Spotlight on: Mesh

June 2023
Words by Ben Perdue
Photos courtesy of Museum of Youth Culture

From tennis nets to string vests, we trace the sporting and subcultural legacy of mesh.

If a connection to tennis court nets is too much of a stretch, then maybe breathability and a subversive past are the gateways to a new focus on mesh.

Like an extreme take on the open knits and plain jersey stitches used in training kit and its airy linings, these perforated pieces have as much in common with underwear as they do sportswear. Essentially base layers worn on the outside to make a statement, a look pioneered by the Jamaican rude boys whose string vests became 90s dancehall dress code. Updating other signature shapes - polo shirts, cardigans, and tank tops - with similar levels of sheerness, through either loose weaves or gossamer-like yarns, can inject the same underground edge today.

Not out of place in the late-80s Ibiza scene captured by club culture photographers like Dave Swindells, the gauzy lace and see-through net worn by ravers functioned perfectly for dancing, as well as revealing the layers, if any, they had on beneath. A smart approach to introducing flashes of unexpected colour, print, and pattern to an outfit that remains just as effective (and feels infinitely less sleazy than the tight-fit polyester mesh of the macho 70s).

Now, it’s all about a contemporary kind of confidence that uses lightweight transparency and crochet to layer up texture, as fabrics become filters for creating new effects.