Harriet Walker: 'Now it's men versus women in the battle of the bulge'

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The Independent Online

Fashion is preoccupied this season with specific anatomical hugeness. With hourglass shapes at Prada and Louis Vuitton, not to mention Christina Hendricks' busty ubiquity, we are told that boobs are back. They never went away, I hear the blokes cry – maybe not in your realm, but I imagine we read quite different magazines.

I have no problem with the return of the breast – let's celebrate it, in fact, as a beautiful part of the feminine quotidian. But this a trend that, like the lesser-publicised return of the jutting hipbone and return of the xylophone clavicle, you can either do or you can't.

The amount of cleavage-enhancing, wobble-boosting, quiver-givers that are currently being marketed is staggering. There's the two-sizes-bigger bra at M&S, the memory-foam booster at Debenhams and the triple-X gel bra from La Senza, which are all like wearing two sandbags strapped to your front.

Each promises to string your assets up around your chin, hoisting your hooters and boosting your chances. And you can indulge in them with an easy conscience this season – because it's a high-fashion trend darling, not just a low-cut top.

The ultimate sequitur from this boom in busts is the latest underwear for men. Marks & Spencer's Bodymax range has already spawned the first middle-aged-spread-suppressing pants for the fellas and this season sees the introduction of bum-lift pants and frontal-enhancement pants (inset). We'll skip past the first because everyone knows a man with a shapely rear is sinister.

But the latter promises a "38 per cent visual enhancement" – thank goodness, because 39 per cent would be too obvious. In the before and after shots, what looked to begin with like a non-threatening, homely pouch ends up a squishy comedy panic button; the big, round, urgent ones you get in a James Bond film.

Male size psychosis is well-documented. But it's a self-generated worry, brought on by changing-rooms and by watching porn peopled with men who have cucumbers down their pants. It's rarely because a woman they don't know has, in the street, say, or in a busy bar, copped a feel or likened them to an ironing board.

So the anxieties that we may feel upstairs don't really translate to men's down-belows. I can't remember ever struggling to keep up in a conversation because I was transfixed by a manly bulge; I don't look out for jiggle when I see hotties running for buses. But I applaud the enhancement pouch: it can only help these stuffed-pant lotharios to understand the crippling terror of ending up in a romantic clinch and being outed as a foamy fraudster.