Everyone seems to be talking about Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday, but here at Men’s Health, we can’t stop debating Mendes’ navy sheer button-down shirt. Yes, a sheer top. And if you follow Jason Momoa’s badass style, you might have noticed he wore a similar version of the sheer shirt last month in Rome. What’s happening here? Are sheer shirts a trend for guys now?
Every season, designers challenge traditional menswear rules with new concepts of dressing, but few of these trends gain enough traction to make their way into the average Joe’s closet. When a trend actually does break into the mainstream market—for example, the fanny pack streetwear craze that erased the belt bag’s frowned upon ‘80s association—it provides a new way for guys to get creative with their personal style, thereby taking a man’s confidence and swagger to the next level.
What makes a guy break away from the sure-bet standard model of classic menswear to take a risk on a controversial style? Sometimes, it’s simply the influence of a few A-list celebrities; the trend goes from the runway, to the red carpet, to real life. Since both Mendes and Momoa sported the sheer shirt look, we had to question if this daring trend would become a new style norm.
Why Try the Sheer Shirt Trend
“Why not sheer?,” said Jason Momoa’s stylist Jeanne Yang regarding the Aquaman star’s transparent shirt at the Fendi couture show. “The things I’m looking for when dressing Jason are pieces that compliment his bohemian, unorthodox style, but always in keeping with sex appeal. To me, the sheer shirt worn certain ways has that bohemian, romantic feel, but stays masculine and sexy—but it’s sheer.”
The daring trend began popping up in runway shows back in the spring 2019 season in collections by influential fashion houses (such as Dior Men), and with sheer shirts on display in Saint Laurent’s recent spring 2020 show, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
“The trend was popular in the ’70s and it has recently made a comeback with good reason,” says Men’s Health Fashion Director Ted Stafford. “A sheer shirt feels natural during a time like now that embraces self-expression and personal style. It worked for a young Rod Stewart and it works for Harry Styles today.”
Naked illusion dressing has been a popular choice for women over the past few years, so who’s to say a guy doesn’t have the right to show some skin? The collared-shirt style still nods to the classic Oxford shirt, but transparency in a dark color with some decorative details (like the chain detail on both Mendes and Momoa’s Fendi shirts) keeps the look sexy, without being completely naked. Truthfully, it all comes down to where you wear a sheer shirt and how you wear it.
How to Wear the Sheer Shirt Trend
To wear an undershirt, or to not wear an undershirt, that was the big question for the team at Men’s Health.
“I would wear one, if it’s for a laid back event where I knew I have the chance to be a little bit out there and adventurous,” said Fitness Editor Brett Williams. “I’d go all out and go sans-tank—I don’t have all my torso tattoos to keep them constantly hidden away.”
Our friends at Esquire had a similar viewpoint, wishing Mendes had gone for “a fully committed, nipple-baring moment” at the VMAs.
While we fully support a guy’s right to show skin and flaunt his gym gains, if you’re heading out on a hot first date, you might want to go for a more subtle look. “I’m not sure I’m ready to see your nipples RIGHT off the bat,” said Deputy Editor Jordyn Taylor.
Whether you sport a tank top underneath or not, both experts and editors agreed that the sheer shirt trend should be worn only in the evening. Concerts, cocktail lounges, basically anywhere with mood lighting is a great place to sport the sheer shirt. In dark lighting, it comes across as a more subtle style flex than full-on shirtless attire.
If you’re not sure you’ll want to show off your full physique for the entire evening, consider layering a tailored blazer over your sheer shirt. The sheer shirt will add some flair to your dapper duds for a modern twist on a classic look. However you decide to rock the trend, remember you’re showing some skin, so just make sure your chest hair isn’t too wild to be on display. Otherwise, just enjoy having fun with your style and own it with a heavy dose of confidence.
“I think for the first time in so many years men are getting to peacock,” said Yang. “If you’re not going to do the shirtless trend (which I think is very difficult), the sheer shirt provides a good halfway point. I don’t think it’s a trend that’s here for everyone, it’s for certain people. Finally, new avenues have opened up for men—thank goodness!”
Thank goodness indeed.