IT'S A STRETCH: WHO’D HAVE EXPECTED IT? SHAPEWEAR IS THE LATEST IN INNEARWEAR
By Linda Dyett
Little known fact: A century ago, figure-trimming corsets were among the first clothing items to be massproduced for women. Today they’re back. Informed by new technology and updated for comfort-driven 21st century lifestyles, they’re carving out a provocative new innerwear space.
Their ultimate goal may remain the same – cutting inches off the waist, hips, and thighs, as well as hiding bulges, muffin tops, and fat rolls. But no longer are these items called corsets or girdles. In this era of body positivity, they’ve been given a politically correct spin and are known instead as shapewear. They’re enhancers that are often easy to slip into, that feel like a second skin, like body makeup or tattoos.
“Twenty years ago, it was taboo to say you’re wearing shapewear. Today, it’s okay. It’s superfashion,” notes Octavio Quintana, executive vice president of Leonisa USA, a pacesetting provider out of Colombia, with ten markets worldwide. “There’s even a movement for shapewear to appear at the gym,” he adds.
“It’s not about the skinny girl anymore,” maintains Camille Block, an FIT lecturer in bras and swimwear.” “It’s more about smoothing than sucking in,” says Laura Patrick, owner of the Oh Baby lingerie shop in Portland, Oregon.
With an estimated worldwide value of over $85 billion in 2019, these empowering underpinnings are all about inclusivity. Available in a wide array of flesh tones, and in an XXS to 5X size range, they run the gamut from bras, panties, camisoles, slip dresses, skirts, bodysuits (with or without open busts), catsuits, tights, and leggings to new categories such as targeted thigh shapers, arm toners, waist trainers, butt boosters, and compression pants.
Latin America, where women remain beholden to the male gaze and cosmetic surgery is rampant, has an edge on shapewear construction and design and has emerged as a key innovator. “Women there want to look ideal,” as Claudia Ochoa, co-owner and designer of Colombia-based Clo Intimo, puts it.
Leonisa, for example, offers not one or two, but four compression levels:
First, easygoing SkinFuse, with targeted tubular firming, is especially useful for rear-end and thighs, as in the Seamless High Waist Shapewear with Thigh Compression, which goes to work from beneath the breasts to the knees.
Slightly more firming DuraFit is also super soft. The Undetectable Step-In Mid-Thigh Body Shaper smooths from underarms to knees.
Strong, resilient, microfiber-lined PowerSlim adds a softener during finishing for extra comfort. One popular style is the bestselling Open Bust Body Shaper Boy Short, tackling bulges from arms to abdomen.
Toughest of all is Latex, combined with cotton to avoid adverse skin reactions. Though lightweight, it’s strong enough to perfect an hourglass torso, as in the hook-andeye closing Waist Trainer.
Other key shapewear brands include Wacoal, Rago, Simone Pérèle, Falke, Janira, Va Bien, Triumph, Commando, Magic BodyFashion, Maison Lejaby, Chantelle, and Yummie.
And then there’s Heist Studios, whose shapewear, per Business of Fashion, is meant to mimic the human body’s internal support structure using fabric-bonded membranes with 20,000 laser perforations.
We’re also seeing shapewear with built-in extras. Fajas Raf Over’s contains copper yarn, said to help with both body contouring and skin tone. Belly Bandit and Cache Coeur, meanwhile, offer smoothing maternity designs and shape-restoring postpartum compression items.
The shapewear trend is allied with and very possibly got its start in fitness-wear, specifically the Jogbra, which emerged during the late 1970s running craze. Nancy Ganz’s Hipslip followed in 1988 and her Body Slimmers in 1990. Then Spanx arrived at the turn of the millennium.
But it took till 2019 for shapewear to pivot into the phenomenon that it is today. That year saw the rise of Kim Kardashian West’s Skims. Reaching $2 million in sales minutes after its launch, it propelled shapewear directly into the fashion arena, where it’s thriving right now.
Of course there are those who want just a bare minimum of compression, for them, we’ve now got shapewear light – soft-to-the-skin items like Clo Intimo’s Petalos Long Line Bra and Panties, Wolford’s Forming Slip, and the Skin: Tummy Toner Thong. Not to overlook an intriguing related phenomenon.
For women disdaining any compression at all, but who like the way it looks, we’ve got items that mimic shapewear, such Emily Ratajkowski’s stretch cotton rib Inamorata body collection and Marieyat’s strappy cotton-spandex styles.
These days, shapewear is not only being worn beneath evening attire and slinky knit dresses, but is peeking out from under oversize blazers and kimonos and is on frank display with deep V necklines and open-back dresses. One stylista we know makes sure her waist cincher peeks out above her high-rise baggy jeans. There’s a good reason for that: shapewear smacks of functionality. Functionality is authentic, and authenticity – or the look of authenticity – is chic in our current climate. It’s something to put on shameless display, or at least to hint at.