here adore sheer, diaphanous fabrics - always have and always will. From Hogan's sheer pleats to Zambesi's digitally printed silk georgettes to Kate Sylvester's silk shirts, it's a given that you will find at least one piece in every collection made of something delicate and transparent (yes, even in winter). Why? It's all about texture and movement - designer Cybele Wiren likes the weight, drape and texture, while for Hogan it is all about the movement. But why not just make women's lives simpler and line transparent pieces?
"When you line something made out of sheer fabric you instantly lose the beautiful properties - its transparentness, its cheekiness and its movement. It becomes dense and lifeless," Hogan explains.
Of course often the exposé is intentional - Carrie Bradshaw used to flounce around New York with her bra showing through sheer tops, and exposed lingerie has been a feature of many a recent fashion show (remember the "lingerie dressing" trend last season?). At the right time, a peek of what's underneath can be sexy, in a subversive, non-obvious way. But in the real world - the one with office jobs, meetings with the boss, trips to the school gate - flashing your bra and undies doesn't exactly seem very appealing.
So how to wear sheer this winter? At New Zealand Fashion Week last year, Jimmy D layered printed sheer, silk georgette dresses over other transparent pieces; sheer on sheer offering an extra layer and extra coverage.
Then there's the most obvious way: wear a slip. Some pieces will come with a slip built-in: at Trelise Cooper, customers apparently complain rather loudly if sheer pieces don't come with slips and Wiren offers various sheer pieces with matching slips (like the "Mystic" dress, which comes with a soft jersey slip with matching sheer silk panels set into the back).
But often they don't - it costs more - so investing in a slip or two and perhaps a camisole isn't bad advice. There are lots of options, whether you're after something especially pretty (look for lace accents, like most of the pieces photographed), or something plain and simple - I'm a fan of Somebody by Kingan Jones, which offers basic knit slips and camis. Slips that aren't similarly coloured to the garment can ruin the line, unless you want to make a statement with what's underneath - which Kate Sylvester's "Jill" slip in bold orange and red would do rather nicely.
Stockists: Cybele (09) 376 5009, Ingrid Starnes (09) 361 3322, Children of Vision (09) 379 8930, Juliette Hogan (09) 360 9347, Kate Sylvester (09) 524 8872, Kelsey Genna, Salasai (06) 878 0004, State of Grace (09) 846 4333, Sylvester (09) 524 8872, Trelise Cooper (09) 366 1962, Twenty-seven Names (04) 499 4300.