How Shapewear Works

From Bodysuits to Billions

Shapewear has moved from being the undergarment of choice for aristocratic women of Victorian times to a ubiquitous fashion option for anyone looking to "shed" a half-dozen pounds. You can buy shapewear as a standalone garment to wear under your clothes (including armpit-high shorts and whole bodysuit girdles), or seek clothing, like swimsuits and dresses that incorporate the technology. In fact, even men's fashion has begun embracing the sleeker shapes that a little spandex might offer. Men can buy belly-flattening undershirts made of microfiber blends with spandex.

With everyone wanting in on the shapewear fad, Spanx sales skyrocketed. In 2012, Blakely made it onto the Forbes magazine list of world billionaires. However, as women embrace their real bodies and move toward more comfortable clothing, shapewear may be falling to the wayside. In 2015, the New York Times reported that women's shapewear sales fell 4 percent from 2014 to $678 million.

No one can deny that shapewear is uncomfortable and women are increasingly less likely to "suffer for beauty." At the same time, so-called "athleisure apparel" like yoga pants and spandex leggings, provide some tummy control but in a much more comfortable way, and that market is exploding. Women's activewear (a category including athleisure apparel) jumped 8 percent from 2014 to 2015 to $15.9 billion in sales [source: Tabuchi]. Indeed, Spanx has been emphasizing comfort along with shaping in its more recent marketing. But as we know, fashion is cyclical so the shapewear downturn might just be temporary.

While some say that shapewear negatively impacts body image, others claim that it makes women feel more confident about themselves because they look sleeker. And confidence, whether it comes from squeezing in your excess fat or embracing your real body, is always a good thing.

Author's Note: How Shapewear Works

While I haven't worn much shapewear in my life, I've definitely had pants that were a tad too small. And let me tell you, unbuttoning those and setting my belly free is one of the best feelings ever. I can't imagine how much those corseted women of the 1800s must have enjoyed getting undressed at night!

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More Great Links


  • Adams, Rebecca. "Spanx And Other Shapewear Are Literally Squeezing Your Organs." Huffington Post. Jan 20 2014. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • Caelleigh, Addeane S. "Too Close for Comfort: 500 Years of Corsets." University of Virginia. Dec. 1998. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • De Young/Legion of Honor. "Corsets in Context: A History." June 7, 2012. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • Johnstone, Lucy. "Corsets & Crinolines in Victorian Fashion." Victoria & Albert Museum. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • Peeke, Pamela. "Body Fat SOS: Science of Shapewear!" WebMD. June 17, 2010. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • Rawsthorn, Alice. "The Demise of 'Form Follows Function'." NY Times. May 30, 2009. (Nov. 30, 2016)
  • Reisch, Marc. "What's That Stuff? Spandex." Chemical & Engineering News. Feb. 15, 1999. (Dec. 1, 2016)
  • Tabuchi, Hiroko. "Spanx Tries to Loosen Up Its Image." NYTimes. April 24, 2015. (Dec. 2, 2016)
  • Usigan, Ysolt. "The Science of Shapewear" Shape Magazine. (Nov. 28, 2016)
  • Walters, Jennifer. "The Pros and Cons of Spanx and Other Shapewear" Shape Magazine. (Nov. 28, 2016)

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