The bodycon-troversy: Those figure-hugging dresses are back. But are they a woman’s best friend… or an unforgiving enemy? Two writers give their take on the divisive garments
I love them, says Liz Jones
Wearing a bodycon dress is like being in a very close relationship with a boa constrictor. The moment I saw sausage-skin bodycon back on the catwalk, I breathed a sigh of relief.
That said, it wasn’t a deep breath — they’re too tight for that. If you ever read that I’ve donated a kidney, it won’t have been for altruistic reasons — it’ll just be because I needed to make space.
Its return heralds the death of the tea dress — the passive-aggressive floaty number that hides a harridan who minds if you put a dirty teaspoon on her ironed tablecloth.
Bodycons and skyscraper heels are everywhere on the new series of The Apprentice. Does that mean these ambitious young wannabes are using sex appeal to get ahead?
Well, kind of. They know Lord Sugar would think a woman dressed in something floaty is in possession of an equally soft brain. You’d never catch Sugar’s sidekick, Karren Brady, in anything that’s not organ-hugging.
My first bodycon was bought in the very early 1980s. It was by that master of the art Azzedine Alaia — black, with a texture like crepe paper and it cost just short of £800, my entire student grant, writes Liz Jones (pictured)
Like The Apprentice contestants, I am just not a wafty sort of person. I don’t want to float. In a bodycon, you strive, you dive and, as Meghan Markle would say, you thrive — and that’s much more my style.
My first bodycon was bought in the very early 1980s. It was by that master of the art Azzedine Alaia — black, with a texture like crepe paper and it cost just short of £800, my entire student grant.
It had a kick like a pony at the knee, with a teeny diagonal zip, and it was very, very difficult to get on. The process made me sweat, and I often put my head through the armhole by mistake but, once on, it always got me noticed.
I felt contained and confident, as though I was being hugged by a very forgiving friend. Bodycon holds you in and shores you up. It makes you stand tall even when you might be down in the dumps.
Since then, I have dallied with a slip and toyed with an A-line, but I have always returned to the bodycon: a pupa by Prada, a gut-gripper from Gucci.
Always designer, as only expensive fabric will constrain like a corset no matter if, like me, you have a stress-fat tummy induced by the price tags.
Charlotte Hawkins is pictured left while Sarah Jessica Parker are both pictured in bodycon
In the mid 1980s, Herve Leger — the firm started by French designer Hervé Peugnet — picked up the baton from Alaia, fashioning garments from strips of knitted fabric, a technique formerly used in corsetry.
While Herve parted company with the original firm, and has since died, the brand that bears his name still specialises in bodycon.
And it was a show-stopping Herve Leger pink bandage dress — it cost nearly a grand, so you can’t afford food, which is just as well — that I chose as my ‘re-entry’ outfit post-lockdown for a hot date, after what seemed like a decade without anywhere glamorous to go and a two-year sex drought.
If the man in your life has gone off the boil in the bedroom, this is what you need to do the trick. He can peel you like a banana.
These are clothes for grown-up women who mean business. Designers have finally got the message that the main function of a dress is not to make us look like little girls or, God forbid, comfy. I think we’ve all had enough of Covid comfy. And you don’t have to be thin to rock a bodycon. In fact, I think it looks better with curves — just look at Kim Kardashian. These dresses shout: ‘I’m not ashamed of my body. I’m not covering it up in a sack.’
The bodycon isn’t like a bikini. If it’s made well, with thick elastane or crepe threaded with Lycra, and reinforced at the seams — Herve Leger is like a straitjacket, even Hannibal Lecter couldn’t escape — it will tame your wobbly bits. You will be hard, as sleek as an otter, as impervious as a deep-sea diver.
Some more recent iterations have messed with the formula, with half-hearted results. I’m not a fan of a bodycon dress with cutouts — the whole point is to contain your flesh.
My most recent bodycon purchase was a nude Victoria Beckham number; VB is queen of the squeeze. Everyone comments on it. It even gives me curves, when I’m naturally quite straight-up-and-down.
And unlike Alaia, since Victoria is a woman, it has a very long zip, so you can get it on without turning contortionist.
I wore it to meet a man in a bar, and his tongue practically lolled out of his mouth. The truth is, bodycon is back because it’s sexy. Never mind price per wear, it’s price per stare!
I loathe them, says Imogen Edwards-Jones
Oh no, it’s back. Just when you thought it was safe to expand on the sofa, crack open another tube of Pringles and, slack-jawed, watch a bit of telly, here comes Lord Sugar’s Fembot Army all marching to the same drum, dressed in nude stilettos and pantyhose and the ubiquitous bodycon dress.
What fresh hell is this?
Have we returned to the 1980s? Are we having a collective Jackie Collins flashback? The last time we saw this particular combination was the era of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, announcing she had a ‘head for business and a body for sin’.
Though how anyone can concentrate on tricky figures while holding their breath and sitting bolt upright is beyond me.
I have to say I’m confused. Surely we’d learned by now that no one looks good in a bodycon dress? Full stop.
They cling, they pinch, they squeeze, they suffocate, they are unforgiving.
The pastry breakfast, the baguette lunch, even the smallest packet of peanuts on the way to the party are all writ large for the world to see.
I have to say I’m confused. Surely we’d learned by now that no one looks good in a bodycon dress? Full stop, writes Imogen Edwards-Jones
And don’t think that Spanx are your friend in all of this. Yes, they can smooth a stomach and hoick up a behind.
But they can do nothing in the face of a bodycon dress because, much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, the fat has to go somewhere.
Down the thighs, out the back, up the front or, in my case, over the side as double boob under the armpit.
We know all this — but still we are tempted.
For the bodycon — or shall we just call it The Con? — is really a story of hope over experience.
The Apprentice’s Brittany Carter is pictured left while Victoria Beckham is pictured right
I admit that I fell for it in Zara recently. Shimmery. Silver. Sequinned. Short. It was like a siren call from parties past, exuding fun and youth. And I took it home.
What a mistake. Will I ever learn? Thankfully, I tried it on in the comfort of my own bedroom so no one could hear me scream.
Did I look glamorous? Did I look fun? Did I look sexy? Did I hell! I just looked like a chunky, glittered, butcher’s choice pork sausage ready for the barbecue.
It makes you long for the frilly frou-frou curtains of last year. The up-to-the-neck, down-to-the-floor, coverall lampshade outfits that allowed us to waft and wander and flop as we liked.
We looked presentable and fragrant and perfectly pretty, while half of us were still wearing our tracksuit bottoms underneath.
Maybe that’s the reason for the new Fembot army of Cons? It’s the idea of being perfectly put together, having gone to the salon, curled their hair, waxed the legs and slipped into something extremely uncomfortable that makes you so very 2022.
However, the Con should come with an age-appropriate warning. If you can remember Cindy Crawford working the bandage dress, or Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, then you should step away from the sequinned elastane tube winking at you from the High Street window.
For no matter how super and smashing and svelte your figure might be, you are mutton, my friend. The Con is a young woman’s game.
Picture research: Claire Cisotti
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