What is Shapewear and Who Needs It?
Shapewear is a special sub-category of undergarments. It’s a garment made from a synthetic and elastic material—typically a combination of nylon and Spandex—that is designed to shape specific parts of your body. Shapewear often contains stiff inserts that compress body fat and give your body the desired outline.
Shapewear comes in three degrees of correction:
- Strong – Strong correction is the hardcore shapewear, things like corsets, girdles, and specially designed corrective overalls. This type of shapewear is not suited for daily use, as it can be highly constricting and restrictive. However, it is ideal for special occasions when you want total control over your shape and outline.
- Medium – Medium correction is the type of shapewear most people are familiar with. It uses a combination of stiff inserts and elastic fabric to model the figure according to your desires, or hide undesirable fat. It can be constrictive if worn for long periods of time, but there is medium-degree shapewear that is suitable for all-day use.
- Weak – Weak correction combines a heavily elastic material with a comfortable design. There’s not as much compression of trouble spots, but there is just enough that you can feel better about your silhouette. It’s suitable for all-day use and you can wear it far more often than either of the higher-degree corrective garments.
The question of “Who needs shapewear?” is a tricky one to answer.
Most of us would like our shape to be more in line with what we see as “perfect”—slimmer, sleeker, tighter, more toned, and with less fat around our “trouble spots”. With this desire, it’s common for both men and women to want to use shapewear to improve their appearance.
Yes, MEN can use shapewear, too! There are special shirts that enhance the fullness of the chest muscles while hiding the excess belly fat for guys, and there are girdles and body suits that can control excess midsection fat as well. Anyone who wants to take back control of their figure and love the way they look can use shapewear to cover up trouble spots.
What Are Your “Trouble Spots?
When you hear about shapewear, the first piece of advice you’ll get is to “know your trouble spots”. These typically come down to one (or more) of a few options:
Love Handles – Men and women alike tend to pack a bit extra fat around their waistline, specifically on their love handles. If it gets to be too much, things can progress to “muffin top” stage. Shapewear can help to smooth out those love handles and control the muffin top to help improve your appearance.
Belly – A lot of the weight and fat we gain goes straight to our bellies, thanks to the way our body is genetically coded to store that fat. If you want to look like you have a flatter stomach, shapewear is a good option to compress the fat on your belly and smooth out your shape.
Shoulders and Back – This is a common trouble spot for women, who tend to have much broader shoulders and narrower hips and waists. In this case, the shapewear helps to soften the strong shoulder lines and enhances the definition of your waist so you look more “balanced” rather than top-heavy.
Hips, Thighs, and Butt – Controlling fat and hiding cellulite are the two most popular reasons for using shapewear on your lower body. You can slim down your legs, prevent sagging in your butt, and round out your hips to enhance an hourglass figure.
Knowing which of these is your main trouble spot will help you know what type of shapewear to buy.
How to Buy the Right Shapewear
There are many factors to consider when shopping for shapewear. Below, we’re going to dive into each of the factors to help you know what shapewear to choose.
Size is the most important factor to consider. Shapewear is NOT the same as compression garments. While there is some measure of compression—necessary to press down excess fat—your goal isn’t to compress everything to enhance circulation. You want to make sure to find the right size that fits your body properly.
Do not make the mistake of buying shapewear a size smaller! It won’t help to give you extra firmness, but it will just bulge and constrict in all the wrong places. Ultimately, you’ll end up looking bigger because you tried a size too small. Make sure to try on the shapewear so you know what fits.
And if you want more control, buy a higher degree of correction.
These terms are used interchangeably, and they refer to the degree of control over the fat. The higher the correction/constriction level, the firmer the garment and the more it will hide your trouble spots.
If the garment doesn’t have a constriction or correction rating, check out the nylon content. The more nylon it contains (meaning less elasticity from the Spandex), the higher the degree of correction it offers and the firmer the garment will feel.
Most shapewear will be made from a blend of nylon and Spandex, both of which are synthetic materials. However, these fabrics don’t breathe very well, so they may be too hot and sweaty in the summer. If you’re wearing shapewear during the hotter months of the year, consider looking for cotton-blend garments (cotton combined with synthetic fabrics). Cotton is a very breathable material that, when combined with the synthetic fabrics, makes for excellent lightweight shapewear.
Now we’re getting into the specifics!
Shapewear can be used on any number of occasions, but basically it comes down to three basic distinctions:
- Formal – Think of shapewear that you wear beneath a wedding dress, business outfit, or cocktail gown. These tend to be used only for special events and typically for a shorter period of time. Formal shapewear tends to offer a higher degree of correction and constriction, which means they can only be worn for a few hours at a time before they start feeling restrictive. Higher shaping power and firmness is always wanted for formal events.
- Everyday – Everyday shapewear is the kind you wear under your daily office clothing, your travel outfits, or the clothes you wear around the house. The focus should be more on comfort and breathability, though you do want a weak to medium degree of firmness and correction. Given that you’re going to be wearing the shapewear for hours, you want to be able to move and breathe easily.
- Athletic – Athletic shapewear is not only designed to make you look better as you exercise, but can help you to sweat more. However, this type of shapewear MUST be breathable, with moisture-wicking and quick-drying capabilities. It should also remain in place and retain its shape as you work out.
There is one last “occasional” factor to take into account: weather.
Cold-weather shapewear will be much thicker and heavier than warm-weather shapewear. During the winter, you can bundle up and wear multiple layers to stay warm, and a base layer of a less-than-cool shapewear will actually enhance your warmth. But during the summer when you want to dress down and move around, you need shapewear that moves and breathes easily to keep you cool.
This is when you start tailoring your shapewear precisely according to the way you look. More accurately, according to your body type.
Apple – Women with an apple body shape tend to be heavier around the midsection, with a larger waist, a large bust, rounded shoulders, shapely legs, but slim hips.
The right shapewear for your body type will slim down your waist, but will emphasize the natural appearance of your bust and your legs.
- A strapless body suit will accentuate your bust, control your waist, and tighten up your butt and thighs to make them look full
- High-waist shapers will control your waist while showing off your legs
Rectangle – Women with a rectangle body shape have a bust, shoulders, and hips of a similar width, and they tend to lack a clearly defined waist. This is the most common body type—up to 45% of women have this body shape—and it involves a fairly proportionate weight carriage.
The good news is that shapewear can help to enhance the curves of your bust and hips by tightening things at the waist.
- Padded panties and booty lifters will accentuate and round out your butt
- Push-up bras will highlight your bust and give you a more naturally curvaceous silhouette
- Waist cinchers are the final piece of the puzzle to constrict around the waist and give your body natural-looking curves
Pear – Women with a pear shape tend to carry most of their weight in the bottom half, meaning they tend to have wide hips with a rounder butt and thighs. Their waist tends to be narrow and defined, their tummies flat, but their shoulders are slim and their busts small to average.
The ideal shapewear will emphasize the flatness of your tummy and enhance your bust, balancing the top and bottom halves.
- Strapless bras can accentuate your shoulders and highlight your bust
- Bike shorts and thigh shapers will slim down your thighs and firm them up
Inverted Triangle – Women with an inverted triangle body shape tend to have a broader upper body, ample bust, straight waist, narrow hips, and flatter butt with thin legs. This body type typically lacks a well-defined waist and appears “top-heavy”.
Shapewear for this body type will create curves, particularly around the hips, thighs, and booty.
- Waist cinchers will tighten around your waist to give the appearance of curves
- Booty lifters will enhance the appearance and fullness of your butt
Hourglass – Women with an hourglass figure are naturally curvy, with a defined waist, rounded bottom, full thighs, larger bust, and wider hips. It’s a balanced figure that is visibly voluptuous, and as such needs far less shaping than other body types.
Most shapewear for hourglass figures are designed to enhance the natural curves of the body.
- Shapewear slips pull in the tummy and accentuate the contours of the bottom, hips, thighs, and bust
- High-waist shapers accentuate the slip waist and give a fuller look to the bottom
Important note: Your shape WILL change with age!
Women between the ages of 18 and 35 are most likely to have an hourglass figure, while apple and rectangular shapes become more common over the age of 56.
Pregnancy and childbirth can change your shape, especially if you have multiple children over a few years.
The key to finding the right shapewear is to use the garments that enhance your CURRENT shape. Change your shapewear as your body type changes, and you’ll look good no matter how your body looks!
There are a few shaper garments to choose from, with each serving a specific purpose to enhance your figure:
- All-over shaper – These full-body garments tend to shape everything at once, from bust to legs. These bodysuits and slips give full coverage for your trouble zones but help to keep everything looking sleek and slim.
- Bust shapers – Bust shapers focus exclusively on your bust, either enhancing the fullness of your bust or improving the shape. Longline bras, bustiers, and torsolettes tend to come with built-in bust support and can make your breasts look magnificent.
- Waist minimizers – These slim down your waist, thereby giving you that hourglass figure you want. Waist trainers and corsets are two of the most popular waist minimizers, but shaping camis and bodysuits are also highly effective.
- Thigh shapers – These not only shape your thighs, but they help to smooth out any cellulite or wrinkles and firm up any sagging. They’re excellent for women with larger thighs and work perfectly under leggings or fancy dresses.
- Shaping panties – These are ideal for flattening belly fat, smoothing out love handles or muffin top, and giving your rear and hips a more appealing look.
- Butt enhancement – Some of these underwear are designed to smooth out the hips while others focus on lifting or constricting the butt. Either way, they make your waist and butt look marveloys.
- Lower ab coverage – For those who have a bit more belly fat than they’d like, waist shapers and shaping panties can offer coverage for your lower abs.
Does Wearing Shapewear Help You Lose Weight?
Sadly, the answer to this question is no.
Shapewear (particularly athletic shapewear) may increase the amount that you sweat, but sweat output has nothing to do with fat-burning or weight loss.
The closest shapewear comes to encouraging weight loss is by encouraging better circulation to a specific area. The compression of the shapewear can enhance blood flow, potentially helping to speed up the elimination of fat cells from that area.
However, shapewear will NOT encourage weight loss—it will just make it look as if you’ve lost weight.
Dangers of Shapewear
That’s right, there are some dangers to wearing shapewear!
Here are a few of the risks and side effects of using body shaping garments:
- UTIs – Urinary tract infections may be more common, but not for the reason you think! The fact that it takes so much effort to get in and out of that body shaping garment means you’re far more likely to hold it next time you feel the need to use the bathroom. That can lead to a higher risk of UTIs!
- Organ Compression – The compression of the shapewear garments is actually squeezing on your organs, specifically the very important organs in your midsection. Your stomach, intestines, and other organs won’t be able to function at full capacity because everything is squeezed so tight. This can ultimately decrease effective organ function.
- Acid Reflux – Compression on your stomach can place excess pressure on the esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps the food from flowing back up your esophagus. Acid reflux and heartburn are two very common side effects of wearing shapewear.
- Digestive Issues – Squeezing on your organs will decrease the effectiveness of their function, which can be a real problem when it comes to digesting food. The restriction of digestive organ function may cause bloating, discomfort, and excess gas production. Minor irritations, but still irritations!
- Shallow Breath – Have you ever noticed that your abdomen flares out when you take deep breaths? That’s because your diaphragm expands as you breathe. But with the bodyshaper pressing on your stomach, your diaphragm won’t be able to expand. Ultimately, this will cause you breathe more shallowly, decreasing the amount of oxygen your body gets.
- Meralgia Paresthetica – This is the fancy name for a very serious nerve condition! Compressive garments can squeeze the peripheral nerve in your thigh, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in your legs. If the problem isn’t addressed and you keep wearing shapewear, the condition could become permanent.
- Higher Infection Risk – Shapewear traps moisture close to the skin, and the combination of heat and moisture makes a bacteria- and yeast-friendly environment. Folliculitis is the most common infection caused by shapewear, but the risk of yeast infection also rises when using body shapers.