Monday, October 4, 2010

The History of Shapewear

For as long as "fashion" has been in existence, women (and even men at various times) have relied on undergarments like corsets, waist cinchers, girdles, briefers, and pettipants to help transform, slim, and shapen their figures.

Until the early 1920s, corsets made of whale bone and steel were commonplace in haute couture. Fabrics used ranged from canvas, brocade, silk, and summer-weight cotton blends. From the late 1800s to the early 20th century, the "wasp-waisted" corsetry was in vogue:
The severity of this corset design often caused deformities to the ribcage and even was culpable for damaging organs due to displacement from prolonged wear. During the early teens to the 20s, longer, straighter-cut corsets became popular:
After World War I ended, corsets began to fall out of fashion. In addition, scientific advancements in rubber manufacturing ushered in new technologies, one many being the creation of the girdle. The girdle smoothed the wearer's form and secured her stockings while providing more comfort and freedom of movement.

From the 20s/30s to the 60s, full girdles with open bottoms were wardrobe staples for most women. Ladies also wore pettipants, body briefers with snap crotches, and girdle panties for shape control. Most shapewear made during this time came with garters attached for nylon stockings.  In the 1960s, the invention of pantyhose slowly replaced stockings and thus, girdles.

By the 1980s, most shapewear looked like flesh-colored bathing suits with no places to attach stockings. Name brands like Olga, Playtex, L'eggs, Underalls, and No Nonsense offered ease of wear and convenience.

In the 1990s, Victoria's Secret and Wonderbra continued the evolution of modern lingerie/shapewear. Both companies strived to give women cleavage with bras that boasted "cleverly angled" padding with inserts made from foam and even silicone. Nancy Ganz "Body Slimmers" introduced lyrca-infused undergarments that promised shaping and control:

As the 21st century dawned, Spanx became the must-have for both the office professional and the Hollywood A-lister. Spanx makes shaping hosiery, leggings, panties, camisoles, bras, and even shapewear clothing.

Spanx's creator, Sara Blakely, has taken the undergarment world by storm and as a result, is a millionaire. I wish I would have created Spanx! I could be living in Maui and drinking Mai Tais every day! Wouldn't that be nice?

Even though I love my vintage girdles and pettipants, I have to admit that I am a 'true believer' when it comes to Spanx. Even though I lost 33 pounds almost 5 years ago, I still rely on my Spanx Power Panties to improve my shape, especially on days I am wearing a pencil skirt or pants. I was skeptical when I first heard about Spanx 7 years ago but after I shimmied and wiggled into a nude-pair of butt, tummy, and thigh-reducing panties that resembled bike shorts, I am telling you, I felt transformed. Gone were the 'saddle bags' and 'muffin top!' I wanted to strut down the street like Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever!"

So, in an era of Spanx and silicone 'cutlet' bra inserts, what is a vintage-loving gal to do? Do we wear vintage but forgo the bullet bra, ditch the nylons, and avoid the girdle?

I, for one, wear bullet bras. I do not like underwire after switching to the bullet bra. Not only it is more comfortable, I feel like my breasts look better. Ever notice that the wire bras seem to make our breasts sag prematurely? The wire pushes/digs into our breast tissue. I am convinced this is part of the reason.

I also wear a full, open-bottom girdle most days of the week, especially during the fall when stockings are more comfortable during cooler temperatures.  In the summer months, I prefer panty girdles. I can remove the garters and thus, I can smooth my figure without having to wear nylons.

Speaking of nylon stockings, I love them, especially the ones with back seams! I refuse to wear pantyhose. I do not like the way they feel or look. Whenever I see them, all I can think about are those goofy Underall and L'eggs commercials of the 1980s! Even the hose color names were bad; "Suntan," "Smoke black," and "Barely Sand!"

In my opinion, I think wearing vintage (even vintage repro) shapewear and nylons makes my vintage wardrobe look better. This is especially the case when I am wearing a 50s button-down dress with a cinched, belted waist and a full skirt.  Since I only wear nylons, having a girdle (full or panty) with garters is a must.

Shapewear also gives me more confidence. I feel womanly and ladylike. There are days I want to put on a pair of rolled jeans and saddle shoes instead of wiggling into a girdle. There are even days all I want to do is 'bum out' in my "Morrissey"  tee and pink pajama pants. Yet, when it comes to wearing vintage daily, for me, shapewear is a must-have.

So, girls, what is your take on shapewear? Do you wear it? Like it? Not like it?


  1. I love my "binding undergarments" too! I started wearing girdles when I was only 21 after my first daughter was born.

    I agree with the Spanx, they are wonderful, but nothing beats a high waist, side zip, open bottom girdle. I also LOVE my long line bullet bras, they cinch the waist as well as perk up the girls. I am forever grateful for companies like Rago who still make the classic styled girdles.

  2. I have some spanx and also some rago foundation pieces. But generally a good playtex bra and a high waist granny panties will do for me. I hate binding foundation garments and i vowed to never wear stockings after a 20 year career in banking (good grief how i hate panty hose). I will OCCASIONALLY done a pair of tights if it's cold out and i want to wear a skirt. but maybe that's happened 2-3 times in the last five years.

  3. Oh my goodness! That second photo makes me want to faint. ;)

  4. I wore a corset recently and was actually surprised how comfortable it was. Mind you it is a modern corset so probably very differently designed. And I was also very lenient on myself in terms of wearing it quite loose because I knew I would be eating dinner! It certainly made me sit up straight and gave me great lady-like posture. I would love to wear vintage undergarments more often (corsets, suspenders, petticoats, stockings) but unfortunately I live in Queensland Australia and it gets too hot to be wearing too many layers :(

  5. I don't wear foundation garments on a daily basis but when I do, they do make me feel good. I actually find them quite comfortable, weird I know! I used to do background artist work for films & TV, and once did a Victorian programme, I had to wear a proper Victorian corset so that I fit into the clothes properly, I did think they would give me some slack on the corset, but not much!! It was quite restrictive, BUT actually I found it again quite comfortable once I got used to it that is!

    Sadly I can't wear bullet bras, they don't go up to my cup size :o( I would love to try one though

  6. I love spanx! Not every day though - just for going out! I do have a few corsets - but I have to say that although I love the way they look, they make me feel a bit sick :-S
    How the ladies of the past must have put up with being trussed up in all that restrictive undercarriage - eek!

  7. Thank you all for your comments and insights, ladies!! It seems like a lot of us have/wear Spanx! I just wish they were made in prettier colors and/or had lace trim! Spanx does have a "couture" line that has lacy detailing but I will not spend $148 for a cami! Talk about insane!

    Like Kim and Shrinky Inky, I, too, own Rago stuff. I have two open bottom/full girdles and a high-waisted panty girdle from them. I found them at They carry a huge assortment of Rago along with their own brand of bullet bras. I love how Rago has been making the same girdle styles for years!

    Straight Talking Mama and Vintage_belle, I have two corsets that are steel-boned and when I wore them at first, I felt like Clare! Like I was going to be sick! I couldn't breathe well and my tummy felt so weird. But after a few wears and learning how to properly do the lacing, I agree that the corsets became more comfortable and they improved my posture!

    Vegan.and.vintage, I agree that the second photo is nuts! I cannot get over what those ladies went through!

    Clare, I love my Spanx "bike shorties" for pencil skirts and pants. I have a high-waisted panty but I think I am too short because the top of the panty (which hits just below my bra) wants to roll down! If I had a longer torso (ie was taller), I think it would stay on better. Therefore, I stick to the regular panty. I also wonder how the women in the past dealt with wearing all those layers and heavy corsetry! I imagine what it must have been like in the heat of the summer months!

  8. I so dislike the look of modern shapewear! Sure it's more comfortable, but how sexy can a flesh colored unitard be, LOL
    Vintage style foundation garments are essential to getting the right shape under your clothes, but they affect how you carry yourself as well. Maybe that's why modern gals have such a tough time wearing them - we aren't used to having our movement so restricted. But it definitely makes me feel more elegant and lady like.
    Just got my first bullet bra in the mail today! I'm thinking they may serve the bustier population better, but we'll see. Is the band supposed to be kind of loose since it isn't stretchy like modern bras? I'm not sure if I need to get a smaller band size or if that's how it's supposed to fit...

  9. i love wearing all my girdles and i love the feeling of being in them.

  10. You don't have to go through different or the same slimming methods just to get the body contour you've been dreaming of. The shapewear garment will take care of reducing your weight and at the same time redefining your curves. For more information on shapewear for women, check out my site:

  11. Nice post regarding the the shapewear for women, you can get the right shape under your clothes, but they affect how you carry yourself as well. So the selection is the major concern here instead of any other thing select the appropriate pair of body shaper which provides you comfort in your busy schedule.

  12. This blog is really great. The information here will surely be of some help to me. Thanks!.
    How to Choose the Best Waist Cincher

  13. When you get the exact right size of girdle for you it can even feel good in there. The comfort of my Playtex and Rago girdles is simply incredible! It just takes perseverance and getting used to it all. And the nylons are the icing on the cake.
    The support of a girdle is wonderful! The way the satin front panel of my girdle flattens and holds my belly is to die for! My bottom is held up provocatively. My thighs simply feel "reinforced" and the suspenders ( garters) lashed to my nylon stockings looks deadly sexy as well. My waist is two inches slimmer, I'm thinner and really smoothed out under my pencil skirt.
    Personally I think it's all that feminist politics that's to blame for totally misleading the women of today, many of whom look like Russian peasant women of old. Jeans are ugh, they can even look smelly, so can socks. And I actually prefer to walk in moderate heels as high heels support my arches much more comfortably than flat shoes.

    There's so much feminist political propaganda everywhere leading women the wrong way when it comes to proper fashion and style that is really attractive, and even sexy.
    After a couple of months regularly wearing your girdle you will even look forward to putting it all on in the mornings with all the instant support it gives. In a girdle you no longer have to suck your belly in - the girdle does all that for you!
    Everybody's bottoms can withstand anything so the stretch of a girdle over your bottom is easy to tolerate and in fact you feel your bottom beautiful supported as the girdle hugs and slims you totally all the time.
    Nothing else can give such a marvellous shape as a girdle does! Without girdles today's girls can jiggle and look awful fat. Forget the politics , you can even get to like being in a comfortable girdle that's fitted exactly on you.
    Nylon is best held on your legs by suspenders (garters) - it's far better than tights/pantyhose. Suspenders keep hold up stockings even tighter and more sheer on our legs. legs without nylon look so ugly that they can even be sickening to look at and repel people. Is that what you really want out there ? yes our bare legs can repel, they're even worse than saggy bottoms and pot bellies on a woman. But some men don't mind as they're only after the one thing, boy did the women's libbers get it so wrong!

  14. Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here.bodyshaper plus size