It started, as things often do these days, at the gym. Bare midriff mania, I mean. A few years ago I noticed that the women around me started showing up to classes in leggings and just a sports bra, or just a crop top. Just like that, the vests that used to go over the sports bra had … vanished.
Mysterious, I thought. I mean, it’s not as if it was high summer or anything. There was, to my knowledge, no national shortage of tank tops. Everything was the same, except that there was bare skin where the bottom half of a T-shirt usually goes. And this wasn’t just about the impulse to flex the flattest and most toned abdomens. What intrigued me was that these women wandering about naked round their middle weren’t sucking their tummies in, or covertly side-eyeing their reflection every two minutes. A midriff gap had begun to look almost normal.
Well, it most definitely is now; the top and bottom halves of an outfit are no longer required to meet. In fact, it’s considered much smarter if they don’t. What began in the changing room quickly took over the red carpet, where a naked midsection has become the modern cleavage, with Zendaya the Sophia Loren Nowadays. (Cleavage now being terribly 20th-century.)
Gwyneth Paltrow was an early adopter here, pioneering the visible sliver of tummy. (I’m pretty sure I could recognize her belly button in a lineup.) As far back as 1998, her Donna Karan onscreen wardrobe for Alfonso Cuarón’s film adaptation of Great Expectations included an emerald green two-piece which framed an isosceles triangle of bare tummy. (To date, my proposed deep-dive long read into the Tao of Paltrow – subtitle: “Why Gwyneth Paltrow Was Right About Literally Everything All Along” – remains inexplicably uncommissioned, but I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted.)
The modern midriff gap sits about six inches higher than the exposed tummies of the Britney era. Where 1990s low-rise jeans exposed skin southwards from the waist, as low as your knicker elastic, the 21st-century take rises up from your waist.
The queen of this – and of much more besides, of course, but most certainly of this – is Beyoncé. I would argue that Beyoncé in a pencil skirt and cropped T-shirt, accessorized with cat-eye shades and a towering sandal, is the ultimate Beyoncé. This was what she wore through most of 2013 – which was also, fact fans, the year that Bey came up with the trick of surprise-dropping a whole album out of nowhere. In other words, 2013 Beyoncé essentially set the rules for how we live now. It’s her world, etc.
Mere mortals can never hope to look like Beyoncé, but she made the bare midriff a possibility for bodies beyond the pre-pubescent sylphs who had previously been the only confident creatures to go there. And what warmed up on the red carpet and gathered speed on the treadmill has now become part of everyday life. The rise of tracksuit bottoms, which were a teen staple before 2020 but exploded into a universal uniform during what I now like to refer to only obliquely as the Great Unpleasantness, because I’m as bored of talking about it as you are, were a key factor in lopping the bottom few inches off our tops. It is impossible to tuck anything into tracksuit bottoms with even a semblance of an elegant silhouette. A drawstring waist will always look best with bare skin, so the most streamlined summer pairing for trackie bottoms is an abbreviated tank or cropped hoodie.
And now proof that the bare midriff has been mainstreamed for summer 2022 has landed, at Boden. The home of pretty, wearable, unapologetically grown-up holiday dressing has come up with what its designers call the “kissing crop”. This two-piece almost meets in the middle – like drapes, or an air kiss, darling – giving the merest suggestion of bare skin without requiring you to freeze your kidneys. Boden’s Cropped Cotton Top and Lorna Tiered Maxi Skirt usher in a gentle new era for the midriff gap.
The midriff gap has downsized, and is coming to a holiday wardrobe near you. And with a kissing crop, you won’t even need to hold your breath.
Hair and makeup: Sophie Higginson; co-ords: monki.com; blazer: thrift.plus