The illusion dress can be a girl's best friend, but remember that camouflaging two or three inches off your waist won't solve everyone's fashion woes.
A reality check before springing for that illusion dress
We are relentless in our pursuit of perfection. Painfully so. While most of us hanker after the ideal hourglass figure - full hips, voluptuous cleavage and nipped-in waist - only an estimated 8 per cent of us are lucky enough to have the naturally perfect 36-24-36 proportions. Instead of mastering the art of playing to our strengths, we spend our time scrapping around with our shortcomings. But don't give up, fashion is now a mastery of disguise.
It all started with the Spring/Summer Collections of 2009, when Alexander McQueen and Herve Leger both sent models down the runway sporting designs using graphic motifs to create a waspish waist. Thus followed Stella McCartney's Autumn/Winter 2011 Collection featuring the use of clever, black panelling that whittled inches off the waist. And so we had it, the birth of the illusion dress.
Previously, we have had to deal with accessories to create the illusion of shape - belts to define a waistline long ignored or shoulder pads to add definition and create balance. Yet the new dress promises to do all the work for us.
So how does it actually work? The different-coloured panels at the sides mean that if you're standing against a busy background, the main contour of the body appears to be in a position it actually is not, and our waist appears two to three inches smaller; it is the most simple act of camouflage.
If, like most women, you have a pear-shaped figure with a heavy bottom and narrow shoulders, try to accept what you have been dealt - your hips are not going anywhere anytime soon, so try to work with them. Look to jackets with a strong shoulder and that hit just above the hip, as they will balance the overall shape. Pattern is another great trick to experiment with as, depending on how you use it, it can draw the eye upwards and away from your body's heaviest point. The same goes for detailing on the upper half: puffed sleeves and breast pockets will help trick the eye.
It's all about balance. Likewise, if you are top heavy, adjust your bottom half by building with multiple layering and pattern. Think of yourself as a set of scales.
If you have a boyish frame, you will have your own problems, despite what everyone thinks. The secret is to stay away from anything column-like - straight dresses, drop-waisted styles and formless three-quarter sleeve jackets are a no-no. Look for soft, feminine shapes or dramatic detailing. Ruffles, frills and fluted sleeves will add volume, and feminine fabrics such as chiffon will give movement and add contrast to an angular frame. Experiment with thick and luxurious fabrics such as wool, cashmere, leather or tweed, as it will give you a greater presence.
Sadly, often what we perceive to be our biggest flaw is, in fact, just the opposite and needs to be accentuated. If you are lucky enough to have an hourglass shape, don't hide away; find your waist and use it. Same goes for those with a boyish figure; most women would kill for the options you have, so try to make it work for you.
But before we all dash out and buy the illusion dress, expecting to transform into a Coke bottle overnight, covering whatever lumps, bumps and hiccups you may possess, you still must be somewhat realistic about your limits. Nothing will turn Dawn French into Kate Moss overnight. Remember that and you will be one step ahead of the crowd.
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