You can diet. You can exercise. You can even try to pray away the pounds. But when it comes to smoothing and shaping your curves, nothing does it faster than the newest generation of shapewear.
From control-top "power panties" to minimizer bras to shaping swimsuits, these "diet-in-a-box" garments are a far cry from your mother's girdle. Whether you've got a lot of extra pounds to get under control or just want a little less waddle in your wiggle, you can do it without feeling like 10 pounds of sausage stuffed into a 5-pound bag.
"I'm a baby boomer and I grew up before pantyhose, so I know how uncomfortable girdles used to be," says Colette Wong, assistant professor of intimate apparel at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). "What's important about this new generation of shapewear is that they not only fit, but they control without sacrificing comfort."
What makes them special is both the fabric and the construction, says Wong, who is also assistant chairwoman of the fashion design department at FIT. Their designers use plenty of ultra-stretchy Lycra and engineer the garments to put control just where you need it. "Most garments carry hang tags that clearly spell out where the control is concentrated -- like upper or lower tummy, rear end, thighs, or waist -- and paying attention to those tags can help you select garments that net you the exact result you're seeking," says Wong.
Just as important is getting the right fit for your body type.
"If the garment is made correctly and it fits correctly, you won't get those "ripples" of flesh overflow that can occur in the upper stomach, or the thighs, or even the midriff," says swimwear and lingerie designer Carol Wior. She should know. Her legendary Slimsuits practically revolutionized swimwear for women by incorporating shapewear techniques and fabrics into bathing suits.
"Part of the new shapewear revolution has to do with how the fabric feels next to your body," says Wior. "If it's comfortable to wear, you're less bothered by the control, even if it's significant control."
Wior uses a 22% Lycra fabric, which, she says, is powerful enough to lift the butt and suck in the tummy, but does so without leaving an imprint around your waist or thighs.
Spanx: The New Definition of Shapewear
The name sounds a little naughty, but the end result is nice. We're talking about Spanx -- the "power panties" that have helped to change the way we look at shapewear forever. The reason: They give us the best of control-top panty hose, without the hot, sticky, hose part!
"What Spanx did, essentially, was develop a way to get the contouring and smoothness of a control-top panty hose, without the hose -- so you don't have to contend with issues such as ride-up on the leg, which usually happens if you just try to cut the stockings out of your panty hose " says Sharena Summerall, spokeswoman for Spanx.
Although Spanx undergarments contain just 15% Lycra, Summerall says they can easily cut you down by two sizes -- without the need for an oxygen mask.
"It's all about the fit. It's the way the products are engineered, which is to pull up and in from all directions and smooth everything out, so your shape is actually smaller," says Summerall.
Spanx's newest offering, a garment called "Higher Power," goes from mid-thigh all the way up to just below the bra line. It promises to do for midriff bulge what a month or more of dieting might never accomplish.
"It gives you a toned, firm, lifted look and it can take you down a size or two," says Summerall.
Reshaping Your Shape
Wong says the secret to this new type of shapewear lies in not just "crunching'" the fat, as a girdle might, but actually reshaping it.
"These products recontour your body so your clothes fit differently, which is the secret behind why they can sometimes help you go down a clothing size or two," says Wong.
If you have more than a few bumps and bulges, you might want to try the one-piece Lycra bodysuits, which many say can do wonders for even the most "shapeless" body. The secret: They pull you in six ways to the middle!
"When you put on a bodysuit, you get a pull from the torso around and upward, and you also get slimming of the entire circumference of the body -- around the waist and around the stomach," says Wior. "So essentially you have a garment that is holding everything in."
With no place for those extra fleshy parts to eke their way into view, Wong says, the overall look is automatically shapelier.
"These garments are right for the woman who is not necessarily chunky in the midriff section, but probably bottom-heavy, and it's really a terrific way to give a much smoother line overall, " she says.
If the Bra Fits, Buy It!
While for many of us it's the bottom half that needs reshaping, for others it's the bustline. Here too, advances in construction and fabric have yielded a crop of helpful new shapers. Among the most popular are minimizer bras, designed to make you appear less top-heavy, reduce stress on the shoulders, and keep all that extra flesh under your arm tucked neatly inside.
"You know you need a minimizer bra when you put your arm down and you see flesh pushing out from over the side of your bra line, or when your breasts seem to be 'over the top' in any bra you try," Wior tells WebMD.
While a well-fitting minimizer bra can actually take you down a size or two, not all styles are alike.
"Try on, try on, try on -- and it helps if you buy your bra at a location where there are fit experts," says Wong. If you pick the wrong style or the wrong size, you can instantly go from shapely to squatty.
"If you put on a minmizer bra and you don't like your shape, it may not be that a minimizer is wrong for you, but that this particular minimizer is wrong for you, "says Wong.
At the same time, Wior says, don't overlook the possibility that you may not even need a minimizer at all. What you may actually need is a bra in the right shape and size.
"If the bra fits well, you'll look thinner and smoother, whether it's a minimizer or not," says Wior.
Discovering Your Shapewear Needs
While much of today's shapewear is a far cry from the girdles of yesteryear, experts say there are some occasions when we might want to turn back the fashion hands of time. The reason: The more shaping your body needs, the more control your garment should have.
"If you're a plus-size woman, you're just not going to get the same level of control with a new shaper that you'd get from a regular girdle," says Wong. "You'll see some effect and a smoother-looking figure, but it's not going to be as dramatic a difference as you'd see in a woman who is a size 10 or 12."
For the best fit in shapewear regardless of your size, don't be afraid to go up a size -- particularly if the garment has high Lycra content. You won't sacrifice control, but you could be more comfortable.
And don't try to buy on the cheap. According to Wong, the more established a shapewear company is -- and, sometimes, the higher the price -- the better the fit and the support tend to be.
"It's not so much the cost, as it is the brand," says Wong. "Companies on the low end of the price scale may not use the same kind of quality fabrication as the more established companies, so while the product may look the same, it may not perform the same."
And what about the future of shapewear? According to Wior, the next big trend might be a real diet in a box -- lingerie made from fabric that she says actually helps you lose weight while it nips and tucks you in.
In the interest of keeping trade secrets, Wior didn't explain how these new garments might work. But, she said, "we're wear-testing the new fabric right now, and so far, it's comfortable, it holds you in, and it even looks as if it shaves off a few inches!"
So stay tuned -- and stay toned (or at least look that way) with the latest in shapewear.