Reader Request: Styling Sheer Fabrics

Lovely reader Holly e-mailed me this question:

I am obsessed with sheer blouses. Your post about “Dressing Our Imaginary Selves” made me realize that sheer blouses are my thing. I am drawn to them, but I don’t know how to wear them. I would love advice on how to wear them professionally and somewhat modestly (I’m fine with a tank underneath, but no bra or navel-showage please!). Do you tuck them? Leave them flowy? Wear with pants? Skirts? Under a sweater or blazer? What do I do with them? I especially love white and cream-colored sheer blouses, and find them harder to style than colored sheers.

Above you see me in my single sheer item, so I just barely feel qualified to comment! I’ll give my input – based on my observations and work with clients – and then turn to you readers for more tips and suggestions.

sheer blouse rules

The visible bra isn’t terribly taboo in France and other parts of Europe, I’m told, and here in the U.S. we’re warming up to the idea. Gradually. But in a professional or office environment? No chance. A sheer blouse should be worn with an opaque underlayer, even if the sheer blouse is just peeking out from under a blazer or jacket. A bralette or half tank is not enough, as you want to cover your torso and navel, too. For sheer tops worn alone, my eye prefers a tank or cami with straps wide enough to cover your bra straps since a big tangle of skinny straps occurs otherwise. Tucking the tank into your skirt or pants works well if both pieces are the same or similar in color, as this creates a column of color and allows the blouse to shine.

In terms of tank/underlayer color, you’ll likely be able to eyeball your best options. Although nude camis and tanks are often recommended for blouses that are accidentally sheer, in the case of a blouse that has intentional sheerness as part of its design, you might opt for contrast instead. But it doesn’t always work well.

sheer blouse layering

The safest bet is to utilize a tank that is the same color as the blouse. Black tank, black sheer blouse, great pairing. White tank and white sheer blouse can look very chic and artistic, too, though you want to do this only when it’s pretty clear that the blouse’s sheerness is intentional. Using a white tank for everything won’t work well, as you can see in the white tank/turquoise blouse example above: The white looks blocky and unintentional, creating more contrast than is ideal for the pairing. A matching tank or a tank in a complementary shade of blue would’ve worked better. Layering a sheer color over another color can be a great way to create gorgeous, rich looks. Harmonious contrast can be created with similar colors or shades that play well together, as well as layering a solid sheer over a pattern.

As you can see, most of these examples show sheer tops being worn untucked and their underlayers untucked as well. But the white-on-white example shows how length discrepancies can make the untucked look seem a bit odd. When untucked, you ideally want your tank and blouse to be the same length, or your tank and skirt/pants to be the same color to create the column referenced above. Since tucking your blouse into a skirt often creates great proportions, tucking when wearing with a skirt will work well for many. But it’s really down to personal preference, as is your choice to go with a skirt or trousers.

Sheers can certainly be layered under sweaters or blazers, but their sheerness will be mostly masked. If you want just a tiny hint of sheerness at the collar and cuffs, this is a great option. To showcase more, do your sheer/tank combo on its own.

Now, if you work in a law office, conservative corporate environment, or other workplace that has fairly strict and modest dress codes, sheers are a risk. They can certainly be done tastefully, but are still a little more revealing than opaques by their very nature. If you aren’t sure how sheers will fly at your office, ask your HR rep or boss before wearing. Better safe than sorry.

And that’s all I’ve got! You fans of sheers: What else would you add? How do you wear and layer your sheers? Do they work at your workplace? Anyone sporting the visible bra look? How do you deal with length discrepancies? Let us know!

Images courtesy ASOS, Nordstrom, Nordstrom

Grid: Nordstrom (black), Nordstrom (white), Nordstrom (turquoise), Nordstrom (navy)

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2014-05-05 06:34:28.

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7 Responses to “Reader Request: Styling Sheer Fabrics”

  1. Sally McGraw

    Hi all. Just got a note from a reader letting me know that comments on yesterday’s post were closed – I had no idea! Had to re-publish this version to get comments open and still no idea what was going on. Hopefully some of you will come back to this thread!

  2. Amanda

    I have a couple of sheer tops (I’m wearing one today) and I usually wear them with contrasting tanks underneath. Today I have a white sheer tee on with a berry tank underneath, with a navy blazer and turquoise jewelry on.

    My other favorite sheer top is a long sleeved berry tunic I thrifted recently, and I tend to go with contrast there too, usually a navy blue tank underneath.

  3. Anamarie

    I saw this post yesterday, and realized that I have purchased three sheer blouses this spring! I have a plain black one similar to the polka dot one, a slightly oversized white swiss dot button front shirt, and a black floral “sweatshirt” style shirt with 3/4 sleeves. I work in a very casual law firm and decided to push the envelope today with my sheer floral sweatshirt. I am wearing the shirt with a wide-strap cami (tucked in) and a black ponte pencil skirt that is just above my knee, with black patent heels. I have received a couple of compliments so far, and I think it works because the blouse is not super sheer, and the rest of my outfit is tailored. Also, black skirt, black tank with black sheer blouse makes the sheer less obvious, I think.

  4. Elizabeth Conti-Domingo

    I do have a couple of sheer blouses that I wear with same color tanks. I find the harmonious contrast very interesting. The picture you posted works. I would love to try them. I’ll let you know if it works. Thanks for this post!

  5. Sonja

    I agree with Sally when it comes to colours, I think I prefer either a similar or a purposefully very different colour underneath. Regarding the type of garment worn underneath, I’m proposing more variety – how about wearing your sheer blouses over fitted tops with sleeves, a tube top or a fitted dress? You could even knot them at the waist for more definition when combining them with a dress. The other idea that has come to my mind is wearing the sheer garment UNDERNEATH a dress, top or vest. I love to layer my black strapless dress over shirts and tops with long sleeves, and I think it would look great with a sheer blouse, too.

  6. Texas Aggie Mom

    Thanks for this very timely post, as I have recently had the same epiphany as Holly! While working my way through Sally’s book, I identified my “staples” and also my “aspirational” style; turns out I wanted something a little more feminine, flowy and elegant without being too “girly-girl” or “boho.” Sheer blouses with polka dots seem to fill that gap perfectly – I am up to five already and pair them with pencil skirts, dressy pants or jeans, depending on the occasion. I have two nude camis – one by Jockey that is more of a silky fabric without a stitch of lace or embellishment and one that is a softer knit with a little lace at the neck. The Jockey version seems to roll up at the bottom if not tucked in, and the other one is long enough it often protrudes from under the sheer layer, so I lean toward tucking them in. But this ends up looking weird, since you can see a very obvious line at the top of the pants or skirt – any ideas, readers? I am going to try some of the other combinations mentioned here and see if I can branch out a little. If I found the top Sally is wearing in the first photo, I would definitely buy it!

  7. Justine

    I like to wear a black camisole under a sheer white blouse sometimes. That looks great with jeans. Also, about the untucked/tucked issue, I sometimes leave the under layer and blouse untucked, but wear a thin belt over the sheer blouse and then ‘pouch’ the blouse out a little over the belt, for a flattering peplum effect that I like, as it emphasises the waist. Thanks for opening up to comments Sally!