Flesh and Fashion: Shifting Erogenous Zones of Style

Britney Spears

hide captionMillions of teens, and some of their moms, have emulated Britney Spears' provocative look.

© Reuters/Corbis
A Max Azria design for fall 2004

hide captionDesigner Max Azria says the bare midriff is passé. He jokes that women can "move on and wear more clothes!"

BCBG Max Azria Collection
Audrey Hepburn

hide captionAudrey Hepburn inspired designers like Max Azria.

Bettmann/Corbis

Whether it's Britney Spears, Madonna, or Jackie O., celebrities have always been mimicked for their sense of fashion — and degree of dress or undress. Millions of young and not so young women have exposed their midriff, bared their bosom or covered their head in an effort to emulate their idols.

Concluding NPR's Fashion Week series, Karen Michel reports on the history of flesh and fashion.

Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains the Britney Spears effect this way: "She at once projects a kind of wholesome, accessible image... She is so all-American that to transpose, for example, a bare midriff or a piercing on that kind of wholesome canvas suddenly makes it accessible for a much broader spectrum of individuals."

Many designers look to past style icons for inspiration. A brochure for Max Azria's fall collection cites "screen-siren glamour" and "the glamour of old Hollywood."

Azria was inspired by actress Audrey Hepburn and her bared neck and Givenchy simplicity. Koda says a longer neck is seen as desirable across cultures, whether in kimono or designer gown. But in Western culture, there's been a perpetual shift in what's covered and what's revealed — from breasts to legs and everything in between.

"Everybody wants to show [their best feature]," Azria says. "Sometimes it's the leg, sometimes it's the breast, or sometimes it's the face. The legs [are] a very important, sexy part of the body without [being] vulgar."

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