For about the last five years or so, I have considered any skirt or dress that reaches as far as my knees to be deeply unflattering. Or at least, deeply unflattering on me. On other people they might be elegant, chic, sexy even. But on me, I instantly look like someone dressed as a mum for a school play.
Being top-heavy, my legs are my slimmest part and therefore the bit I want to get out at every opportunity. It deflects from my bulkier bits up top, like wearing a subtle sign that says, “Just so you know, I’m not built like a tank the whole way down.”
So I’ve spent a draughty five years pushing the boundaries of hemline decency. Every dress has been shortened, then shortened even more the next year. My tights have got more and more opaque to compensate, my heels lower and tops more voluminous to balance out the harlot potential. It has been a long work in progress, but finally I’ve found a look that works for me. Hurrah.
The snag, of course, is that saying you’ve “found a look that works for you” is waving a red flag to the fashion bull. It’s like when someone on Eastenders says, “this is going to be the best Christmas we’ve ever had.” As soon as the words leave your lips, a flashing alarm goes off somewhere thousands of miles away, in a big control room, where I like to picture Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexa Chung all sitting round in massive leather chairs. “Lauren Bravo’s found a look that works for her!” They cry. “Quick, make fashion do the opposite!” And so, summer 2010 became the summer of the maxi dress.
Maxis have been creeping up (or down) on us for years, but up to now I’ve been able to ignore it, dismiss it as a micro trend that will never catch on because Brit girls like to flash the flesh too much. But not so, it seems. Everywhere you look this season, women are flapping about in acres of fabric. And, more distressing, most of them look good. They’re elegant, chic, sexy even.
There is a crucial ‘most’ in the above sentence, though, and that is the deceptive secret of the maxi – it DOESN’T WORK ON EVERYONE. For starters, they cover up a significant portion of our bodies, leaving us only with arms and décolletage on show. Which is great if arms and décolletage happen to be your best bits, but how many of us claim that? And how many of us, alternatively, spend entire August afternoons sweating it out in inappropriate jackets so that nobody sees our bingo wings?
Then there’s the maxi’s lack of shape. This can be a blessing – skimming over your hips and thighs, providing ample coverage for a belly full of fried calamari – or a curse – making you look like someone of indeterminate gender hiding in a shower curtain.
And then there’s the lack of accommodation for, um, ample chests. The vast majority of maxis come in two styles – ruched bandeau or triangle halterneck. Neither are friends to any bosom bigger than a C-cup, with the former looking a bit like two puppies in a sack, and the latter presenting the age old dilemma of cavernous cleavage vs wearing a prudish camisole underneath. And I do not approve of clothes than necessitate extra things worn underneath just to protect your modesty.
There’s also the length issue to contend with. Maxi propaganda states that long, wafty dresses can only be worn by long, wafty people; one of those hideously unfair fashion diatribes like ‘only skinny people can wear skinny belts’ (you notice there are no trends named ‘stout and dumpy’). But it’s a rule made for breaking. The secret to pulling off maxi as a shorter lady is picking your shape wisely and being nifty with a needle and thread if need be. Make sure it covers your ankles, but isn’t sweeping the floor, and fits properly up top so you don’t look swamped. Try to find something relatively slim-fit so that you’re not wallowing around in a paisley marquee, and if all else fails, crank up the heels.
But body issues aside, the real key to maxxing it up is deciding on your style. Are you a Grecian goddess (draping, chiffon, upswept hair), a prairie girl (broderie anglais, denim waistcoat, belt), or an urban hippie (straight jersey t-shirt maxi, minimalist sandals, iPhone)? Or will you, like me, be keeping a firm grip on your minis until Anna, Karl and Alexa come round to prise them out of your hands?