In the race to flash ever more flesh, midriffs have become passe, bare legs a snooze and cleavage a shrug. Celebrities may be showing almost everything they've got, but is anyone still looking?
Instead, the new "sexy" this summer is more restrained -- a peek rather than a peep show.
Designers have put delicate cutouts, shaped as keyholes, diamonds, hearts and circles, into everything from bikinis and blouses to dresses and yoga wear. They're intended to seduce with just a tantalizing glimpse of the (once again) forbidden flesh beneath.
"As a jaded, sexually burned-out society, we are desperately seeking a thrill and trying to find an erogenous zone to titillate us, but we've seen it all," said David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York-based fashion-trend consulting firm. "We've gone as far as we can go. The fact that the hipster [pant] has gotten as low as it can go and skirts are now as short as they can get, there's almost nothing left -- the body is almost totally uncovered.
"Bare flesh is becoming a bore," he noted, "so we are resorting to the peekaboo tease."
As with almost anything in fashion, cutouts are hardly new. In the 1960s, mod designers such as Andre Courreges popularized fashion-forward frocks with circles cut out on the sides, fronts or backs. And over the years, red carpets have set the stage for the occasional intriguing cutout -- Julia Roberts, for example, dazzled at last year's Oscars in a Giorgio Armani gown featuring dramatic geometric slits.
This season, however, the cutout is everywhere. It's on Louis Vuitton swimwear and Victoria's Secret undies, Zac Posen dresses and enchanting Armani gowns. There even is a new line of bikinis -- TanToo by Intuition Beachwear -- that have tiny heart and star cutouts designed to give the wearer an eye-catching tan.
And with Donna Karan's fall collection featuring silver-rimmed cutouts on warm jersey dresses, the look seems set to stick around next season.
"It gives an illusion of being sexy without being obvious," said designer Cynthia Steffe, whose spring collection includes a series of dresses featuring sharp, laser cutouts. "When you have a cutout shoulder, ... it's a new way to show a little hint of sensuality."
Pia Chon, designer of bod, a new activewear line, said she decided to add keyhole cutouts to the backs of yoga pants to add a touch of style to normally plain workout clothes.
"It's a sophisticated, stylish look, but it's also very functional," said Chon, whose line is sold at Bloomingdale's and yoga.com. "It's not low-waisted, so you don't reveal your backside when you're bending forwards. But you reveal a little something and leave something to the imagination."
Cutouts have become so popular they're gradually creeping across the gender line. Wolfe said he's noticed men's T-shirts featuring large "porthole" circles on the front or back.
Just because the look is in, it doesn't mean that it's for everyone, however.
"I'd hate to see a beer gut bulging out of a porthole," he said. "And before you reveal bits of your flesh, you should make sure it's an attractive color."
The key to pulling off the look, said celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, is carefully picking your cutouts.
"Find holes that are in places like the shoulders," said Bloch, who has dressed Halle Berry and Salma Hayek. "Everybody's shoulders look good. If you're going to do it in the waist area or the thighs, just make sure you're not popping out of it."
The less-toned, however, should not despair.
"You could do a look that's fun -- layering," Bloch suggested. "Take something that's got a cutout and wear a different-colored tank underneath it."
Not that everyone has been heeding these rules so far.
"Flabby, pasty-white flesh hanging out is so awful," Wolfe said. "But I've seen so much of it already."