I have never had a waist or hips; in my 20s I always described myself as “straight up and down.” Now, children and pandemic later, I’m 25 pounds heavier, and it all shows up around my stomach. It feels as if fashion is doing a better job of appreciating a woman’s “curves,” but that always means hips and bootys, never bellies. How do I dress to flatter my new shape? — Lisa, San Francisco
A lot of us changed shape over the last year as we were shut indoors and the sensory joys of life were pretty much reduced to what might come out of a kitchen, a walk around the block and how much you could hug the person in your household.
A lot has been written about how “the quarantine 15” happens and how to lose it, but it’s also true that it is possible to simply live peacefully with it, prioritizing what’s important according to the individual. There is unquestionably more to worry about than a new spare tire, and if we become more accepting of a variety of shapes after the last year, that’s a positive development.
Lena Dunham, the director, writer and actor, captured this in an Instagram post in December when she wrote, “Oh hey, just self-isolating with my pod, aka my pot belly and my sunglasses” — a post liked more than 115,000 times.
But you are correct in saying that when fashion focuses on women and weight, it tends to focus on boobs and bottoms, rather than bellies. It is telling, for example, that when the modeling arm of IMG decided it wanted to represent bigger girls (good), the agency rejected the whole inane “plus-size” terminology (better!) but then settled on calling its new division … “curve.”
So how to move forward?
For expert advice, I turned to Elizabeth Saltzman, the stylist who works with Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, and Karla Welch, a stylist who works with Tracee Ellis Ross and Sarah Paulson. Ms. Welch also co-founded an app called Wishi that offers styling and wardrobe advice to users.
Both women said forget the Spanx — that’s for “red carpet,” Elizabeth said — and focus instead on comfort and what makes you feel good. Both also said do not pretend your stomach does not exist by wearing muumuus. That generally has the opposite effect from the one intended. Also, empire-waist tops and dresses tend to equal maternity in many minds and thus should be avoided. (So does resting one’s hands atop one’s stomach. Just think about Meghan Markle.)
Fashion is, however, a great tool of optical illusion, when used correctly, to manipulate the eye of the beholder.
Do not ignore the waist, for example. Even if you feel you don’t have one, you can create one with a cheerful skirt and a tucked-in top — preferably one with an interesting sleeve to draw the eyes. (Sleeves are big this season, anyway.) According to Karla, it’s also worth investing in a great belt for the same reason. And an A-line skirt in a bright color or pattern will cover your belly without emphasizing it.
High-rise pants serve a similar function, especially when paired with a boxy blazer — Elizabeth’s favorite fix-all. Wear it open over a tailored shirt (you don’t even have to tuck it in) or dress.
Then the message is not about “hiding anything,” she said. “You’re just not buttoning it up.”
Your Style Questions, Answered
Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.