The Return of the Midriff by Will Kay

Posted on January 8, 2012


If you were to believe the most recent fashion weeks (Spring/Summer 2012)  of New York, London, Milan and Paris, this summer navels will be back. I stopped counting midriffs after 25 shows. This trend isn’t unheralded in recent times, but its ubiquity is overwhelming. I, as someone at whom the trend isn’t aimed, rejoice in the return of the midriff. However the return of the midriff isn’t all sunshine and navel piercings, it comes fraught with the serious questions of: “Why?” and “What does this mean?”. Now, I know that some will be shaking their heads in dismay and will deny its existence to preserve their sanity, but I tell you the hard and fast twenty-year-return-rule of fashion has no exception in this case.

Even Prada had a go.

The reasons why I believe midriff return is a winner are threefold. The first is, for me, it signals a broad scale rejection of the new Puritanism that has been occurring for a good while in fashion and, to take a slight leap, society at large. It signals the end of people tut-tutting and tsk tsking at the slightest adventurousness in using the body as part of the fabric of clothing oneself. The fashion shows of the high-end brands often don’t entirely create the trends, more often they just herald loudly pre-existing ones. In actuality they represent, these days more than ever, the middling mark of “on-trend”. Extrapolating this thought with relation to midriffs means a sizable portion of the population are deposing the Puritanical boring of the ’00s and embracing a new silliness. Of silliness, I always approve.

The midriff at Altuzarra

This new silliness perhaps has greater meanings. You could interpret the baring of the midriff as a carefree exploration of fashion. This attitude towards fashion, its overt showiness and frivolity is in opposition to the moods of the current economic situation, which has resulted in a weak retail sector. Is it just fighting back through any form we can? Or is it a denial? Or is it resurgence? I can’t answer this with surety (because I am too lazy to seriously think about it), but as a pessimist I am going to go with denial.

Gianni Versace does the midriff in the 90s with the supers.

Which brings me to the heyday of the midriff, the ’90s, when the world of fashion knew no restraint (look at anything designed by the great Gianni Versace, not his alien muse sister, Donatella). For me, the midriffs and the 90s bring to mind the wonderful Cher Horowitz of Clueless. Cher is probably one of my favourite movie characters ever. Her naivety and noble selfishness are undeniably charming, but what she mainly represents is the prosperous situation in which midriff baring fashions flourished (if you wanted to go all sociological, Cher is the voluntaristic individual of the structural functionalist approach of Talcott Parsons, which is also having a resurgence in sociological thinking. Cashed up with a moralistic bent and a bit of free-time, but a reasonable work ethic; the ultimate individual of a functioning society).

Cher Horowitz

But what do all these connotations mean? Is the return of the midriff an ironic comment on how our situations aren’t as carefree as we were lead to believe in our youth? Is it just an expression of sexuality? Or are we reverting to our childhood, seeking refuge in childhood memories of when we only knew prosperity? These, I believe, are the troubling questions that result when you think (too hard) about the return of the midriff. I hope that it isn’t worn ironically or is just the continuing death of innovation in fashion, but that it truly reflects a more positive, silly, and carefree turn in fashion. Either way, I recommend you pick up your scissors and chop off several inches from your tops (denim, I reckon, a la Jessica Simpson). You’ll thank me when you are the trendiest of the summer.

Will Kay is You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-at-large and a sporadic fashion writer. For more of his thoughts on fashion, have a read of Crystal Insects.

Will is gaga about midriffs, but what do you think? Love, or hate? Comment below:

Posted in: Fashion