Last week I asked you what your body hang-ups are and whether you’d like some ideas on how to dress around them. The absolutely overwhelming number-one issue was ‘dressing to disguise a bit of a belly’. This came from various concerns: ‘meno-waist, aka middle-age spread’, ‘pot-belly problems’ and ‘post-birth belly’. I know we should all be embracing our body shapes and loving ourselves as we are but, come on, everyone has a part of themselves that they are not happy with and would like to hide. I could list a lot of things I’m not particularly enamoured with about my appearance, but we’d be here all day so let’s focus on the stomach area, as that’s something I too have learnt how to deal with over the years and worked out how to dress to hide it.
I used to call it the ‘mum tum’; now I call it the ‘peri-meno muffin top’. Before I hit 30 and had children, I was a big fan of a tummy-baring top. I could do bodycon until the cows came home. I wouldn’t say I had washboard abs, but I had a reasonably flat stomach and, frankly, I took it for granted. Since then, I’ve tried to get rid of it, and I even go to the gym now FFS (who even am I?), but it’s clear it’s not going to disappear anytime soon. Middle-age spread is real. So is a deep love of cheese that I’m not prepared to give up.
I should make clear at this point that I’m not a trained stylist, so these are just things that work for me and they may not work for everyone. I’m not formally trained at anything, although I did once have half a day’s training session behind the bar at the Hammersmith Odeon before I started work there in the early 90s. I could probably still pull 12 pints in four minutes AND upsell you a Solero and a packet of Butterkist to go with them. Life skillz.
TAILORED / WIDE LEG TROUSERS
The key is the word ‘tailored’. These trousers should fit you properly, sit on your waist and not pinch. One rule of mine is ‘if in doubt, size up’: clothes too big are ALWAYS better than clothes too small. Remember it’s the fit and not the size on the label that matters. There’s so much disparity in sizes on the high street, so please don’t be disheartened if your usual size doesn’t work. Nothing makes your stomach look worse than half of it spilling over the top of your trousers.
For those whose problem area is their thighs, look for wide-leg trousers as they’ll help balance out your proportions, as opposed to skinny or tapered legs that will accentuate and make you look apple-shaped. Also, shorter ladies – don’t be disheartened if your trousers are too long, as most good dry cleaners will have an alteration service. Mine does hems for about £15. Worth it if you’re going to get the best use out of your strides.
PERFECTING THE FRENCH TUCK
One of my top tips for giving the illusion of not having a meno-belly is the ‘French tuck’. You can do this with a T‑shirt or shirt – you just need to tuck it in at the front and pull it over a bit. It helps to define the waist area even if you don’t really have much of a waist area.
Make sure you have a shirt or top with enough length to do this. A good, loose-fitting collared shirt works best. You can leave it loose at the back and just tuck a small section in at the front. This is also a good one for ladies with bigger boobs: wearing an open shirt unbuttoned at the top over a vest or bralet will be more flattering than a high-neck blouse or T‑shirt.
HIGHER WAISTED JEANS
This is one I would never have tried a few years ago. Higher-waisted jeans can be tricky. They are not for everyone, but find a good pair and they will hold you in like a modern-day corset, and without the need for a manservant to lace up your whalebone. Low-rise jeans just don’t work for the larger stomachs – they are the main offenders when it comes to muffin top.
Talking of muffin top, I have to mention the power of good underwear. High-waisted knickers are a must for me. I cannot recommend these Amazon ones enough. Light control, they just smooth you out a bit and make clothes look better.
SEMI — FITTED DRESSES
You could go for a buffet dress, but I know that, if you have boobs, they can hang off your top half and make you look even bigger, so the best dresses to look for are ones that have slightly more fit up top and then flow out loosely just above the stomach. We don’t want anything tight. We don’t want any waist belts either. I can never really get to grips with a belt around a dress. Unless I wear it right under my boobs, it only serves to emphasise the lack of a waist. Much like Deirdre Barlow and her signature chain-link belts. For a budget version of the Doen dress below, check out this one.
SLIM LEG BLACK JEANS OR TROUSERS
Fashions may come and go, but skinny black jeans – or rather slim-leg black jeans as skinny might be a touch too much – will always be something I pull out as they do just make me feel better. For casual days, black jeans and an oversized comfy jumper. For an easy going-out outfit, black trousers, French-tuck shirt, blazer and loafers. (As seen above, these are my favourite black trousers from YMC. I also highly rate these from Finisterre.) If you can, it’s worth spending more on a really good pair of black jeans. The pair I wear more than any other are from Paige. I’ve had them for four years and I imagine I will still be wearing them for another four years at least. I can also recommend the Hush Agnes washed-black jeans. Both have a good bit of stretch and don’t lose their shape in the wash. Take your regular size in both of these.
LOOSE FITTING BLOUSE
What you’re looking for here is a blouse with a widish hem, ideally not too long. If it’s too long it will swamp you and make you feel bigger. I would wear with some high-waisted jeans to give a little shape to the stomach area. As I mentioned before, the higher the jeans, the easier it is to literally tuck your stomach into them. Sezane do some of the best blouses around in my opinion.
It is so tempting to just throw on a baggy sweatshirt over leggings when you’re feeling self-conscious about your shape, but that often has the effect of making you feel worse. I know in this world of never-ending turmoil there are always more important things to worry about than what you look like, but clothes have such a huge impact on the way you feel about yourself. Without wishing to go all Gok Wan on you, if you look good, you feel good.