What Is Shapewear?

August 01, 2023 4 min read

Sometimes you might need a little help fitting into your dress or your favorite pair of pants, especially if they’re tight-fitting. Even if these garments do fit you, they might not always lay right over the contours of your body. You might find yourself looking in the mirror and not liking what you see. This can be extremely frustrating and upsetting. Nothing can damage your confidence worse than feeling like you look terrible! Thankfully, there is one great way around this problem, and it’s through the use of shapewear.

Shapewear is a type of foundation garment. They are specially constructed undergarments that are specifically designed to smooth out any unsightly bulges to provide a clean, unmarred silhouette when you wear them underneath your clothes. These foundation garments are typically made from elastic fabrics that provide some compression when you wear them. This provides the slimming and smoothing effect that makes your clothes lay better. 

Many people choose to wear shapewear in order to feel better about themselves while wearing tight-fitting clothes that might not otherwise lay properly. Being able to look at yourself in the mirror and see a flawless silhouette running from your stomach, over your hips, and down your thighs can change how you feel about yourself. These body shapers are crucial for providing a major boost to the confidence and self-image of anyone who chooses to wear them, and people have been using them for this way for longer than you might think!

The History of Shapewear

People have been wearing support undergarments meant to smooth their bodies and enhance their figures for quite literally thousands of years. In fact, there is evidence that ancient Greek women wore an early version of shapewear themselves in order to bring in their waist and to accentuate their bustline. The use of girdles, usually a belt or cord cinched around the waist and sometimes embellished with metal accents, was also common. 

The evolution of shapewear continued from ancient times. Not to be outdone, the Romans also adopted the practice, though their aesthetics were different than the Greeks when it came to what was considered an attractive female figure. Roman fashions for women emphasized large hips but smaller, flatter breasts. This led to the rise of body shapers that were used to bind the chest to minimize the appearance of breasts in women. Today, sports bras, worn by many women while exercising, continue this tradition, though for different reasons.

Shapewear continued to develop over the centuries, going through many different forms. Ultimately, the main goal of these undergarments was to accentuate an hourglass figure in women. In the Middle Ages, women wore tightly laced bodices stiffened with glue in order to achieve a pleasing silhouette, though the focus was more on overall shape instead of any slimming effects. The Elizabethan and Victorian Eras were more concerned with smaller waists and used corsets with whalebone ribs to cinch waists tight.

The early 20th century saw these fashion preferences shift. The 1920s with their Flapper aesthetic encouraged women to embrace slimness over a curvy figure, and the shapewear of the era was concerned with binding breasts and providing a thin or even boyish figure. This changed during the Second World War, where girdles, now elasticated, became the most common form of body shaper. 

In the post-war period, women found that the traditional hourglass figure had re-emerged as a beauty standard. This new standard was reinforced by movie stars and celebrities of the day like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. It became routine for women to accentuate their figures with the use of padded bras and girdles meant to flatten the stomach but provide a smooth curve to the hips in classic “pinup girl” fashion.

Finally, we come to the compression undergarments of today. Today’s shapewear is much thinner, more lightweight, and more comfortable to wear than it has ever been in the past. This makes wearing modern body shapers for longer periods of time much more possible. Additionally, the use of modern body shaping garments is no longer limited to women. Many companies make foundational garments specifically for men’s use, as modern men can also struggle with body-image issues just as women can.

How Does Shapewear Work?

Older types of control garments worked on the principle of being drawn tight around your body, usually through the use of lacing that could be drawn tight. These older types of undergarments often restricted your movement, sometimes severely, and could even make it difficult to breathe in certain circumstances. This was especially true of the corsets of the Elizabethan and Victorian Eras, as these body shaping devices were made from heavy canvas and given shape with whalebone or steel ribs that constricted breathing.

Thankfully, modern shapewear might provide the same slimming effect but much more safely. This is because these modern foundational garments are made from elasticized fabric, like spandex and nylon, that provides flexibility as well as compression. These fabrics are designed to be lightweight, thin enough to be worn comfortably under your clothes, and do not restrict your movement. At the same time, they smooth out your silhouette. A good body shaper is practically invisible while being worn under your clothes.

Today, these foundation garments come in all sizes to accommodate all body shapes. There are different types of shapewear designed for slimming stomachs, smoothing the curve of the hips and thighs, and corset-shaped control garments that provide support to the chest and waist at the same time. As new textile technologies continue to be developed, and as our cultural perceptions of beauty continue to shift, the body shaping garments of the future will continue to adapt to us and our bodies.


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