How Shapewear—Like Spanx and Skims—Went From Underwear to High Fashion


“IT’S UNFORTUNATE that nature has a foul humorousness,” mentioned Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Rey to Girls’s Put on Day by day in 2007. The star of the truth present “Dr. 90210” continued: “Even the thinnest girls have love handles.” His then-new model, Dr. Rey’s Shapewear, was conceived to “assist” girls obtain the sort of slimming that he practiced surgically. On the time, shapewear—stretchy, usually compressive lingerie designed to easy one’s determine—was a corrective software meant to be hidden below your common clothes. Simply as you wouldn’t go to work with seen pimple cream in your chin, you wouldn’t enterprise exterior with seen shapewear, and even talk about it. Dr. Rey’s quote underlined the shameful nature of the product in these days. The physician’s workplace didn’t reply to requests for remark.

In 2021, shapewear couldn’t be extra seen. Not solely do thousands and thousands of American girls depend on it as an underwear staple, however sporting it out and about has emerged as an sudden pattern. Thanks in no small half to Skims, the juggernaut of a shapewear firm valued at $1.6 billion that Kim Kardashian West launched in 2019, compressive bodysuits, tops and leggings have turn into extremely well-liked as precise clothes. One in every of this summer season’s trendiest outfits for girls was a high-necked shaping bodysuit in black, brown or beige, worn with a pair of jean cutoffs. And on TikTok, one can see Gen-Z adherents of shapewear, clad in bodysuits and leggings, gyrating like so many easy child seals.

Shapewear manufacturers, which generated over $500 million in U.S. gross sales in 2019, in accordance with market analysis agency NPD Group, have more and more been increasing their choices, shifting past the nude-colored cinching shorts some girls put on beneath occasion attire. Now that the area of interest contains compressive leggings, shorts, bodysuits, ultra-stretchy pants, tube attire and even tight T-shirts, it’s arduous to know what’s shapewear and what’s simply…anythingwear. To explain the sensation she hopes girls expertise in her merchandise, Kim Kardashian West gives an adjective: “I all the time say the phrase ‘snatched,’ making you are feeling put collectively and assured.”

Shapermint makes leggings and tanks in prolonged dimension runs; Commando designs shaping crop-tops and leggings in fake leather-based; and basic purveyor Wolford has earned a rep for bodysuits coveted by stylists. The stalwart Spanx, based in 2000 by

Sara Blakely

and initially beloved for inner-wear, has additionally discovered success with its smoothing pants, denims, skirts and the like. For years, Ms. Blakely mentioned, girls who would acknowledge her at airports and in carpool strains and wished to make a connection, must “flash” their undergarments at her. Now, she added, it’s thrilling to see so lots of her designs out on the planet extra simply on show. Many shapewear items, together with these by Skims and Spanx, value lower than $100.

Kim Kardashian West arrives at this 12 months’s Met Gala in Balenciaga—and Skims bottoms.


Getty Photos

Smoothing, closefitting layers are pervading runway trend as nicely, maybe incited by this shapewear second. Saint Laurent makes high-waisted stretchy stirrup pants. Luxurious bodysuits are rife at manufacturers like Givenchy, Gucci and Versace. French designer Marine Serre has made printed catsuits a signature. At this month’s Met Gala in New York, artist Ella Emhoff and actor Julia Garner each wore Stella McCartney-designed appears that prominently included bodysuits. And Ms. Kardashian West wore a good black Balenciaga creation that appeared remarkably like an extension of her shrink-wrapped Skims aesthetic. In actual fact, she informed me that beneath she wore Skims sculpting leggings to finish the look. She minimize holes within the backside of the pants to make makeshift stirrups for an uninterrupted line, giving her the concept to make a stirrup legging sooner or later.

These stretchy items designed to be flaunted share DNA with the suck-you-in bodysuits, cardigans and leggings that late French-Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa began making within the early 1980s. In 1986, he designed a set of bodyhugging attire impressed by Egyptian mummy bandages. This explicit pressure of trend embodies a relatable paradox—the need to concurrently be held in and coated up whereas wanting to point out off one’s curves.

In December of 2020, Skims began promoting its designs on Ssense, the avant-garde-leaning Montreal e-commerce website, a sign of its trend ambitions in addition to the newly outstanding position of stretchy clothes within the zeitgeist. Ssense’s VP of womenswear shopping for, Brigitte Chartrand, mentioned that, from the start of Covid, the location’s lingerie class boomed, “so it was simply good timing to have the ability to introduce Skims.” For the launch, edgy photographer Sandy Kim shot Kim Kardashian West sporting cozy socks and Skims outfits whereas posing in a womb-like silky wonderland. Ms. Chartrand mentioned that Ms. Kardashian West was telegraphing that at this time “sporting shapewear will not be one thing that you simply’re hiding, it’s extra one thing that you simply’re pleased with and that you simply present.”

It is smart that girls are gravitating towards items which are stretchy sufficient for lounging on the sofa however polished sufficient to wear down. Cathryn Golden, 36, the CEO of the Nurses Encourage Nurses assist neighborhood in Plymouth, Mich., mentioned that legging-ish pants are extra acceptable than ever as a result of “trend has modified rather a lot, particularly since COVID and the work-from-home way of life.” She owns 10 pairs of Spanx pants herself, and acquired pairs for all of her workers final Christmas. She wrote on the cardboard, “If we’re going to work our butts off, they could as nicely look good.”

Should you’re befuddled by the notion of sporting shapewear as precise clothes exterior your house, consider it as a primary constructing block to assemble an outfit round. Ms. Kardashian West, who wears her personal Skims bodysuits “on a regular basis,” mentioned “They’re a clean canvas, a clean slate, they only sort of improve no matter essential a part of your outfit you wish to put on.” They might, she posited, be layered below assertion items like leather-based pants. In the same vein, the French classic e-commerce website Resee usually pairs sophisticated designer items with a easy black or white Wolford bodysuit to provide them a impartial base. It’s a trick taken from the playbook of its co-founder, the previous stylist Sabrina Marshall.

Rajni Jacques, the pinnacle of trend and wonder on the social media platform Snap, has seen the pattern proliferate there in addition to in actual life. She herself has dressed up sports activities bras with blazers, or worn biker shorts peeking out of denim, appears she mentioned have “a component of ease, whereas nonetheless sort of being dressed up.” Her recommendation to newbies: Attempt a shaping legging below a extra polished jacket.

North Carolina influencer Josee’ Mitchell wears head-to-toe Skims.


Josee Mitchell

Although initially unwilling to “purchase into the hype” of a Kardashian-fronted enterprise, Josee’ Mitchell, a 24-year-old social media influencer in Raleigh, N.C., has since purchased a number of Skims items. The standard of the underwear, her first buy, stunned her, mentioned Ms. Mitchell, who went on to accumulate leggings, tank tops and a gown from the model. Now that it’s cooler out, she likes to put on her matching units with jean jackets, or gown them up with blazers and heels to exit with mates.

Considerably, trendy shapewear manufacturers extra usually promote it as “smoothing” or “shaping” than “slimming” or “thinning.” In contrast to Dr. Robert Rey’s line in 2007 that was created to shave inches off one’s physique, mimicking cosmetic surgery, the items girls put on as precise clothes are extra subtly compressing. In at this time’s ever-so-slightly extra body-positive panorama, it’s arduous to think about anybody falling for caffeine-infused slimming shapewear, like that made by Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America in 2014. Each corporations had been slapped with fines by the FTC for deceptive claims. Their representatives didn’t reply to requests for remark.

There’s no scarcity of waist-nipping corsets and shorts with tummy flattening panels—together with examples from Spanx and Skims. However these will not be the items girls are sporting to the grocery retailer and out to dinner. Sara Blakely burdened that even when she began Spanx in 2000, the issue was by no means “with the girl or her physique, the issue was in her garments…and her undergarments and the way in which issues had been being made.”

Crucially, these out-on-the-town shapewear items are supposed to make you are feeling good, to not contort you into an unrealistic dimension to suit right into a skimpy robe for one evening. Kim Kardashian West spoke about her ultra-stretchy Balenciaga-and-Skims Met Ball silhouette when it comes to consolation and confidence, not pure fabulosity. She defined, “I normally get actually nervous or insecure a couple of look…and hope that folks will perceive it or prefer it. I might truthfully say that this was one of many first occasions the place I simply didn’t actually care what anybody thought.”

Amplifications & Corrections
An earlier model of this text said that shapewear generated over $500 million gross sales globally in 2019, when in reality that determine is for U.S. gross sales solely. (Corrected on Sept. 29)

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