Unless you're very young or very foolish, keep your midriff under wraps, says Hester Lacey
Every summer, sadistic fashion editors like to pick a part of the body for maximum exposure; it's never anything sensible like the ankle or the ear, and for the past few summers, it has been the midriff. Hence the continued popularity of that nightmare garment, the crop top, completely unforgiving to anyone lacking a washboard stomach or a washboard chest (they hang horribly over any bosom that's remotely shelf-like).

The shops are full of them, despite the fact that anyone who doesn't have a perfect waist, and virtually anyone who's left their teens behind, should leave well alone (file with leggings, hot pants, thong bikinis etc).

According to one fashion aficionado, though, a common trap for many women is thinking that if their top half is in good shape, they can blithely ignore pear-shaped bottom halves and still get away with a crop top; not so, she says. "You have to be skinny all over with no bust; crop tops only look nice with something fitted on the bottom."

Women are crueller than men about such style aberrations. "On a Friday night driving home through Bishop's Stortford, the ones wearing their crop tops with most attitude are the ones with great rolls of fat round their midriffs," says Gill, 30. "I feel like saying 'Just because you're only 17 doesn't mean you can get away with it!' I'm pretty toned, but I wouldn't wear one - or only with a very sturdy underwired bra."

"No one over 12 should wear one," adds Liz, 29. "I suppose the midriff is an interesting sight because it's usually hidden, but I stand up for a woman's right to keep her stomach under wraps."

"I can't help liking them," said Philip, 31, to howls of rage. "When men see flesh their eyes are irresistibly drawn to it, even when it's flapping in the breeze."

Even the body experts are spooked by the idea of exposing their bellies. "They should be banned," says Sharon Walker, editor of Health & Fitness magazine. "I've got a pot belly problem myself, however skinny I get. Women carry more fat on their stomachs than men. Crop tops are terribly fashionable, but only onmodels who look very androgynous."

Frantic exercising, she says, is of limited use. "It will tone the area, but if there's still a layer of fat on top, a crop top won't look good."

Walker recommends special turbo-charged sit-ups conducted with the stomach sucked in (though it's probably too late for this summer; it takes a good six weeks to make much of a difference).

But the crop top does have some fans from the ranks of ordinary women. "Those ones that look like you've nicked them off your little brother are great," says Kate, 34, and slender as a whippet. "I like that shrunken, slightly waifish look, with jeans cut low at the waist, just giving the odd glimpse of your belly button. I don't understand why people hate them so much."

That's simple enough to explain. The truth is that the rest of us are jealous as hell of the skinnies.