In skirts and tops, fashion takes a navel approach


Once the preserve of the bikini-clad, the bare midriff has been getting plenty of exposure off the beach lately. Designers are giving a yawn to the bosom and legs, and instead have bellied up to the midriff as fashion's latest focal point.

Among the myriad of designer offerings for summer, Ralph Lauren framed the navel between cropped vests and hip-riding sarongs, while Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, shows some middle ground with bra-tops instead of blouses peeking out from under saucy little suits -- a look he carried over into his fall collection.

This summer has seen a scurry for abbreviated tops and hip-riding pants and skirts. Cropped rib-knit sweaters that brush the ribcage score big with all ages. So do the torso-hugging, "shrunken" T-shirts so popular among the young and firm, who are even venturing into the boy's department for the smallest Ts. Why not raid kid brother's underwear drawer?

Jeweled bellies are also the rage. It's Janet Jackson's teasing waist bracelet that steals the attention in her music video "Again." And trend-setting supermodels have marked the spot with pierced navel rings (ouch).

Let's get real. Most of us with a bit more sand in the bottom of the hourglass and without the washboard stomachs of youth, would rather wear a bag over our heads than expose flabby middles.

Expert "belly-buster" Lynne Brick, of her namesake health and fitness clubs, points out "that besides watching diet and doing daily stomach crunches, good posture will help create the illusion of a slimmer torso. Sounds easy enough -- at least until it's time to sit down.

"You don't have to be especially young or possess a gym-sculpted body to show some skin," says Tina Sutton, national fashion consultant for Hit or Miss stores. There are other options besides those teeny tops, "like a long easy tunic or even an untucked flowing blouse unbuttoned to reveal as much midsection as you feel comfortable with," she advises.

Mesh T-shirts, sheer bodysuits and the new lacy bodyshapers, worn under a jacket or cropped sweater, will also give the illusion of bare without being so obvious.

"Such small skin sightings on an otherwise covered-up body can be tantalizing without appearing too risque -- especially good for large-busted figures who can't carry off those tiny little tops as tastefully," says Ruth Shaw in her Cross Keys boutique.

But when is the look not appropriate?

No matter how taut the tummy, a glimpse of the midriff is never acceptable in any business situation. There is no reason for co-workers to know whether your belly button is an "innie" or an "outie."


Styling: Suzin Boddiford

Model: Heather Vail for 3 West Casting

+ Clothing: Saks Fifth Avenue

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