It's the biggest hoax in fashion history. Some might even call shapewear controversial—from its potential health implications to dates being misled by "toned" bodies that are really squeezed into figure-flattering undergarments. Even still, we're thankful for them, we wear them, and many of us are proud of our use of them. Now all we want to know is, how does this fashion technology work? We turned to experts to uncover some of our probing shapewear questions…
How does shapewear attempt to make us skinny?
Shapewear brand Va Bien's co-founder and fit expert Marianne Gimble says, "it makes us skinny by sewing or knitting together elastic or rigid fabrics that are cut into such a pattern that when worn, the finished garment nips and tucks the body."
ResultWear shapewear designer Kiana Anvaripour tells us other minimizer benefits: "Properly fitted undergarments improve your posture, your confidence, and the way you walk, which gives you an all-over sleeker physique."
Is shapewear very effective in actually slimming our bodies?
"Absolutely," Gimble says. "Especially when cut and sewn together—as opposed to knitted seamlessly like hosiery. When cut and sewn, designers are able to use pinpoint accuracy to ‘catch' curves in the perfect places and enhance them. Hosiery-style seamless knitting, by contrast, tends to flatten curves," she says. "Both techniques slim the body, just in different ways."
Amy Sparano, senior vice president of sales and merchandising of It Figures! and Private Brand Breaking Waves International LLC, does point out that with skimpy shapewear, excess fat can be pushed up over the waistband of a bikini pant, for example, creating the "muffin top" look. "With appropriate coverage of the torso, the control fabric holds the body in a smaller area, making the body appear thinner and smoother," she explains. So if you're going to take advantage of the minimizer, choose the kind that works!
Does wearing shapewear pose any dangers?
Various reports have pointed out that the constriction that happens when wearing shapewear can cause blood clots, acid reflux, and breathing problems. Some shapewear proponents will have to disagree and claim that if proper shapewear is worn the right way, there should be no health implications at all.
"Shapewear and undergarments have been worn since the turn of the century. Remember Scarlett O'Hara being laced up into her corset in Gone with the Wind? Sometimes beauty is pain, but our generation is lucky," Anvaripour says. "With technology, fabric, stitching, and high-quality design, you can achieve that hourglass look without pain. No boning, no horse hair. Our lifestyles as modern women don't afford us the ability to be in pain."
Gimble adds that shapewear can actually have health benefits. It can stimulate circulation and provide support to muscles.
Where does all of the fat go?
Those who wear shapewear and even those who don't have all wondered this at one point or another. We've established that shapewear works—it slims, smoothes out lines and what-not, and even supports. But wait a minute, where does all of the fat go? Gimble points out, "Fat can move into spaces where muscle is compressed, such as the abs. It can also be moved directionally, towards more desirable places.
Jason Scarlatti, creative director of men's brand 2(x)ist Underwear, adds that the flab is just made more compact. "Shapewear is engineered to funnel excess weight to help you appear to be more slim; it can slim you up to 1 to 2 inches," he says. "The excess flab is condensed, the same way as when you push your hands on your belly to push in the fat."
If the shapewear is well-designed, the fat comes out in a more sexy and appropriate place like your breasts/cleavage and butt, Anvaripour says.