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11 Dress-Slim Fashion Tricks Without Shapewear

Figure-flattering styles for every shape and size


Summer is always a fashion challenge. No matter how much we talk about body positivity, women of every size and shape start giving their little bulges and extra pounds the evil eye as soon as hot weather looms. The ritual never fails. We panic, we start a new diet and then we buy a bunch of compression undergarments. No need for that. As a fashion editor I know 11 fashion tricks that will visually trim you down and tone you up.

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(Left to right) Queen Latifah, Ann Curry and Meryl Streep
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1. Swap out tees for tunics

Tunic-length tops are your new best friend. Whether crisp and tailored, silky and flowing or boho embellished, they disguise a muddy middle without looking obvious. Consider any top you own that's long, loose and generously cut a “tunic.” Even old back-of-the-closet sleeveless shifts, T-shirt dresses and sundresses (now way too short to wear solo) can be worn as tunics. But here's the important part: Be sure to pair any tunic with a slim pair of jeans, ankle pants or leggings. It's the big top over skinny bottom ratio that gives you coverage plus style.

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(Left to right) Yvette Lee Bowser, Naomi Watts and Sofia Vergara
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2. Let prints work as camouflage

Been skipping workouts? Feel bloated and blah? Are rolls and muffin tops making you miserable? Slip on a print dress or wide-leg pants and watch your jiggles vanish. It's an optical illusion, of course, but busy allover patterns like swirly florals, paisley, leopard and artsy geometrics keep the eye moving so it doesn't zero in on trouble spots. And here's a bonus: Prints also hide perspiration stains — a common summer fashion problem amplified by extra weight, heat and hormonal shifts.

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(Left to right) Cindy Crawford, Alfre Woodard and Vanessa Williams
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3. Bare legs or arms

Before you say “No!” hear me out. Yes, we all appreciate the body security of pants, long sleeves and midi hemlines but overdoing coverage all the time can be a trap, too. Think about this: Your arms and legs are always going to be slimmer than your torso whatever your size! Baring legs or arms (whichever makes you feel sexy and sassy) while covering up elsewhere establishes a long lean line so the rest of you appears trimmer, too. You just might be surprised at the freedom and confidence boost.

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4. Wear one color head to toe

This is a game-changer when extra pounds and bulges try to con you into buying new clothes. Simply stop wearing high-contrast clothes like a white top and black pants and start dressing low contrast in basically one color. You might dress tonally in a pale blue dress and add a vintage-wash jeans jacket or go matchy-matchy in a white top and white pants. The bottom line is, in every case you instantly look taller and slimmer. Don't hesitate to combine casual and dressy, tailored and athleisure pieces. That's what keeps the effect lively and contemporary.

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5. Try fit-and-flare dresses

The top part of the dress firms and emphasizes your shape, the bottom part lets loose and de-emphasizes it. You lose five pounds every time you wear one, whether you're a size 8 or 18, M or XXL. These masters of disguise keep a soft middle and full thighs between you and your dress. Know that there's a whole range of fit and flare from moderate to fashionista full. And here's another summer bonus: Fit and flares let us sit like a guy, cross our legs without tugging at the hem, stride or dash upstairs or down the street.

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6. Add a tailored jacket

An oldie but goodie that still works. Some of us used to wear a dark blazer or even a pantsuit as a reliable fix for a less-than-firm physique. We dress more casually now, but any tailored jacket — from blazers to leather moto styles, shirt-like shackets, multi-pocket cargo jackets or even a long duster — still adds structure over breezy summer dresses and tees to power up your shape and your style.

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7. Get jazzed about jumpsuits

There's one dress-slim fashion item we've been ignoring and it's the jumpsuit. We “get” dresses and separates — after all we've been wearing them for decades. But jumpsuits … look tricky. Well, aside from the annoying restroom issue, these elongated rompers are another way to dress head to toe in one color. If you're a yo-yo dieter jumpsuits are flexible enough to deal with the usual weight ups and downs and have no waistline issues either. Simply adjust the belt as you go or tie in the back. They're a one-and-done situation that goes from casual to work to evening out with a change of shoes.

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8. Embrace big sleeves

Right now, bigger is better, especially when we're talking sleeves. Remember how ‘80s shoulder pads worked? They amped up our upper body to balance broad hips and thighs. Well, the trend for voluminous sleeves is doing us the same favor now. Aside from being a fun and frivolous attention-getting detail, full sleeves provide just enough volume to re-create an hourglass effect. Any sleeve length and shape works —from an elbow-length puff to a wrist-length bell. No need to go to extremes (except if you are strolling a red carpet) but you get the picture!

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9. Spotlight your shoulders

Every woman over 50 has sensational shoulders no matter what else is going on weight-wise. An off-shoulder neckline that highlights these beauties does two things for you. It creates a positive focal point and diversion (and who couldn't use that?) and establishes a strong horizontal line that evens out proportions. If you carry weight below the waist — what we used to call a pear shape — make this neckline your evening out go-to.

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10. Wrap a waist to shape up

In one swoop a wrap dress restores a waist and lengthens your neck. Have at least one on call for “bad” body days. The side benefits include a lifted bust and more balanced top and bottom proportions, thanks to the X shape and V neckline it creates. FYI: You can create a DIY wrap shirt using a few safety pins. Slip on any loose-fit shirt or blouse. Instead of buttoning up criss-cross each side and wrap the ends around your waist. Pin the bottom at each side (from beneath so it doesn't show) to secure. Button up the midriff but be sure to leave a wide flattering V neckline undone.

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11. Go with the flow

The most radical dress-slim tip of all is to wear more generously cut clothes. Now that fashion is a mash-up of throwback looks from the ‘90s, ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘60s, wearing loose, wide-cut clothes might be your new solution! You might trade skinny jeans for wide cuts with loose legs, trim tees for boxy ones, and fitted tailored dresses for midis and maxis. The big essential here is attitude. You can't pull this off without a willingness to let your shape finally do its own thing!

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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