The Wall Street Journal

Waist Management

Pull It In, Girls, as Makers Push Cinched-In Pants, Girdles; Doctor, Make Me ‘Indented’

August 6, 2004

Anna Martin, a 32-year-old mom from Bakersfield, Calif., worked out like crazy to get the washboard belly she needed for all her low-slung pants. Now, Ms. Martin is investing in clothes that emphasize another body part: her waist. “It’s time for a change,” she says.

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Fashion’s focal point is on the move — northward, about two inches. With consumers tiring of the low-rider look, everyone from retailers to personal trainers is redirecting eyes and dollars to the inward curve above the hips. Retailers and designers this fall are cinching it in with bows, belted jackets, high-rise pants and long-waisted pencil skirts. While no one’s bringing back the corset, at least one lingerie maker is introducing a modern take on one. Sales of high-waisted undergarments are up and, at the office of one Beverly Hills doctor, so are requests for waist-trimming surgeries.

Retailer Henri Bendel is stocking up on $319 belted silk blouses, and Marc Jacobs is offering a $1,600 cashmere sweater with velvet bows at the waist. The new, longer-rise jeans are being shown with skinny belts. Gucci’s current ad campaign features a model in a floor-length white dress with a cutout at the hip and a small brooch at the waist.

At one Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, ‘waist-in procedures’ are up 30% over the last 18 months.

Moving the fashion bar, if only slightly, is the industry’s way to get people to buy more clothes, of course. But designers are also hoping a wasp waist is easier to pull off — or pull in, thanks to Spandex. The look can be forgiving on women 35 and older, who spent $45 billion on clothes in 2003 — half of the overall take of the women’s-apparel industry. Teresa Heinz Kerry’s white cotton jacquard suit on the night her husband spoke to the Democratic National Convention had a round collar, short lapels and nipped-in waist.

“If something is well-cut and defined at the waist, it instantly slims you,” says Ellis Kreuger, head designer for the fashion house Tocca, which introduced a $297 belted suit jacket as part of its waist-conscious line this season. But Wayne Scot Lukas, a stylist for Janet Jackson, Cindy Crawford and Meryl Streep, warns that pulling in a belt too tight can make a person “look like an unappetizing sausage linked in the middle.”

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Modeling agencies already are seeing expanding demand for shrinking midsections. Mike Lyons, owner of the Lyons Group model agency in New York, says that generally, his customers have requested models with a more classic 35-24-36 measurement. But recently, he says, some apparel makers have requested curvier models — hips of 38 inches, for example, instead of 36 — because larger hips make the waist look smaller. Dani Korwin, whose New York specialty agency’s roster includes hand and torso models, says she has been booking a lot of photo shoots for belts. “You want someone with a nice, trim waist,” Ms. Korwin says. “The focus is moving upward.”

Undergarment makers say they, too, are feeling the pinch. Maidenform says that sales of its “waist nipper” products — “we don’t use the word ‘girdle’ anymore,” says company President Maurice Reznik — were up 20% in June 2004 from the previous year. Its long-torso version, specifically designed to create an hourglass figure, is the top seller overall in its waist-nipper category.

Not a Pretty Picture

Lingerie maker Spanx Inc., meanwhile, is bringing out a $34 high-rise body-shaper this month called “Higher Power,” and in the fall it plans to introduce high-waisted pants with a “slimming liner” inside. During the midriff-baring rage of recent years, Spanx tried making a low-rise control panty, but never got past the prototype stage. The result “wasn’t pretty,” says company owner Sara Blakely. “Whether you’re a 0 or a 2, it created a bulge in the middle of the stomach.”

Dr. Lloyd Krieger, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who specializes in tummy tucks, says he’s seeing a shift in demand from clients who simply say “make me flat” — referring to the pouch of fat just below the belly button — to wanting “to be indented on the sides” as well. To oblige, Dr. Krieger performs an operation that usually costs $7,000 to $10,000 and involves cutting along the bikini line, removing excess belly fat and then cinching in the waist muscles so the skin curves into an hourglass. In the past 18 months, Dr. Krieger says, his waist-in procedure business has risen 30%. “Straight is out,” he says.

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For women who want to go the less-invasive route, there’s always exercise — though there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about how to create the hourglass effect. Jorge Cruise, a weight-loss coach in San Diego, says the best plan is to twist the torso back and forth, strengthening the oblique muscles that run along the side of the torso. But personal trainer Melyssa St. Michael of Bentonville, Ark., says twisting exercises can actually bulk up muscles and add to the waist. For her clients who ask for the “Champagne-glass look,” she suggests a different exercise she calls the mountain climber. (Start in a push-up position, then jump alternate feet forward, toward your hands.)

Changing Fashions

The last time designers trained so much attention on the waist was in the 1970s, when tight jeans and pants were cinched in above the bellybutton. Since then, fashions have flirted with every part of the body: the shoulders in the ’80s, as women took up the power suit; small breasts in the ’90s, as minimalism gained favor; and with the new millennium, the overt sexiness of plunging necklines, rising hemlines and underwear as outerwear.

As for men, most have skirted the issue altogether, by shying away from the hip-hugging styles of the past few years. But those who did embrace the low-slung look haven’t been as quick to hitch their trousers back up. “Men are getting hipper, but they’re still just a little bit slower” than women in following shifts in trends, says Colleen Pozzuoli, manager and buyer for Caruso Caruso, a casual-wear store in Birmingham, Mich.

For Bonnie Kline, anyway, the shift has come just in time. Shopping one afternoon in Beverly Hills, Calif., the 31-year-old office manager says she is sick of all her low-waisted jeans. “This gives me a reason to restock my closet,” she says.
—- Katherine Rosman contributed to this article.

It’s a Cinch

Name designers — and the celebrities they dress — are big on the little-waist trend. Here are some of the items offered, as well as who’s wearing them.

Designer/Item/Price Comments
Linda Allard Ellen Tracy
Duchesse silk satin coat with stole collar
Better known for more conservative sportswear, the label’s fall line includes a crimson coat with wide lapels and collar that contrast with a high, belted waist.
Two-piece cotton suit with belt

Jacket has a big belt, but focus on the waist is meant to be “discreet,” says Tocca designer Ellis Kreuger. “It’s sensual rather than sexual.”

Christian Lacroix
Cropped tweed blazer

Recent sighting: Recording artist Brandy paired this fitted jacket with a white T-shirt and pink trousers.
Silk blouse, $735
silk skirt, $1,360
duchess bow belt, $420
Sofia Coppola gained attention at the Cannes Film Festival for showing up with Quentin Tarantino — and for being an early belt adopter, wearing this white ensemble with eye-catching black bow at the waist.
Brown-and-green checked coat with beaver fur collar, $2,115
red velvet beaded belt, $616
For her fall 2004 ready-to-wear runway show, Miuccia Prada accented most of the outfits with belts — some skinny leather separates, others attached to sweaters and jackets.

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