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Ten years ago, Oprah Winfrey told millions of TV viewers that Spanx give “smoothness all the way down.” Presto! The golden age of modern shapewear had begun.
Since then, bodyshapers have become not only acceptable but chic, especially among twenty- and thirtysomethings who love to show off a lean physique, and are not adverse to a little help in doing so. The oft-reported fact that Hollywood’s red-carpet sirens are fond of the former unmentionables hasn’t hurt the category’s still-skyrocketing popularity, nor has the litany of pop stars, most recently Rhianna and Lady Gaga, for whom shapely corsetry is an on-stage essential.
The proof is in the figures, according to consumer research firm NPD Group, which reports shapewear sales at retail rose 22.3 percent in the 12 months ended in July, the only intimates category to post an increase during that time.
All this exposure has paved the way for scores of entrepreneurial labels specializing in control undergarments. In addition to Spanx, Rago, Va Bien and QT have jumped into the mix. Cynthia Rowley’s Slim by Cynthia Rowley will bow for fall at better department stores, boutiques and online, retailing from $118 to $226. “No matter what your body type, shapewear makes everyone look and feel better,” Rowley says. “I thought it was ironic, though, that you wear shapewear to look sexy…until your clothes come off. My shapers perform the function and are pretty, too.”
Other recent entrants include Cosabella, Squeem; Sculptz; Cass & Co.; Slimpressions. Body Wrap (a division of Swim Experts Alliance in Canada). Launching this spring, ShaToBu, claims to tone muscles as it supports, according to its creator, Denise Perron, a retired chiropractor. There’s even a line called Dr. Rey Shapewear, named after the plastic surgeon star of E Entertainment’s “Dr. 90210,” which is co-designed by Australian entrepreneur Bruno Schiavi, produced by Sydney-based Jupi Corp., and sold on HSN.
“Shapewear no longer needs to be a dirty little secret, and we are coaxing a market to shift gears,” notes Heather Thomson, designer and founder of the two-year-old Yummie Tummie, which is now available at 1,200 major stores and specialty operations. (Last year, Thompson launched the men’s line, RIPT Fusion.) “Smart design perspective, innovation, attainable price points, yummy fabrics and feel-good products with the added value of versatility are all components that can make any shapewear brand recession proof.”
The major innerwear labels have gotten into the act, too: Jockey, Wacoal, Playtex, Bali, Just My Size, Warner’s, Flexees and Hanes, all offer shapewear, and continue to expand their assortments with stylish, lightweight models that look more like seductive lingerie than control garments.
Jockey launched a licensed shapewear line produced by Doris International in 2006, starting out with medium-control garments in sizes S to XXL, and a range of fashion
colors, retailing from $19 to $48. The firm plans to expand into seamless firm control items for fall. Milou Gwyn, vice president of domestic licensing at Jockey International, sizes up the growing demand for shapers this way: “The innovations in the past five years have been unparalleled and have opened up the market to all women.”
Among these innovations is a new generation of lightweight microfibers including Invista’s Lycra 2.0 Garment Technology, Lycra Xtra Fine fiber and Lycra fresh FX. In
addition, construction breakthroughs employ seamless knitted-in control for problem areas such as the tummy, waist and thighs, while design advances extend to peekaboo sheer and opaque treatments that give the illusion of a more buffed figure.
“New lightweight fabrics that still provide great control and smoothing combined with more technically advanced products have made shapewear much more comfortable and wearable every day,” says Bob Vitale, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Wacoal America Inc. “The right shapewear can improve the fit of a woman’s wardrobe, thereby freshening up existing clothes or enhancing new outfits. Looking better for a relatively small investment is psychologically right for the times.” He further notes: “Our newer direction, Embrace Lace lineup “has all the great functionality but definitely adds femininity and some excitement to the sales floor and the category.”
Such appeal is essential. “Today’s modern woman is using iPods, Facebook and she lives an active lifestyle,” observes Kathy Van Ness, president of the Christina America
Inc. and Body Wrap units of Swimwear Experts Alliance. “The shapewear business has been strong because women want to look youthful and feel great. Shapewear has evolved as an everyday piece of [a woman’s] wardrobe. This is all about beauty.”