It’s taken roughly 15 years, but at long last, after a couple of false alarms, we are officially over skinny. And here is how you can tell: women have started to envy other women, not for their jutting hip bones and the amount of daylight visible between their thighs, but for their soft and shapely bodies. We’re not talking about recognising that hips, thighs and breasts are a normal part of the female package. (We’ve always known that, and it hasn’t stopped us from wanting to look like malnourished girls.) We’re talking about, once again, finding the shapely form desirable. We look at pictures of Daisy Lowe in her leotard and opaque tights and think — yes, that’s what youth should look like: blooming and rounded and bee-stung. We look at Joan in Mad Men, in those curve-packing dresses, and feel the strange sensation that, for the first time in more than a decade, we are seeing the womanly form as God intended it. Up to this point, there have been odd breakthrough moments when we’ve been reminded of the power of shape (Scarlett Johansson’s arrival on the scene, for example), but the novelty always wore off pretty quickly when we were faced with the prospect of fitting into this season’s fashion. For as long as anyone can remember, thin has been the aspirational body type — the one that went hand in hand with success and glamour and money and, above all, looking good in clothes.
Women don’t necessarily want to look as thin as Agyness Deyn (no offence, Agyness), and the fashion industry is waking up to the idea of a proper womanly shape. Look at the fabulous curve-enhancing clothes of Roland Mouret: the global success of the ubiquitous Galaxy dress was partly down to its ability to flatter a fuller figure. Even Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue and notorious scourge of fat, seems to be coming round to the idea of curves. Recently, she featured the shapely British singer Adele in the magazine. Okay, she was photographed lying down, but at least Wintour didn’t ask her to lose weight for the shoot, as she famously did with Oprah Winfrey. The emaciated look has simply run its course for a whole host of reasons, and now we are ready for something completely different.
In the first place, thin has got boring. Not just boring, but grindingly predictable. Along with long blonde hair, skinny-as- nothing has become the default position of anyone who wants to get noticed (or photographed), with the result that anyone good-looking who breaks the mould now appears twice as striking and original. Beth Ditto is naked on the cover of Love not because her size makes the image shockingly avant-garde (that was last year). She’s there because she represents the end of fashion’s blind allegiance to the Identikit clothes model, and the beginning of a new love affair with the parts that make women different from indie boys.
The timing of this shift towards a new aesthetic is no accident. Whippet-thin is the standard body type of the high-maintenance woman with a husband in corporate finance, and those sharp shoulders jutting through cashmere have started to look decidedly last year. A reality check is happening across the board (in fashion, Karl Lagerfeld has christened it “the new modesty”). Now a real figure looks a lot more appealing and sexier than a starved one in the same way that driving a Hummer seems hilariously out of touch with the mood of the times. In Hollywood, it’s already noticeable: the likes of Jennifer Aniston have got a bit more flesh on their bones, and the disciples of Rachel Zoe (the Zoebots) are no longer setting the agenda.
Still, it would be naive to pretend we can just erase all these years of brainwashing overnight. Shape is making a comeback, but our perspective has adjusted and now the curvier figure has to obey certain rules. You need a small waist and a flat stomach to contrast with those fuller hips. A pair of nice arms, good ankles and a well-defined clavicle make all the difference. Above all, shape has to be dressed right for it to work, and that means finding the fashions that need filling out: the silhouette-hugging dresses, not the billowing harem pants. Every time Christina Hendricks (Joan in Mad Men) is interviewed and photographed in contemporary clothes, you are reminded that casual, undone and edgy do no favours for the hourglass figure. In that early 1960s look, with asset-packing sheath and immaculate up-do, any woman would die to look like her. But in a thigh-skimming asymmetric number with a frill down the front or, God forbid, jeans and T-shirt, she looks like the big girl who doesn’t quite have what it takes.
In the end, shape has been out of favour for too long because so many of the clothes in the forefront of fashion simply don’t work for women with curves. Now change is coming.