Often the center of insecurity, the waist has been subjected to all sorts of binding or concealment mechanisms throughout fashion history in pursuit of the perfect silhouette. Corsets, girdles and belts have been used to cinch the waist into its least possible circumference, while loose and flowy cuts are meant to hide unsightly belly fat, muffin tops and loose skin.
Of late, however, there seems to be a resurgence of midriff-baring clothing, a recurring trend whose creation has been credited to fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet when she made a dress that revealed the midsection through strategically placed cutouts in 1932. The style has since taken on various forms, from displaying mere slivers of flesh to large swaths of skin acreage that go both high and ultralow.
This is not to say that the midriff has never seen the light of day before that, of course. Not all cultures are concerned with abdominal exposure—tummy roll or no tummy roll. In India, for example, the midriff is the symbol of birth and life so women leave it bare when wearing the traditional garment sari.
For the rest of the world, the torso remains largely obscured outside of the beach, pool or gym setting. But lately, there seems to have been a shift not only of where one can brandish the belly, but who (read: anywhere and anyone—well, almost).
Self-assurance more than sexiness
Time was, only the trim of abs had the “right” to showcase their midsection. Articles, TV programs, various multimedia content have been dedicated to finding ways to either flatten on flatter the waist. No more. These days, it all boils down to confidence.
While it could certainly still be pretty alluring, midriff-baring fashion has become less about sexiness and more about self-assurance. It can be argued that being locked up indoors for years has helped people value comfort above else when dressing up, which means less constriction and also feeling at ease in their own skin.
Fashion designer Glyn Alley Magtibay loves wearing crop tops. “I think anyone with the confidence to wear a midriff to any appropriate place or occasion should do it. Whatever you wear, if you feel good in it and it’s comfortable for you then it will look amazing on you.”
According to her, crop tops are very versatile and could be worn with almost any bottom, but pairing them with high-waisted pants or skirts would not only expose less of the torso but might actually make the legs look longer.
With the proliferation of body positive ideals, Magtibay predicts the bare midriff trend is here to stay with more and more people embracing it and wanting to show a little more skin.
And while the style has been around for decades, creatives have a way of reinventing trends to keep them fresh: “Now you see sweaters or coats or blazers being cropped and paired with matching miniskirt to give that midriff feel—and it works!”
Plus-size clothing brand Love Curves Ph owner Jennifer Go, however, does not design torso-exposing clothes for her clientele because the market for that type of garment is small, she says.
“I got the info from a friend who works in an RTW company. Usually, crop tops are slow—or nonmoving, and that is already for the regular-sized people so what more for plus-size?”
That said, Go believes that bare midriff fashion can be for anyone but not for everyone. “When you wear whatever makes you happy, it’ll look good on you since you are comfortable and confident with it,” she says. “[But] there are people with fantastic builds who just can’t make it work. I think it’s about the right amount of confidence and right occasion. You may have a great body but if you feel awkward, it won’t do.”
For herself, even as she can comfortably wear plunging necklines and miniskirts, Go draws the line on crop tops. “I feel so exposed,” she says. She only bares her midsection during yoga (and at the beach) and even then, it took years of practice (and lockdowns) for her to feel confident enough to stop wearing a shirt over her sports bra. She says yoga helped her gain confidence and make her feel good about her body, but she still does not feel comfortable exposing her midsection outside.
Power and confidence
CrossFit athlete and body love advocate Gel Abogado has wanted to wear midriff-bearing clothes since the early 2000s but says she just never had the confidence to do so.
“To be honest, I used to feel insecure about my body,” says Abogado, explaining that she grew up obese but just recently lost a lot of weight. That weight loss did not immediately translate to a confidence boost, however, as it left her with loose skin and stretch marks.
“But a series of events gave me the confidence to be proud and feel good about my body,” she relates. “First is the CrossFit community, which encourages you to be yourself and feel good about your body—because what matters is you’re strong and healthy. That’s when I started wearing sports bra when working out.”
“Then, the pandemic,” she continued. “It made me realize that life is short, and now that the restrictions are more lenient, I should be more confident and rock all the clothes I’ve always wanted to wear.”
Now she wears midriffs in any occasion, barring dress code prohibitions.
“It’s been a personal favorite of mine lately. It gives me the power and confidence that makes me feel beautiful and sexy,” Abogado adds.
While she usually wears her midriff tops with high-waisted bottoms to cinch her waist and keep the loose skin from moving around, Abogado believes there’s no one correct way of wearing the style. “Just wear it with confidence and you’re good to go.”
From casual to formal
Accessories designer Farah Abu agrees: “I am very much pro-’Be your own true bold self and wear whatever you want’ kind of gal. Anyone can wear it if it makes them happy. I personally love this design because, as an XXS frame, it’s easy for me to look for tops that fit me and if they don’t, it’s so easy to alter them.”
Abu enjoys how the style doesn’t shock anymore, saying people can show more skin nowadays and that’s just normal. “I don’t think I can find any fault in it. It’s very flattering when you wear them with high-waisted bottoms (which “give the illusion of bigger hips, making you look more curvy and your waist even smaller”); it’s fashionable; you can mix and match when you buy coords; and you can pack light with your tiny tops.”
According to her, the trend persists because it’s convenient and so easy to wear. “It may evolve in terms of how low or high it can go, but definitely it’s here to stay.”
For her part, lawyer Tina de Guzman doesn’t go out of her way to look for bare midriff fashion but acknowledges that there are more styles available these day, especially from Filipino designers. A staunch supporter of local fashion, she has worn her fair share of these belly-barers to various occasions—from casual to formal.
“Anybody can wear it—all ages and body shapes. Just keep it classy, make sure the clothes fit well and cover the proper body parts,” says the mom of two.
“For me, bare midriff fashion is super easy to pull off in casual scenes, but it’s not exclusive to casual. I have worn crop tops in formal events and have kept it classy and compliant with the dress code. I would just choose the design and fabric and anything can work,” she says.
Freedom of expression
“My personal rule in dressing up is I need to be comfortable, meaning I don’t fidget or worry as I go about my day; and that the outfit makes me happy and confident,” De Guzman adds. “I found that dressing up helps me show up better. I don’t have to worry if I am presentable, underdressed or if I am showing up as the person I want to be.
“I think [bare midriff fashion] is great. It celebrates boldness and confidence. And after being locked down for years, freedom (to go out and of expression) is really something to be celebrated,” she says.
“I think both the supply/creator (designers, brands) and demand/consumer sides are enjoying this postpandemic era of freedom and celebration. There is also a strong body positivity movement, at least in the communities I belong in, which gives further support to wear whatever makes the wearer happy,” adds De Guzman, who cofounded empowerment communities like The Oil Natural Project, Fit Moms Project Ph, Pinay Girl Boss and MILF Manila.
“For me, the best tip is to get to know your body: what works and what doesn’t work; your strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know I am a work in progress and I have what we refer to as a #mombod. It doesn’t prevent me from wearing midriff fashion. I know which parts of my tummy are lean, and therefore I can show, and which part I should cover. So high-waisted skirts or pants work best for me, and I can get away with showing a little skin,” she says.
“The rule now is, there are no rules. Use your judgment and have fun. Make sure you try on clothes before going out and everything’s secure. And then go out and walk your own runway.”