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Whatever size or shape of body you have, you probably have shapewear in your wardrobe. Alongside good bras and attractive tights, shapewear helps make your good bits look better while smoothing out the parts you don’t like as much. Shapewear accentuates your natural beauty.

The history of shapewear is fascinating and shows the extreme lengths that women have gone to over the centuries to achieve a look that society determines is beautiful. Today, however, shapewear is about empowering women, putting them back in control and helping them achieve the look they want.

What is Shapewear?

Shapewear is a garment worn under your clothes that smooths and controls features of your body. The objective of shapewear is to subtly but effectively enhance your body's shape. It is worn by women to enhance their natural beauty, accentuating their curves by smoothing out parts of their body they don't like. This is primarily rolls, bulges, and bumps – they are all smoothed when wearing shapewear to give a more toned appearance.

Shapewear can be used to change your shape or you can target specific areas of your body. As well as physically changing your shape, it boosts self-esteem and levels of confidence.

History of Shapewear

Shapewear has been worn by women for thousands of years – in fact, right back to ancient civilisations. Women in ancient and Hellenic Greece, for example, wore girdles to narrow their waists. Some women in this region during this time period also wore mastoeides, a type of clothing that lifted breasts while leaving them exposed.

The opposite was true in ancient Rome – they tried to hide their breasts rather than showing them off. While women also wore girdles to narrow their waists and make their hips appear larger, they wore breast bands too. This is because the fashion in ancient Rome was for large hips but slender torsos and breasts.

In most societies, however, opinions on beauty and styles of fashion evolve. For example, the hourglass figure was the style most women aimed for throughout the Middle Ages. Bodices were, therefore, worn by many women to smooth body lines and achieve this beauty ideal. By the 16th century, however, women wore corsets that made their stomachs and waists look smaller on top of large, hooped dresses. This is because big hips - really big hips - were the in-thing.

In the 19th century, women tried to achieve an extreme hourglass shape using heavy corsets which dramatically reduced the size of their waists and stomachs while making their breasts and hips look as big as possible. This look fell out of fashion in the early 1900s, though. Instead, women went for a thinner look wearing clothing that flattened breasts and minimised curves.

Then, in the 1930s, girdles and curves began making a comeback, replacing the shapeless beauty ideal that dominated the earlier part of the 20th century. By the 1950s, the hourglass was firmly back and was again the look that many women aimed for.

The Modern Shapewear Era 

Today, shapewear is more about smoothing out and toning your body than it is about achieving a specific look. It is about accentuating your natural shape while also eliminating bulges, bumps, and rolls.

The most significant event in the modern era was the introduction of Spanx, a brand of shapewear created by Sara Blakely. It became an enormous success and was championed by a range of celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Adele to Kim Kardashian. Blakely became a billionaire and women all over the world benefited from her shape enhancing products.

This huge market for shapewear led to the launch of new brands while existing lingerie and hosiery brands also started offering shapewear products. This means there is now a lot of choice for women looking for shapewear – brand options include Sonsee, Nancy Ganz (a brand that launched 10 years before Spanx), Simone Perele, Triumph, and more.

This choice extends to all body styles and shape, as well as all types of looks. For example, it is possible to get shapewear that smooths and tones your legs and stomach while accentuating the curves of your behind.

Types of Shapewear

Shapewear comes in a range of types. This includes styles that shape different parts of your body as well as options that have varying shaping abilities - light, medium, and strong shaping.

This makes shapewear ideal for wearing under almost any type of clothing – this includes jeans, dresses, knitwear, casual clothes, and more. You can even get shapewear that doubles as hosiery to give your legs the appearance and smoothness you desire.


Shapewear tights come in a range of variations including tights that shape your whole leg or tights that shape parts of your leg, such as your thighs or hips. Shapewear tights are also great at making panty lines invisible.

Body suits

Body suits can shape multiple parts of your body including your stomach and hips. In the past, they covered and also flattened your breasts but there are now options that are open in the bust while there are some that lift your breasts, accentuating them while smoothing out other parts of your body. If you would prefer to smooth out your breasts, however, it is still possible to get body suits that do this.

There are also multiple options with your behind. Straightforward body suits will flatten it and make it smaller, but you can also get options that are padded or that lift it to accentuate your curves. You can even get body suits with the behind cut out so it remains natural.

One tip with bodysuits is to make sure they don’t create bulges anywhere – if you buy the wrong type, this can happen.


Corsets are ideal for wearing under skirts or dresses to smooth out your stomach and hips. They create a toned and shaped silhouette.


Camisoles are primarily used to smooth out the stomach but they can also be used to remove muffin top / love handles - the bits that bulge over your trousers around your waist or hips. They can also help to reduce bra bulge.


Panties can smooth out your behind, hips, upper thighs, and stomach, depending on the type you choose. Panties with a long cut will help with your thighs while a high cut waist will help with your stomach. They also help to eliminate panty lines.


Slips are most commonly worn under a dress – in fact, they are also known as a body control dresses. Slips are used to smooth out parts of your body as well eliminating bulges created by your bra and in other areas. They also help get rid of panty lines.


Shorts are used primarily to shape your thighs, but you can also get options that smooth your hips, behind, and stomach as well. You can even get options that smooth your thighs while accentuating the curves of your behind.

Arm shapers

Arm shapers are used to slim the upper part of your arms so are ideal when wearing sleeves, particularly if the dress or top is tight. They also help improve you posture.

Buying and Wearing Shapewear

  • Shapewear won't change your dress size so don't buy clothing that is a size too small in the hope shapewear will help you get into it. Instead, shapewear gives you a smoother and more toned appearance.
  • Always wear the right size. Some women go for a size smaller than their normal size in an attempt to enhance the smoothing effect, but this makes the shapewear uncomfortable and often creates bulges.
  • If the shapewear is to wear under a dress on a big night out, bring the dress into the shop with you when buying it so you can make sure the shapewear doesn't poke out where it shouldn't.
  • Sit down in front of a mirror when you are dressed. Again, this helps ensure the shapewear doesn't poke out anywhere as your clothes adjust to a seated position.

Wearing Shapewear When Your Body is Changing

Shapewear is particularly beneficial when your body is changing because of pregnancy or aging. It helps you smooth out the bits you don't like and also gives you a more seamless look, mitigating the dramatic fluctuations in size.

Shapewear also helps during pregnancy in other ways, including alleviating problems like varicose veins. Shapewear can also help if you suffer from pelvic pain as it can support the uterus, lifting it off your cervix.

You should wear maternity shapewear if you are pregnant and you should speak to your doctor if you have any doubts. Experts also recommend that you should only wear shapewear that is easy to put on and take off. This ensures you don't put off going to the toilet, something which can cause urinary tract infections.

Shapewear and the Weather

Most shapewear is made from a combination of nylon and spandex. These fabrics do all the work smoothing out your body, but they don't breathe very well. This can make them uncomfortable in hot weather and they can also become smelly when you sweat.

An option you have is to get shapewear that also includes cotton. This is because cotton lets your skin breathe while also absorbing moisture. This type of shapewear is much more comfortable to wear in hot weather.

Shapewear and You

Shapewear is worn by women of all shapes and sizes, but it is particularly popular with plus size women. It is great for boosting confidence as well as making your body and your outfits look as good as possible.

There is a common misconception that shapewear is all about slimming. That does play a role for some women, but most of the time it is used to enhance and accentuate, making the good bits look great and hiding the parts you don’t particularly like. For these reasons, our love affair with shapewear is likely to be long and satisfying.

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