Hooray! Lockdown is drawing to a close. But . . . boo! The pavements will once again become catwalks to present our carefully curated outfits, none of which will fit us because of the extra pounds we’ve packed on over the past three months.
Have you ventured inside your closet, looking to put together a ‘proper outfit’ for the first time in ages, only to find that once well-loved favourites now fit more like instruments of torture? Do zips spring open and buttons pop?
Yes, I thought as much. After all, a little extra weight doesn’t matter if, like me, you have got used to forgiving loungewear, padding around barefoot and not giving a monkey’s about make-up.
It’s been liberating to allow vanity to take a backseat. My lockdown outfits have gone no further than a swimsuit or, on chilly days, jeans and a sweater. But now I must dust down sloppy Susannah and reacquaint her with actual clothes.
Susannah Constantine (pictured) shared her advice for creating the illusion of a slimmer frame, after piling on a Corona stone
Obviously the best way to beat the flab, long-term, is to exercise and rein in comfort eating.
You’ll get there eventually, but in the meantime I’ve come up with a foolproof — and easy-to-follow — plan I call my ‘clothing diet’. I’ve honed it over my decades in the fashion industry, gleaning tips from stylists and designers as well as thousands of real women. But I perfected it post-menopause, not so long ago, when my weight ballooned to a size 16.
As a usual size 10-12, I was devastated. I wallowed in low self-esteem for months before, eventually, taking myself in hand with new diet and exercise habits.
Nothing was going to happen overnight, though, so I also went on a ‘clothes diet’, using every ounce of my knowledge — and every item in my wardrobe — to trick onlookers into thinking I was thinner than I really was. The good news is, it works, and I want to share it with you . . .
BELT YOUR BELLY
A note on belt placement: most women with a tummy dread doing anything to draw attention to it and live in floaty tops. Well, get over that habit now.
It may sound illogical, but if you have a tummy, your best tactic is to have a belt, trousers or skirt waistline cut straight across it.
Not higher than the bump which is ageing and unflattering, not below, as this makes a tum pop out over the top, but smack through the middle.
This creates a shorter torso and a longer leg line which makes you look taller and leaner. (Just never wear it so tight that it cuts in and bulges out either side).
Susannah recommends pairing a loose shirt with a nipped-in jacket, for the appearance of smooth, elegant curves. Pictured: Jacket, £159, winserlondon.com
TINY JACKETS WORK
The single biggest style misconception — and oh, I see women everywhere absolutely convinced of this one — is that wearing looser clothes will make you look smaller.
It doesn’t. It makes you look like a ship in full sail. Instead, go for tailored pieces.
My favourite trick is to wear a loose shirt, casual and chic, under a sharp, nipped-in jacket.
The jacket turns your figure into a series of smooth, elegant curves, while the shirt hides any tummy bulge that might spoil the illusion.
You’ve heard a million times that wearing busy patterned skirts and trousers isn’t a good idea if you’re not happy with your bottom half — they call attention to the area you’re most insecure about.
But here’s a twist: if you’re worried about your thighs or bum, don’t wear big, chunky bracelets either. When your arms are by your sides, they’ll do the same thing.
Instead, wear a bold necklace or earrings to draw focus upward.
EXERCISE BRAS WITH EVERYTHING
Susannah revealed a sports bra can help to accentuate your cleavage, while taking inches off your shape. Pictured: Sports bra, £45, sweatybetty.com
Not worn a bra in three months? Sorry, it’s time to strap up again.
But don’t reach for that underwired push-up in a bid to accentuate your cleavage to hide weight gain elsewhere. Instead, wear an exercise bra under anything drapey. They take inches off your shape and help clothes sit well.
And brands like Sassybax (available on Amazon) make bras to eliminate that dreaded back-fat bulge.
GO UP A SIZE
We obsess far too much over sizing, desperate to cram into that 12 or 10. But even if you can do it up, it’s so much more flattering to buy a slightly bigger size that doesn’t feel tight anywhere.
This is such a golden rule that on professional photoshoots, stylists often put you in a size up from your usual one. So be brave — you’ll look slimmer and you will feel more comfortable.
Shirts, worn open over another layer, are a genius tool for creating a slimming optical illusion.
Take your shirt. Wear it over, let’s say, a striped vest or plain T-shirt. Leave the shirt open, but pin or tape it to the T-shirt, so it doesn’t flap open to reveal a pillow belly.
This divides your torso into three panels, as opposed to one block of flab, making you look smaller.
I say the shirt acts like a pair of partially opened curtains, revealing only a sliver of the full view.
Susannah said a swimsuit with a square neckline can make you look younger and fitter. Pictured: Swimsuit, £99, jetsswimwear.co.uk
Another version of this is wearing an open shirt dress over trousers. It’s a great way to disguise a tummy or hips.
Visually, the gap in the shirtdress creates a strong vertical column from top to bottom. You’ll look like a beanpole.
SARONGS ARE SUPER
There’s nothing like a well-placed scarf for covering crepey cleavage, upper arms and back fat. But it’s hardly the time of year for it, no matter how changeable the weather.
So instead of wool, use an ultra light cotton sarong draped elegantly around your neck to hide all manner of sins.
CREATE A WAIST
Tiered peasant dresses are the height of style. But before you emit a wail of despair, there is a way to wear them.
These have been designed for young, lithe bodies — but us older birds can pull them off.
The secret is to cinch in the waist with a belt (preferably elasticated) — then pull the dress out over the sides.
Otherwise, the most flattering dress shape now is A-line — fitted to the waist, then flaring forgivingly out over the hips. Phew.
Susannah said heels transforms legs, but if you must wear flats opt for flatforms. Pictured: Flatform sandals, £250, lkbennett.com
SHUN FUSSY FLORALS
In hotter months we go bonkers for prints and florals — and sometimes we tell ourselves a pattern means no one will see the shape underneath. But honestly, they don’t hide anything.
Instead, head-to-toe colour is a fantastic way to elongate your body. I avoid florals and prefer a crisp white shirt or single colour dress. For the ultimate lengthening look, try a navy shirt with dark indigo jeans.
If you must go for pattern, choose vertical stripe or a simple print. Anything too, ahem, bountiful, will make you look the same.
Forget tummy ruching and those little ‘skirts’ you get on matronly swimwear, you want a one-piece — sporty with square neckline (Zara or Eres). The shape makes us look younger, fitter and less like a lady in a vintage cartoon postcard.
Look for a version cut high on the thigh, as it will make your legs look longer.
Yes, I know, I know, everyone’s wearing trainers to the office. But nothing transforms an ordinary pair of legs into something a race horse could be proud of like a heel.
Opt for comfy wedge sandals or espadrilles as a halfway house. If you MUST wear flats, go for another of summer’s hottest trends: flatforms.
I love these because they give a couple of extra inches without teetering on heels. Keep them not too strappy so the focus isn’t on furloughed toes!
AVOID SKIN TIGHT!
Lastly — but crucially — avoid anything skin tight, however comfortable, and however used you have become to loungewear.