Old mentalities would say that backless dresses, revealing from shoulder blade to hip bone, were the exclusive purview of nights on the town. Historical evidence surely suggests it: Hailey Bieber in Alexander Wang at the 2019 Met gala, Hilary Swank in Guy Laroche at the 2005 Oscars, even Donyale Luna’s apple green Rudi Gernreich in 1968’s Skidoo, while worn indoors, is for a woman flaunting it. Going backless requires a partner—someone to observe the surprising gesture of a total spine reveal.
It surely comes as a surprise, then, that amid a year of staying home, staying alone, and staying in sweats, some of fashion’s most influential and buzzed-about designers slashed away the backs of their spring 2021 garments. For whom, exactly, we wondered?
But the more we’ve stayed at home and watched fashion rules melt away, the more spine-showing dresses started to feel like exactly the type of business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back hybrid garment that sums up 2020. A little provocative. A bit nonsensical. Funny and extravagant at once. In stretchy jersey à la Givenchy or in knits as at Christopher John Rogers, a backless dress offers a clever twist on comfort clothing, modest enough for a Zoom call but also daring enough to add a small thrill to these mundane days.
Beyond Zoom dressing, there are also plenty of elegant options that will make you yearn to be seen in 360 degrees. Both Miu Miu and Alexander McQueen menswear—yes, backless suits for men!—offered more traditional evening options that showed off a little spine. That taking it in from all angles idea—dressing beyond the selfie—is something we sort of took for granted in The Before and would be right to appreciate again in 2021 when, hopefully, we can meet up and revel in the round.
Until then, if there’s one crucial takeaway from a year indoors, it’s that we have all been forced to become a little more comfortable in our own skin. A backless dress celebrates that fully, evolving from the body-conscious mesh bodysuits and curve-hugging workoutwear that have defined 2020 into something that steps into the future while also glancing back. As Vogue wrote of the trend in 2006, “Where does the dress end and the person begin?”