The Slit Dress Is Back, Freeing the Legs of Kate Middleton and Nearly Every Woman at Cannes

By (Alaina Demopoulos)
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

At the Cannes Film Festival this week, Selena Gomez, Julianne Moore, Amber Heard, Chloë Sevigny, Carla Bruni, Eva Longoria, Romee Strijd, Alessandra Ambrosio—and their respective legs—heralded the return of cut-to-there slit dresses.

That an army of toned, bare legs would storm the beachfront event this year is somewhat expected. The Cannes dress code has long decried a kind of antiquated Hollywood glamour, where slinkiness is celebrated and stilettos are a requirement.

The Jumpsuit Leads a Red Carpet Revolution in Cannes

None of the slits go as high as they did when Bella Hadid took the medium to new, impossible heights in 2016, attending the festival in a silk, red Alexandre Vauthier get-up.

The wrap style featured a waist-high slit that blessedly held in place, no doubt the result of some strategically-placed tape and the prayers of a stylist.

Today, Hadid’s moment remains memorable enough for the Daily Mail to compare the similar style Alessandra Ambrosio wore on Wednesday to “THAT red dress” from years past. So perhaps it is unsurprising THAT guests at Cannes would follow in Hadid’s naked footsteps.

Julianne Moore attends the screening of "Les Miserables" on May 15, 2019, in Cannes, France.

Daniele Venturelli/Getty

But slits are gaining even outside of the French Riviera. New aunt Kate Middleton wore a $1750 Alessandra Rich polka dot dress to an engagement this week. The frock was school marm on the top, with a wide white collar that drew comparisons to a dress Princess Diana wore in 1985.

But Diana sat out the most daring element of Middleton’s dress: a thigh-high gap in fabric that allowed the duchess to make some impressively big strides, given the fact that she wore four-inch heels.

Hannah Brown made her debut as The Bachelorette this week in a slitted sequin gown. The former Miss Alabama looked very Vegas as she and her left leg floated through the season premiere.

At the NBC upfront, Olympian skier Lindsey Vonn went business casual up top in a crimson blazer gown that was the picture of modesty until just under the belt, where—surprise, another slit.

Suzanne K. Anderson, ready-to-wear fashion director at Macy’s, told The Daily Beast that her team has lately noticed slits on evening wear dresses run higher and higher.

“I love Adrianna Papell’s take on this trend,” Anderson said, citing the designer's rather prom-y $179 “sequin illusion gown.” That option, with its high neck, low hem, and capped sleeves, covers nearly everything. The thigh-high slit provides just a sliver of sex appeal.

Over at Fashon Nova, the most-googled retailer of 2018, Cardi B's collaboration offers more than a mere sliver. The $40 “Everybody Wanna Be This Mini Skirt,” too casual for Cannes but a little flashy for daytime, has two zippers on each side, exposing double the skin. Because, in the wise words of Fashion Nova's product description, “Two slits are always better than one.”

For the less intrepid who prefer to stick with just one slit, there are a bevy of longer, daytime-appropriate skirts. Most, like the long black $128 Reformation Zoe Skirt, seem made for Instagram, slits artfully draped over the leg in a way that is prime for posing.

The slip skirt, a hallmark of grab-and-go '90s styling that is surprisingly difficult to walk in unless you happened to be Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy or Kate Moss for Calvin Klein, becomes much more user-friendly with a side vent.

Denim skirts seem to bear the brunt of slit-mania. At Forever 21, a $38 high-wasted midi skirt gets toughened up with one big, distressed gap opening up the right thigh. The classic denim mini got an asymmetric twist in a $158 mini by AGolde that may have inspired a $30 Urban Outfitters dupe.

The slit had historically been used as an instrument of construction in a dress, but it was born as its own style note in the 1920s.

Designers took their scissors to long dresses in an effort to help women move freely. Once flappers got their hands on slitted gowns—often by “Queen of the Bias Cut” French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet—the look became forever associated with a certain kind of woman.

Films like 1945's Doll Face, based on a play by Gypsy Rose Lee, outfitted burlesque dancer characters in slitted performance dresses that gave room for the occasional high kick. Sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, and Betty Grable paired their plunging necklines and fitted waists with cut up hems.

“In the ‘50s, a high-slitted pencil skirt was the iconic bad girl, tough girl, badass look,” said stylist, fashion editor, and former Fashion Police host George Kotsiopoulos.

By the 1978, New York Times style critic Bernadine Morris had fallen out of love with what she begrudgingly dubbed “the leg show” of high-cut dresses seen on the streets of Manhattan.

“The flash of legs is appealing when it is done in moderation,” Morris wrote. “But when it becomes more prominent than the outfit that is worn, when the dress itself recedes and all you see is a vast expanse of pantyhose, vulgarity takes over.”

More than 40 years later, in a post-naked dress world, much has changed. As Kotsiopoulos said, “Now, slits are conservative. Kate Middleton is wearing it—and why shouldn’t she?”

If a stop-and-stare Cannes moment à la Priyanka Chopra’s glittering Roberto Cavalli gown is what you seek with your slit, Kotsiopoulos recommends choosing a dress with a cut that runs up the front or diagonally across one leg, rather than placed at the side.

“The side slit is a little awkward, because if you don’t stick your leg out, you don’t even see the slit,” Kotsiopoulos said, adding, “The slit should be up the front of your leg and just high enough so that you’re not flashing people—unless that’s what you want to do, of course, that’s fine.”

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