As shapewear becomes cool again – so cool, it’s replacing clothing – Sarah Macken finds the best brands for throwing shapes …
Much like tight jeans and vertiginous heels, shapewear is something we swore off during the pandemic. “Never again,” we sniffed. How superior, and foolish, we were. Flash-forward 24 months, and multiple lockdowns later, and the best way to put it is that everything looks a little, well, wilted. The irony is that we’ve never needed shapewear more and it’s rather brutal. Little coincidence that shapewear is trending again. In fact, it’s so cool, it’s replaced actual clothing. Post-pandemic, there’s a crop of do-it-all pieces that lift your butt, sculpt your core, support your bust – some even claim to help your posture.
These “fashion foundations” are not just mere underwear, there to support your outfit: they are your outfit. Asymmetric tops, midi-skirts, slip dresses: what’s now is a hybrid of shapewear and ready-to-wear – pieces that can be worn underneath your clothes, or on their own. Where do you wear them? Everywhere. Under your best party dress, to the office, out to lunch. Bodysuits offer seamless coverage under trousers by day and take centre stage for after-dark dressing. The biggest trend right now is multi-function and demand, it seems, is driven by us. Searches for “naked clothing” are trending. They spiked in the second quarter of this year – up 430 per cent in a three-month period, according to fashion index Lyst.
It’s aptly timed as a new crop of collections ups the shapewear game. Skims: Kim Kardashian’s label that specialises in outerwear with in-built shaping technology has struck gold (in less than four years, it’s estimated to be worth $3.2 billion). And it has just arrived at Brown Thomas Dublin and online at brownthomas.com meaning you can get your hands on all of the brand’s key styles – and importantly, try them on. When it comes to shapewear, fit can be a bit of a minefield, and while Skims ranges from XXS to XXXL in many styles it can be difficult to know which size to choose so the option to try on in store is beneficial.
VB Body is a new line by Victoria Beckham that reinvents the brand’s core silhouettes in compact, woven knits that gently sculpt and flatter. Meanwhile, traditional “shape” brands like Commando and Spanx are upgrading to jeans, even skirts.
VB Body by Victoria Beckham.
The biggest novelty is the shapewear dress. Leading the trend is Skims’ cult Fits Everybody dress, which is cut from butter-soft jersey. It moulds to the body and can stretch up to twice its size. It may fit, but does it flatter? One stylish friend deduced that, while loving the fabric, it didn’t deliver the contour she’d hoped. “I felt like my lumps and bumps were on show,” she said, confessing she’d only wear it again if she could double down and layer some shapewear underneath. So far, so … unappealing? What will you find that’s less scary, more wearable? If the idea of wearing a waist trainer, a corset-like bodice that sits below the bust (Kardashian likes to wear hers around the house or underneath a hoodie while running errands) has undertones of Margaret Atwood for you, then you’re not alone.
The smart way to trial the trend is all about nuance. Contrast the look with masculine elements and oversized shapes. For instance, a bodysuit under a boxy blazer is our kind of juxtaposition. (Spanx’s Suit Yourself scoop-neck bodysuit is a wise idea at €78; get it at Arnotts.) “I’d pair one with mannish, wide-leg trousers,” says Heather Gramston, head of womenswear at Browns, “not only does the combination look cool, you’ll create a smooth line under your clothes.”
In autumn, as we embrace a return to glamour and festivities, it’s no harm to add some agile basics to your artillery. What should we be investing in? A high-waisted thong will ensure smooth lines under dresses; at €34, Commando’s version is a reliable go-to. The Suit Your Fancy bodysuit, €152, by Spanx, is another great option as it is bodysuit and shaping shorts in one: the low neckline means it can adapt to plunging necklines and evening gowns. Equally, Heist’s semi-sheer bodysuit, made from recycled lace, €102, is just risqué enough for cocktail hour.
Kim Kardashian recruits Victoria Secret angels Candice Swanepoel, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Alessandra Ambrosio to model for Skims Fits Everybody collection.
Some friendly advice: know your size. “The number one mistake people make with shapewear is buying the wrong size,” says Grace Kennedy, lingerie buyer at Brown Thomas and Arnotts. “If it’s too tight, especially on the hips, it will restrict your movement.” If you have discomfort, size up. A word to the slouchers among us: you might appreciate the positive effect on your posture. Shapewear is designed to pull you in. “A by-product of this is that you stand up straighter,” Kennedy reminds us.
If shapewear on the street isn’t for you (we hear you), invest in some seriously good activewear as an alternative. Many ranges boast sculpting capabilities as top priority. In fact, Lululemon’s Define jacket recently went viral for that reason. According to TikTok, it gives the appearance of a Brazilian butt lift, without a visit to the surgeon.
New Irish label Powercut specialises in waistbands with optimum hold: its Compress range of mesh leggings smoothes lumps and bumps into a svelte contour (€65 at www.powercutclothing.com and selected Dunnes Stores). Elsewhere, Ernest Leoty offers a very Parisian take on activewear; pieces have a couture quality, nodding to the 19th-century corset-maker of the same name who inspired the label. We rate the elegant wrap tops, which are perfect for medium-impact workouts like yoga and ballet.
We want versatile pieces that will work overtime on the street, in the gym – even when going for a swim. Step up, Prism: the London label makes pieces that can be worn as swimwear, activewear and underwear; its size one fits a UK size six to 16. It comes Frenchwoman-approved, too. “It’s a brand that feels very of the moment,” Monica Ainley, the Paris-based journalist and broadcaster, tells us, “oh, and it looks good on everyone.” Now, that’s something we’ll entertain.