Cream of the crop
Baring your midriff is big this season. Get in training now, says Harriet Walker, while Gemma Hayward shows you how it's done
Gemma Hayward: How to wear the tops
The crop top comes in many guises, from body-con to retro and from sporty to floaty. As long as it stops above the navel, anything goes. The most brave will be attracted to bra-style tops, as seen on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk, which have the look of a 1950s foundation garment about them. It's the style which requires the most confidence to wear as the underwear as outerwear detailing doesn't leave much to the imagination.
Bandeau tops are just as skimpy, while a cotton option with gathered edges is more sweet than brazen. Miuccia Prada prints her bandeau tops with cartoon hot rod cars and cuts them in luxurious matte silk and broderie anglaise. For those with more conservative taste, just as fashionable is a T-shirt or vest with a high hem and a width of 1980s proportions. This style is meant to be worn baggy and looks best when printed and bright. And just because it's a crop top doesn't mean it has to be so short it's exposed: cuts which fall to just below the waist are more than acceptable.
The perfect pairing
Lessen the need to hold in your stomach when wearing a crop top by thinking carefully about what to wear it with. What works with these barely there separates? Skirts in all guises come to the rescue here. Prada and Dolce & Gabbana both pair their crop tops with knee-length, figure-enhancing pencil skirts and the result is pleasingly 1950s pin-up poster girl. If that's too overtly sexy, a Sixties style, A-line skirt as seen at Miu Miu and Marc by Marc Jacobs is a less curvaceous, more playful and youthful alternative. High-waisted Daisy Dukes will also ensure a retro vibe, but only the super-confident (and super toned) need apply.
For those concerned about baring too much flesh, a crop top paired with a maxi skirt is less exposing – they look best cut in a casual material such as denim or cotton. For those who prefer to wear the trousers, a block- coloured, wide-legged cut with a simple bandeau or leather vest makes for a modern, high-impact look or skinny printed trousers with a retro bra-top is a sassy look.
If you can't be brave, be bold
Not everyone wants to bare their middle – even those in possession of a perfectly toned stomach don't necessarily want to show it off to everyone. Layer a crop top over something longer and rest safe in the knowledge that the new season's proportions are yours while modesty is in tact. Opt for a loose-fitting, cropped T-shirt style – Urban Outfitters does a great range of fun printed tees and simply wearing one over a longer length vest will save any blushes. This has the advantage of also appearing less try-hard than look-at-me bra tops.
Cropped outerwear is also an option and a trend that looks set to dominate the forthcoming autumn season too. A modern leather bomber, biker jacket or clean-line blazer cropped to just above the waist will be a welcome addition to any wardrobe. For those really wanting to get ahead of the times, meanwhile, the cropped Puffa jacket looks set to be popular in the near future.
Harriet Walker: How to get the body
Every season there comes at least one trend that you know won't work for you. It's usually something colourfully faddish or involves the sort of peacockery that only adolescents can get away with. So the rest of us smile indulgently – nostalgically even – and move on.
And for summer 2012, one of the most prevalent looks also happens to be the hardest to pull off: the bare midriff. There are few grown women who'd be comfortable wearing a bandeau top with a low slung pencil skirt, but if Miuccia Prada wants us to, then maybe it's time to heed the directive.
But you don't send troops into battle unarmed, and you don't show off a stomach that has spent winter gurgling and expanding happily beneath knitwear without taking it to task first.
"Performing a great number of crunches and other abdominal specific exercises does not provide you with a flat stomach," trainer Vicky Smith tells me when I visit the headquarters of the Matt Roberts (he who is responsible for the sveltesse of Naomi Campbell and David Cameron) chain of fitness studios. "Intensity during training is preferable to duration – you should be performing full-body sessions to get the biggest energy expenditure."
She then takes me through a circuits routine that includes leg squats, 40 seconds bursts of high-impact work on an exercise bike and cross trainer, and a horrible thing called the "plank with reach", where you hold your body straight, supported by your toes and forearms and then stretch each arm out in turn. By the end of the session I am walking bent double, and the next day my torso resounds with the aftermath of hard work.
An initial consultation costs £185; one month of six sessions is £400, mattroberts.co.uk
The science bit
Feeling somewhere between a mother-to-be and a microwavable ready-meal, I lie back and think of bare midriffs for the "EF Ultra" treatment. This claims to work by firing ultrasonic waves into the stomach (and can be used to target any wobbly area) to break down the membranes of cells and make them less good at their job of storing fat. The second phase is a blast of radiowaves applied to the same area, which apparently tighten the skin and stimulate collagen production and the metabolism.
In theory, it's a bit like waking up your flabby bits with cold water and then making them go on a 10-mile run. In reality, it's tingly without being unpleasant – and rather more palatable than a sweaty session in the gym.
£300 per session, six to eight sessions recommended, efmedispa.com
The embarrassing one
It isn't necessary to go into the particulars here but having a few litres of water repeatedly sloshed around your colon and sluiced out again isn't as unpleasant as it sounds. The procedure is painless, takes around half an hour and is morbidly fascinating. As well as claiming to expel molecules that irritate the gut and cause bloating, this left me feeling cleansed and wholesome and less willing to taint my whitewashed colon with any junk food either.
Colonic hydrotherapy £90, efmedispa.com
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