The Difference Between Shapewear and a Girdle

May 22, 2024 4 min read

Body shapers come in many different designs. Historically, one of the most popular types of these foundational garments has been the girdle, as these body shapers have been used for quite literally centuries by women who want to accentuate their body silhouettes.


You can still find girdles to wear today, as the general design has not changed much even since antiquity. What has changed, of course, is the type of materials these body-shaping garments are constructed from, and these differences make girdles both more effective and also more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. 


However, modern shapewear is much different than the traditional girdle, or even the more modern one worn today. While both these body shaping garments aim to do the same thing - provide a more attractive body silhouette - the differences between shapewear and a girdle are quite distinct. Here’s what you need to know.

Shapewear vs. Girdles: Old and New Designs

The girdle is a classic type of body shaper that has been around for longer than you might think. Many people may consider the idea of a girdle an old-fashioned garment that was worn during the 1950s by movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor that wanted to accentuate their hourglass figures. These celebrities certainly popularized the use of girdles, but the design is actually ancient, with girdles being worn by the ancient Greeks!


In comparison, shapewear has much more modern roots. The designs of these body-shaping garments are much more diverse and have departed from the tried-and-true look of traditional girdles, especially when it comes to the types of materials they’re made from. Today, shapewear makes use of elasticized fabrics such as lycra and spandex to provide comfort and breathability while also offering different levels of compression. Modern girdles are, of course, also made from these newer materials, but their design remains much more traditional.

Men's Girdle Compression Shorts - The Natural Posture

Shapewear vs. Girdles: Targeting Different Body Parts

One of the primary differences between shapewear and girdles is the different parts of the body they target. Both body shapers work to smooth out “problem” areas in your silhouette that would otherwise make your clothes not fit well, but girdles are primarily concerned with smoothing out just one part of the body. In comparison, shapewear comes in many different types, all of which can be used to target either the same body parts as a girdle, completely different ones, or any combination of the two.


By and large, girdles are designed to provide cinching or compression at the waist or the hips. Some may also provide some compression for above the stomach as well. This helps people achieve their desired figure in this specific part of their body. Shapewear, however, is much more universal. There are different types of shapewear that target the waist, hips, and upper thighs, but there are also types that help slim the legs and the upper torso. Additionally, shapewear come in corset-style bodysuits that offer full body support from the shoulders to the torso and through the waist and hips.

Ultra Slimming Body Shaper Under Shirt - The Natural Posture


Shapewear vs Girdles: Overall Body Shape Design

Another crucial difference between shapewear and girdles is how they fit people with different body shapes. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes, and wearing the right foundational undergarments for your body type means that these body shapers work better and provide the right type of support you need to look good and feel good. If you want to reclaim your confidence, you need a body shaper that’s in tune with the proportions of your body.


Girdles tend to be excellent choices for any body type, as they target areas of the body that are often in the most need of support. As a result, many girdles, as long as they are sized appropriately for the person wearing them, do an excellent job of smoothing and contouring. In comparison, modern shapewear designs are diverse, and these garments are best matched with body types that they will work with the most effectively. You will need to be much more aware of your overall body type when it comes to using shapewear.


Shapewear vs. Girdles: Use in Medical Situations

Both shapewear and girdles are primarily used for aesthetic purposes. They’re mainly put to use to provide more attractive body silhouettes. However, sometimes these garments can also be used for medical purposes, especially after someone has undergone certain surgeries and is in need of support for their body while healing. Other medical applications include helping to provide better posture support for people who need it.


In this instance, girdles are more often used to provide post-surgical support, especially in the wake of abdominal surgeries. The targeted compression around the midriff that girdles typically provide helps immobilize the torso and promote healing. Meanwhile, because shapewear can come in so many different forms, these compression garments are often used to help support people suffering from back or spinal pain from poor posture. 


The Last Word on Differences Between Shapewear and Girdles

The world of foundational garments has room for all sorts of different types of body shapers. The venerable girdle has been putting in work since ancient times in order to help people achieve a smoother, more streamlined silhouette in their waist, hips, and thighs, and the design of this body shaper has persisted over the centuries because it’s effective.


By the same notion, there’s more to the human body than just the midriff. Modern shapewear comes in several different designs that are much better at providing targeted support to a vast array of body parts. These include the upper torso and the legs as well as the waist, hips, and thighs. However, both types of body shapers are very good at what they do. Neither are likely to be disappearing any time soon.


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