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“Where’d my waist go?” “I need shapewear 24/7!” “I couldn’t wear a tuck-in top or belt even if I wanted to!” You’re not alone. Belly bulge is a universal problem after age 50 — although the size of that problem pooch varies. Some of us blame stress, a sluggish metabolism or a lack of exercise, while others accuse hormones or a fondness for bread, ice cream and salty chips. Whatever the cause, when sucking it in no longer works it’s time for a fashion reboot. Here are 10 ways to battle the bulge and win.
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1. Shift the show to your legs
Born in the 1960s and popularized by everyone from Jackie O to Audrey Hepburn, shift dresses in straight and A-line shapes are a classic and classy solution to belly bulge. The overall silhouette is always crisp, roomy and stands away from the body — so there’s no cling at the middle. You get to choose sleeveless to short, elbow, three-quarter or long sleeves too. The only catch? It’s all about your legs as a new focal point. For those of us who think our legs are still pretty darn good (or even great!), choose a shift dress in a length that suits you (above the knee, at the knee or just covering the knee), skip the shapewear and stock up on low chic heels, flats and sandals.
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2. Dress in one color
An oldie but goodie, this optical trick makes even the most prominent belly blend in and never fails whether you’re a size 12 or 20, M, XL or 2X. Here’s why one more time: Matching or nearly matching tops and bottoms creates a column of color that registers visually as one sleek unbroken line. It works for any color, but try this ASAP with all black or all white — two of the most common wardrobe neutrals. Ignore differences in fabrics and textures. In fact, you’ll get more style mileage from this belly-busting tip when mixing tailored items with soft, sporty or athleisure pieces and fancier pieces usually saved for night. Black joggers and a black silk shirt? Why not?!
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3. Lose your belly in midis and maxis
Long flowy dresses may be your belly’s new BFF. The whole point here is total camouflage with a major bohemian/romantic twist, and it’s best for those with a fashionista attitude. Ignore belted versions and head for looser styles with a horizontal seam hovering at above (as in empire) or just below the waist. No worries, this is a design detail not meant to show your actual waist and isn’t the shapeless baggy muumuus of the past either. Opt for trendy details in color, print and sleeves to make these dresses an intentional “look” rather than an excuse. “Never complain or explain” is a smart fashion motto.
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4. Trim your torso with an open jacket
There are several jacket tricks for belly bulge. Here’s the first: Sure, it’s another illusion but framing your belly with a contrasting color jacket worn open over any shirt, tee or dress works like theater curtains to reduce the width of your body right at the waistline from a front view. Choose a jacket that can be worn indoors. A sleek structured jacket like a blazer gives the sharpest line, but even a cardigan, vest or shirt-jacket (aka shacket) will give similar results.
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5. Hide your belly with a closed double-breasted jacket
No matter how laid back your lifestyle, don’t ignore the value of having one of these. Worn closed, the double layer and structured shape hides not only a protruding or bloated tummy, but also its frequent sidekick ... muffin tops. While DBs, as they are called, often top pantsuits, they are most useful now as standalone pieces and work for him or her. Snatch your oldies from about-to-be-donated pantsuits — and search consignment or resale too — before heading to fast-fashion sites and stores where they are all the rage.
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6. Untuck your tops
While this clearly works for us (and we untuck more than tuck these days), here’s a reminder for guys with a gut too. Choose untucked tees and polos long enough to cover all that won’t ride up and flash skin when you sit, stretch or bend. Your degree of roundness front and center will affect the fit. Button-down collared shirts designed to be worn tucked or untucked usually have a flat or slightly curved bottom and work better worn as “outies” than old dress shirts with long tails that are too long at thigh level. Just be sure the shirt has a relaxed fit, so buttons don’t pull or gape.
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7. Go big on top, narrow on bottom
If you like the idea of belly camouflage but want to show some shape too, let opposites attract. Pair any full-cut top, blouse, jacket or tunic with a slim base of trim pants, leggings or straight or skinny jeans (here’s where the latter come in handy even if you no longer love them). Think of the latter group as a pedestal for the main event on top, and use this combo day or night.
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PHOTO BY: MEGA/GC Images; Craig Barritt/Getty Images for BAM; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
8. Make a big statement somewhere else
When you don’t want attention in one spot, diverting it to another is one of the simplest ways to deal. It’s often the reason we cut bangs, wear red lipstick or bold eyeglasses, so you know how this works. Choose a dress, jacket with an eye-catching neckline, billowy sleeves or a cascade of ruffles in a dazzling color, and your belly remains your business.
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PHOTO BY: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images; John Phillips/Getty Images For L'Oréal Paris; Ben Gabbe/WireImage
9. Try a black jumpsuit
This initially trendy item is turning out to be a keeper for women with midriff issues. They’re essentially rompers with long legs and visually ignore your middle by sliding right past it. Some jumpsuits do come with a belt, and if yours does simply tie it loosely in the back. Though available in colors, prints and denim, opt for solid black for its ability to erase bumps and bulges in unwanted spots.
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PHOTO BY: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images; Jason Koerner/Getty Images; Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
10. Own it
Wear your curves — all of them — without a care in the world. After all, a belly (like your hips, breasts and backside) is just part of having voluptuous contours. This doesn’t have to be a problem. A little body positivity sometimes goes a long way toward saying, “Curvy there, I don’t care!”
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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