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12 Dresses That Don’t Reveal Your Rib Cage

Because we’re all cut up by cut-out dresses

By Genevieve Phelan

If any style has dominated designer brands and the high street recently, it’s the cut-out dress. They’re everywhere, in every guise: slashed at the waist, side or hip, or open at the back from shoulder right down to coccyx.

And don’t get me wrong – I love some of the playful, architecturally interesting designs from designers like Christopher Esber or cool-girl NYC label AREA. I like the drama they bring to an otherwise classic column dress. I just don’t love them… on my figure. And that bothers me.

I’m not alone in feeling cut up about cut-outs. When Mia Freedman recently posted about cut-out dresses on her Instagram, the reaction was huge. “Dear fashion. Stop making dresses with cut-outs. Grown women do not want that sh*t. Thanks,” Freedman wrote, prompting over 1600 comments from women similarly frustrated by the trend. Writer Holly Wainwright chimed in with a “FULL AGREE”; another woman wrote: “These dresses may suit the pencil-thin x size 6 x 18 year olds… but come on, the other 90% of us do not have bodies made for these dresses.”

On a rational level, I completely believe that any woman should be able to wear anything she chooses – of course I do. But like many of those frustrated commenters, I struggle to see myself in a midriff-baring column dress a la Margot Robbie’s headline-making appearance in green Bottega Veneta at an awards night recently. I’m confident wearing a slightly cropped mesh T-shirt or singlet that finishes a few centimetres above the top of my favourite tailored trousers. But as much as it embarrasses me to say, I can’t see myself rocking a dramatic, stomach-flaunting or midsection-baring ensemble until ‘X’.

(‘X’ being some mythical point in the future where I have a mid-section I’m comfortable revealing.)


Thinness has long been prized as the ‘ideal’ body shape, but in the past few years we’ve seen the rise of inclusiveness and diversity on the catwalk. Suddenly brands started shooting their clothes on women who weren’t a size 6/8. It felt like the start of a brave new era of body positivity.

Until it didn’t – and super-thin models started appearing in shows and advertisements again. Plus size model and Melbourne-based writer Laura Roscioli admits that while she’s struggled with feelings of body shame in the past, the broader trends at play are not the issue. Instead, it’s “the way some brands are presenting the trends that is the issue”, she explains.

“Brands continually show cut-outs or any kind of bare stomach on only thin bodies,” says Roscioli. “I think that’s where the problem lies. If we were able to represent all body types in those trends, then that would be completely amazing. If we constantly present the trend itself on one singular, skinny body type, people who don’t resonate with that will start to feel excluded, or else aspire to be that way in order to wear a particular dress”.

Roscioli tells me that she’s done “a lot of work” to free herself of body shame and has come to terms with the fact that we exist in a world with unrelenting beauty standards. She explains that she has “had to confront thinness and rise above it”.

Brands show cut-outs or any kind of bare stomach only on thin bodies

In The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald this week, National Fashion Editor Melissa Singer discussed her concerns about the return of thin. “A writer I follow, Tyler McCall, was calling out a lot of skinny models on the Paris runways, especially at Miu Miu and Dolce & Gabbana (although she did also praise the latter for including more than one ‘regular’ sized model); then a colleague with three teenage daughters contacted me to say she was quite distressed about one brand’s models; and last night, I went online looking for clothes for my one year old, and the first thing I saw on a popular website was an image of a rake-thin Kendall Jenner in a crop top and jeans. So you could say thinness is top of mind.”

I haven’t had children but I know that some women (like my editor, Felicity) feel uncomfortable bearing a stomach that’s stretched to accommodate babies. She, too, would love to feel confident in cut-outs, but if the cult of thinness is hard for brands to leave behind, what hope is there for the rest of us?

So this week, our stylist Lucy Wood has pulled together some dresses that are statement but not cut-out. We hope you love them, whatever your body shape. And if you’re rocking the cut-out trend, we salute you.

COS dress


SIR dress


ESSE dress


BY Genevieve Phelan

Genevieve is a writer, publicist and consultant whose work has appeared in Vogue and Fashion Journal

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