What’s Hollywood without the hotness? Over the years—over many years, actually—stars have shown major skin. The best part? It doesn’t matter whether they’re hitting a red carpet, starring in a movie, or simply going about their daily life. Some particularly revealing looks have been so ~culturally groundbreaking~ that they caused scandals still talked about to this day. To celebrate all the sexiness, take a look back at some of the dresses celebrities wore that made people lose their minds.
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Actress Theda Bara—one of Hollywood’s first ever femme fatal sex symbols—starred in the title role of 1917 silent film Cleopatra, wearing expensive and racy costumes that included a coiled snake bra.
Dancer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker found fame in Paris during the 1920s. Her most iconic routine was the danse sauvage, in which she wore a skirt made out of artificial bananas and twerked before twerking was even a thing.
Jean Harlow was hugely popular in Old Hollywood, and liked to do this thing where she wore really clingy dresses without a bra (the horror!). Here she is with Clark Gable, her co-star in Red Dust.
It’s hard not to think of the Art Deco age and bias-cut gowns without picturing this costume by Gilbert Adrian that Jean wore in the film Dinner at Eight. With its low back and beautiful crisscrossing straps in the front, it looked like it’d been poured right over Jean’s body.
Rita Hayworth wasn’t yet known as the “Love Goddess” when she sat for this alluring LIFE magazine image in 1941, which became “arguably the single most famous and most frequently reproduced American pinup image ever” (according to LIFE, though I’m not going to disagree). She wore a lacy silk negligee—definitely inside clothes back then—and knelt atop a bed in the Bob Landry photograph. Too risqué for the cover, per a LIFE staffer who worked there at the time, more than 5 million copies of the image ended up in the hands of American troops fighting in World War II.
Marilyn Monroe wore her world-famous white halter dress in the film The Seven Year Itch. The subway grate scene was first shot on location in New York City, but thousands of onlookers made so much noise that it had to be reshot on a set. Marilyn’s then-husband Joe DiMaggio was reportedly so upset by it that it contributed to the breakdown of their marriage.
If Sophia Loren looks like she’s giving Jayne Mansfield some side eye, that’s because she is. Sophia later told Entertainment Weekly she was worried Jayne’s nipples were going to fall out of her dress.”In my face you can see the fear. I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow — BOOM! — and spill all over the table.”
When Marilyn Monroe famously sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy, she wore the O.G. naked dress. The skintight column, designed by Jean Louis, was covered in 2,500 rhinestones. It was later worn by Kim Kardashian at the 2022 Met Gala—a very controversial move, especially after allegations that she caused damage to the historic gown.
Pictured here at the London premieres of her 1964 film The Carpetbaggers, Carroll Baker shows off the provocative transparent top of her dress.
Bianca Jagger was four months pregnant when she married Mick Jagger in St. Tropez, France, in 1971. She wore a white YSL Le Smoking jacket with nothing underneath, and paired that with a long flowing skirt and a wide brim hat with a veil.
Cher collaborated on many looks with the designer Bob Mackie, but this is one that really got people talking—and wanting a copy for themselves. She first wore this feathery naked dress to the Metropolitan Museum in 1974, then again on the cover of TIME magazine in 1975.
In the fifth season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore’s character Mary Richards wears a green dress designed by a friend. Upon seeing Mary in the skin-revealing cutout dress, the live audience responded with shrieks and cheers. Mary’s friend Ted Baxter says, “Get me a glass of water,” because ~thirst~. Mary thinks it looks horrible, but Ted thinks it looks fantastic.
The future Princess Diana was not yet engaged to Prince Charles when she posed for photos at Young England Kindergarten, where she was a nursery school assistant. She wasn’t wearing a slip, and when the sun came out, her backlit skirt accidentally showed off her legs in a way that caused quite the scandal.
Diana wore a strapless black taffeta gown by Emanuel to her first public outing with Prince Charles. Because it was strapless, the public went nuts for Daring Di.
Carrie Fisher wore a copper bikini as an abducted Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi, becoming a sex symbol instantly. Plenty of critics said the skimpy outfit was sexist and objectifying for the heroine though, including Carrie herself. She even warned Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley against wearing any similar costumes. “You keep fighting against that slave outfit,” the late star told Daisy during a conversation with Interview.
In 1984, up-and-coming artist Madonna had the opportunity to perform “Like a Virgin” at the MTV Video Music Awards. She wore a white lace bustier top, opera-length lace gloves, and a belt that had the words “boy toy” on it.
Cher wore this see-through Bob Mackie gown when she attended the Academy Awards in 1988. The sequined showgirl number became one of the most memorable Oscar dresses in history.
For her first red carpet with her then-boyfriend Richard Gere, supermodel Cindy Crawford dominated the red carpet at the Academy Awards. For her all-eyes-on-me moment, she wore a scarlet Versace halter dress that featured a very deep cut in the front…
…and a high slit in the back. Widely copied at the time, it’s now considered one of the most iconic red carpet dresses ever.
In one of the most famous scenes in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone wears a sleeveless turtleneck dress made of winter white wool crepe (and no underwear). “We decided to go for all white because my character had a very Hitchcockian vibe,” the actress told InStyle. In 2022, Sharon revealed that she kept the dress because “I made $500,000; Michael made $14 million.” Fair.
A 19-year-old Kate Moss wore a silver slip dress by Liza Bruce to an Elite Models party in London in 1993. It remains one of Kate’s most famous looks because it was, as the BBC called it, “startlingly sheer.”
People barely knew who Elizabeth Hurley was when she wore a safety pin dress by Versace to accompany then-boyfriend Hugh Grant to the London premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral. By the next day, she was world-famous.
On the night of June 29, 1994, Prince Charles confessed on national television that he cheated on Princess Diana during their marriage. (Though they had been separated since 1991, they were not yet divorced.) That very day, she stepped out of her car wearing an off-the-shoulder bodycon mini dress with a sweetheart neckline designed by Christina Stambolia. It’s now known as her “revenge dress.”
Oscar-winning costume designer Lizzy Gardiner made this dress with 254 expired American Express Gold cards. She created the dress for the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but ultimately couldn’t use it in the movie because American Express didn’t approve.
When it came to filming the music video for her debut single, “…Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears had a great degree of creative input. “My idea originally was just jeans and T-shirts,” the video’s director Nigel Dick told MTV News. “We were at the wardrobe fitting and Britney holds up the jeans and T-shirts and says, ‘Wouldn’t I wear a schoolgirl outfit?'”
Jaws dropped when Rose McGowan arrived at the MTV VMAs in 1998 wearing a see-through beaded dress that exposed pretty much everything.
At the time, Rose told Roseanne Barr that she had wanted her look to “cause a scene,” and in that sense, the dress was a success.
This VMAs look was so unforgettable that it entered Halloween territory, with Miley Cyrus dressing up in a Lil’ Kim costume in 2013. The rapper approved in a chat with MTV News: “The purple pasty with the purple hair is something that kids love, women love, and men love and people all over the world loved. When people give you that compliment on Halloween, it’s huge.”
In 2000, J.Lo wore this sheer green silk chiffon dress by Versace that had been previously worn by model Amber Valletta and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. But nobody wore it like J.Lo.
The dress was truly plunging; it went down past her belly button. The public’s insatiable desire to see the dress arguably launched a new technology. As Google’s Eric Schmidt wrote, “At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen. But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: J.Lo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.”
Designed by Marjan Pejoski, this notorious dress featured a swan draped around the neck (with the beak landing just at Björk’s chest) and a tulle skirt. Björk even “laid” ostrich eggs as she made her way down the red carpet. In 2015, the dress ended up in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a retrospective on the singer’s career.
Toni Braxton’s Richard Tyler dress had a panel going down the front and another going down the back, with a belt of sorts keeping the two panels together but leaving a large gap in between. “Things were up—the boobies were perkier, the cellulite was less,” Toni told People in 2014. “You got to do it when you’re young. I think the funniest thing was ‘Is she naked under there?’ Like, what is she wearing under that?”
Christina Aguilera repeatedly ends up on all-time worst-dressed lists for this scarf-posing-as-a-halter and super-short denim miniskirt combo that she wore to the MTV VMAs in 2002. She was in true “Dirrty”-era form, with streaky black-and-blonde hair and dark eye makeup.
Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t the biggest fan of this look, which she wore to the 2002 Academy Awards. “There were a few issues; I still love the dress itself but I should have worn a bra and I should have just had simple beachy hair and less makeup. Then, it would have worked as I wanted it to—a little bit of punk at the Oscars,” she wrote on Goop.
Kate Middleton wore this dress when she participated in a charity fashion show as a student at St. Andrews. As the story goes, Prince William was in the audience and fell for Kate when he saw her walk down the runway in this transparent design by Charlotte Todd.
Lara Flynn Boyle had recently broken up with Jack Nicholson and attended the Golden Globes as a newly single woman. She wore a rather ill-fitting ballerina dress designed by David Cardona, who used suede for the top and silk tulle for the skirt.
You’d think that nothing could be less interesting than a classic black sheath worn with a double-stranded pearl necklace, but that wasn’t the case with the Michael Kors dress that Michelle Obama wore for her first official portrait as a first lady. The reason? The arms. It wasn’t the first time an American first lady had gone sleeveless, but Michelle’s toned biceps and firm shoulders somehow irked her critics—and wowed her fans.
The meat dress, as it’s now known, was the third outfit Lady Gaga wore at the VMAs. The Franc Fernandez design (which also included a pair of meat shoes, a meat hat, and a meat purse as part of the ensemble) was later preserved and displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Venus Williams designed the black lace tennis dress she wore during the French Open. Venus wore flesh-colored boy shorts underneath, which scandalized the public even more, but that was all part of the plan. “The illusion of just having bare skin is definitely, for me, a lot more beautiful,” the athlete said at the time.
Pippa Middleton tended to her royal sister as a bridesmaid, helping with Kate’s nearly 9-foot-long satin bridal train. Her dress, designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, ended up nearly upstaging Kate.
“I think the plan was not really for it to be a significant dress. Really just to sort of blend in with the train,” Pippa told TODAY in 2014 of the figure-hugging dress. “I suppose it’s flattering, embarrassing, definitely. It wasn’t planned.”
It was the actress’s insistence on this pose, pushing out her right leg through the high slit of her black Atelier Versace gown, that made the dress—or the image of her wearing it—go viral in 2012.
The sheer side panels on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Antonio Berardi gown grabbed attention by exposing a lot of leg, but the story behind the look is even more interesting. “I kind of had a disaster. I was doing a show and I changed there and I went and I couldn’t wear underwear. I don’t think I can tell this story on TV,” Gwyneth said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “Well, let’s just say everyone went scrambling for a razor. … I work a ’70s vibe — you know what I mean?”
Thank goodness for the strategically-placed parts of this dress, otherwise the actress would have been totally nude at the 2013 premiere of Thor: The Dark World. “Well, there was a lot of toupee tape,” she told Jay Leno at the time.
Amber Rose’s revealing chain metal dress by Laurel DeWitt, which she wore to the VMAs in 2014, drew comparisons to Rose McGowan’s VMAs look from 1998 and yet still managed to shock people. Designer Dewitt told the Telegraph, “My theory behind it was to create spectacular one of a kind pieces that become so exclusive and can’t be found anywhere else, so that the stylists come to me.”
Rihanna accepted the CFDA Fashion Icon Award in 2014 wearing a sparkly mesh dress designed by Adam Selman. “We dyed the mesh to be her exact skin tone,” Selman told Elle. The designer and his team then applied over 230,000 plain and colored crystals to the fabric, which revealed pretty much everything that was going on underneath.
Lady Victoria Hervey, 2014
British socialite Lady Victoria Hervey wore what amounted to a sheer body stocking to a Golden Globes party in 2014. Before stepping out in the Guarav Gupta dress, seemingly without any undergarments on, she posted a cheeky message to social media: “It feels so good to wear clothes again.”
Before hosting the VMAs in 2015, Miley Cyrus posed for photos in a Versace dress that was…50 percent harness.
In 2014, the news out of the Met Gala was all about Beyoncé and the elevator incident. For her return to the event the next year (with Jay-Z by her side), Bey wore this sheer embellished Givenchy gown designed by Riccardo Tisci—and started a new conversation.
Rita Ora wore this daring dress to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards. While the gold stars are stunning, it’s the risqué cutouts that really stole the show.
Bella Hadid’s custom Alexandre Vauthier Couture gown turned heads at the Cannes Film Festival. Though she wasn’t completely naked underneath, it certainly seemed that way and the possibility of exposure made everyone stop and stare (and click). But there were safeguards in place: “The dress has a built-in silk bodysuit,” the model’s stylist Elizabeth Sulcer told Vanity Fair. “Top-stick [tape] is always a good idea. Practice makes perfect.”
The model is no stranger to wearing sexy looks, but this one is extra memorable. And it was no accident that the sheer green number bared it all: She posted a snap of herself from the 2018 event on Instagram with the cheeky caption, “Oops.”
The actress left jaws on the floor in 2018 with this sheer Reem Acra gown at the NAACP Image Awards. The gorgeous lace details left very little to the imagination.
The model’s 2019 Met Gala look paid homage to Cher, who she called the “Queen of Camp,” in the sexiest way possible. The huge cutout was a risky decision, as it looked like the smallest movement could lead to a wardrobe malfunction. Luckily, her pro team made sure that didn’t happen!
Gigi Hadid looks sexy in pretty much anything, but she showed some skin on the runway in 2020. During the Jacquemus show at Paris Fashion Week, she walked in this carefully-cut dress with thin straps and an extremely high slit.
The actress stunned in this plunging gown by Ralph & Russo on the Grammys red carpet in 2020. The neckline (or lack thereof?) gave off serious J.Lo’s-green-dress vibes.
All eyes were on Zendaya during the premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home. Her spider-themed custom Valentino Haute Couture gown had a daring neckline and high-cut slit that bared major skin.
The middle slit and short length of the actress’s Valentino gown wasn’t the only scandalous thing about the 2022 Venice Film Festival. The red carpet was filled with plenty of Don’t Worry, Darling drama. Seeing Florence and Olivia Wilde together—with Harry Styles—had people, well, worrying.
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