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Behind the Seams, Meet the Merchants, Personal Style

The BN Roundtable: Real Talk About How to Rock and Shop for Shapewear

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The holidays are high season for breaking out the shapewear, but it can be challenging (yeah, major understatement) to know where to begin, even if you’re already a fan of what it can do for your body confidence. So we brought together the office evangelists—plus one skeptic—for some capital-R-real talk about shapewear: who it’s for (spoiler alert: everybody), what’s out there to choose from, why it can make your day and your figure that much smoother. Come listen in….

[from left to right]
Jeni Doherty, shapewear buyer
Heather Garcia, merchandise manager
Brooke Glassberg, copywriter and moderator
Heather Viskovic, premium brands bra buyer
Mette Iacovou, amBRAssador
Candace Sebastian, amBRAssador
Shaneek Anderson, marketing project coordinator

Brooke: Spill it. Who’s wearing shapewear right now?

Heather G, Brooke, Candace and Shaneek: I am.

Heather G: I wear it every day. I’m wearing a shaping slip because you have to wear a slip under dresses—don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t.

Brooke: What does a slip do?

Heather G: It makes sure clothes don’t cling. Wear a slip so your dress lays flat. You should always wear something under your dress in case you have a Marilyn Monroe moment.

Candace: I have on the Spanx Higher Power Short. It’s a size too small, so I’m uncomfortable, but my actual size is perfection.

Heather G: One of the major differences in shapewear is a high versus regular waist. A high waist is gonna go right below your bra, and the regular is going to hit at your waist. Not everybody can wear high-waisted, but it’s very popular because it gives you an hourglass, seamless silhouette. If you have a short torso, the regular comes up high enough.

Brooke: I have on the regular Yummie brief, but it comes up a bit higher on me. Once you have a baby, you need it. I was always a bikini girl, but that belly doesn’t go away.

Heather G: Not even after all that hard work at the gym and avoiding carbs. You’re living with that baby belly.

Brooke: Yep, but that’s what shapewear is for, right? Everybody can wear it.

Mette: I love the higher waist because it’s dual purpose. You get rid of back fat, it does the tummy and it does my thighs. I always look for an open gusset because trying to take that off and putting it back on when you’re at a wedding and you’ve had a couple drinks is a bit difficult.

Brooke: So what happens when you’re on a date—how do you artfully remove shapewear?

Heather G: You excuse yourself to the ladies’ room. You have to powder your nose, right? When you’re in there, you’re ripping off your shapewear and hiding it in your purse.

Mette: I think that’s only in the movies, because in the heat of the moment you can’t stop to do that. Just own it.

Heather G: Well, you can wear pretty shapewear that doesn’t look like shapewear.

Brooke: What are examples of things you’d never know are shapewear?

Heather G: It could be a bodysuit. Bodysuits are really trendy right now, and you can get underwire ones.

Heather V: I am a lover of bodysuits, and I don’t care much for shapewear except in bodysuit form because I want to be smooth from top to bottom. A bodysuit is always going to look sexy.

Shaneek: Bodysuits to me…I feel like a wrestler when I put one on. That’s why I’m wearing a pretty slip on the date.

Brooke: That’s a good point. There’s this whole range of shapewear out there—a slip that’s light and barely noticeable, then you have the seriously heavy-duty shapewear. Even for women who are great shoppers, this category can be really confounding.

Heather G: When you walk into a department or specialty store, it’s a sea of black and nude shapewear. You don’t know where to start. You have to decide first why are you wearing it—for every day, a special occasion or to go with a specific dress?

Mette: Or what body part you’re most concerned with.

Heather G: Right. Then, online, you can use our shopping tools. If you’re looking for something to shape your thighs, look at a mid-thigh shaper. If you’re looking for something to go with a dress, you want a slip. It depends what your end use is. If you’re looking for everyday shapewear, we have shaping briefs like Camio Mio. We actually developed this panty because there were a lot of brands doing medium and firm control shapewear, but there was nobody doing an everyday shaping panty that hit at the right place and had no VPL. It’s laser cut and has a silicone strip to keep it in place. You don’t have to worry about bulges or it moving around. Then we did a thong—I love a shaping thong because there’s no VPL, it’s relatively sexy and it hits at the waist so it smooths that lower belly.

Brooke: And it’s not dental floss.

Heather G: It’s very comfortable and reasonably priced. And we did a boyshort because we know a lot of people prefer more coverage. This boyshort is great because it has the silicone on the bottom, too. It comes in black, nude and colors so you can get a little fashion in your shapewear.

Mette: I think one of the biggest misconceptions with shapewear is to buy the smallest size you possibly can. You’re going to be going against yourself. With my first piece of shapewear, I was like, “I’m going to buy that extra small,” and I put it on, and it was very, very difficult. I was sweating by the time I got it on.

Brooke: It’s not a corset.

Mette: Right, and then I had more bulges than what I actually started out with. I looked like the Michelin Tire Man when I put it on, so that is not the way to go. I actually found I like it if I size up one, because it gives me just the right amount of control. You really want to smooth yourself rather than suck yourself in, because when you suck yourself in, if you have any fat, it’s going to bulge out somewhere. It has to have somewhere to go, right?

Heather G: I think that’s why a lot of people hate shapewear, because they’re not necessarily wearing the right size. Like a bra: a lot of people are wearing the wrong bra, so they hate bra shopping. Shapewear, too. If you get a small when you should be wearing a medium, you’re going to be so uncomfortable. I’ve actually gotten stomachaches.

Brooke: Do you think shapewear has changed over the years from what it used to be when people first tried it when it was the big Oprah craze?

Heather G: Back when Oprah said “I love Power Panties…” and Power Panties are great, and there’s still a version selling today that’s just as good, but the fabrics have changed. So you can get the same firm control in a lighter fabric. A lot of people have the mindset that it needs to be heavy and it needs to have rubber all over. It doesn’t. It just has to have the stretch. It just has to be firm control. It doesn’t have to feel like armor to work.

Shaneek: When I first purchased shapewear, I thought it was supposed to change the shape of my body. Once I got that it’s just supposed to smooth me out, I started liking shapewear much more.

Heather G: That’s why I think everybody can benefit from shapewear, because it’s not trying to literally sculpt your body. It’s just trying to make your clothes fit better, it’s just supposed to smooth you. I wear a high-waisted thong because it covers a little midsection, gives me extra support, and I look a bit better in my clothes. Muffin top drives me crazy. If you can just eliminate that, you look ten pounds lighter.

Candace: Going back to sizing, I would say go by exactly what it says on the tag. If you go smaller, you get the uncomfortable rolling down,you’re pulling and tugging, you’re tucking it under your bra…. I always say, “Let the shapewear do what it says it’s going to do.” People get light control and they order down because they want it to do something, but it’s still light control.

Jeni: Can we also talk about getting into it? Because I had a nightmare trying on a shaping cami one time, and I thought I would have to cut myself out of it. I did the right thing by stepping into it but then didn’t step out of it—I tried to go over my head—and thought it was going to be a 911 call. When you pull some of the firm control stuff out of the package, it looks super small—it stretches, then you put it on and it’s great, but when you go to take it off…. I learned very quickly to step out of it!

Candace: There’s an unsaid rule of, “If you’re going to wear shapewear and you’re going to an event, put it on at least two hours before you go out.”

Brooke: Why?

Candace: Because you have to be able to get in there and your makeup has to be done, so you’ve got to make sure that you’re in your shapewear first. Get all of the sweat and all of the blood and all the tears and everything out of the way, calm down, and then you can go on with your life.

Mette: I also wait until my body’s completely dry when I get out of the shower. If you have any moisture whatsoever, you will be sweating buckets, because it is just not going to move up your body. Don’t put lotion on. Coming right out of the shower, I’ve made that mistake where I’m like, “Why is this not going on? This fit me last week…!”

Heather G: Even with my activewear leggings, if you’re getting out of the shower and you have panties on, you’re like, “Why did I do that?” and I just faint.

Shaneek: I think I know why I hate bodysuits! Because this product—it was like a corset, and I had an interview in the city. I put it on, and when I got home I had to go to the bathroom so bad, my boyfriend had to cut me out. I couldn’t get it off, it had so many clips! It completely changed the shape of my body. I couldn’t breathe, but I thought I looked good that day.

Brooke: So what are the compression levels?

Heather G: You can go from light to extra firm control, but every brand’s different. If you’re in a Miraclesuit, everything is extra firm. Spanx is gonna tell you that theirs is extra firm, but it’s not the same extra firm as Miraclesuit.

Jeni: We as a company try to take it upon ourselves to say, “This is what we’re saying moderate or firm control is.”

Brooke: So read the product description, or call an amBRAssador and someone will guide you.

Heather G: Yes. Our team takes the product and does a pull test, like, “This is firm” or “Oh, this is light,” and we try to decide what level it is to help our customers shop better because we don’t want them to be disappointed if they get it and it says extra firm and they’re like, “This isn’t like my Miraclesuit.”

Mette: I don’t know why anybody would like that… [pointing to a waist cincher]

Brooke: Well, waist-training is a whole thing, right?

Jeni: Back support is the biggest reason. A lot of people who have back issues are wearing them because they sit straighter.

Mette: Well, I had the one that went around the waist everybody was trying and thought I was going to die.

Jeni: That was the one with Kim Kardashian.

Heather G: We don’t condone waist training. This is not a waist trainer, this is a corset, a waist cincher. It will help you sweat comfortably and while you’re wearing it, you will look transformed, but when you take it off, you’re still the same person. It’s not crushing your organs.

Candace: They use garments like that when you get liposuction or butt implants or whatever.

Jeni: Yeah, it tends to be a lot of post-surgery.

Heather G: They call them “fajas.” It means shapewear in Spanish.

Shaneek: Speaking of butt implants, what shapewear do you use if you wanna lift it up?

Heather G: You want shapewear that has seams in it. Some have butt pockets. If you ever had a contour bra, you know it’s molded fabric that conforms to your shape. This is what they’ve done. They’ve molded your bottom, so it’s going to give you shape. It has the ruching in the middle, so it’s going to give you separation. Something that doesn’t have a seam is just going to flatten you out and give you pancake-butt.

Mette: I don’t think that’s possible on my butt. Just sayin’.

Brooke: What are some shapewear essentials you would recommend to somebody looking to make their first foray into this world?

Jeni: Spanx is synonymous with shapewear, and you have to realize there are other great options out there, too. We’ve tailored our assortment to really have everyone stand for something.

Mette: I really like the Power Series. It’s one of my favorites. It’s very soft and easy to wear, and I don’t have any lines when I’m wearing it.

Jeni: The one Heather is holding is from the new Two Timing collection, which is great. It’s reversible, and everything comes in two different colors, like black and taupe.

Heather G: Yes, it’s great. Shapewear is expensive. If you wear it often, or if you want to have it in both colors, then reversible is smart. The new Thinstincts bodysuit is one of my new favorite pieces. I love it because I’m constantly picking up my children, and I never want my shirt to fly up and have that moment where everyone’s looking at my stomach. If I wear this, I feel like I’m covered. It’s also perfect under sheer blouses.

Mette: And it’s not like a tank top that keeps pulling out.

Heather G: Tank tops used to be huge, but they alway rolled up. It just didn’t make sense. Bodysuits are better. The other thing I like about it is the back. You see how it’s a laser-cut? You’re not going to get any VPL.

Shaneek: Is it going to flatten out your boobs?

Heather G: No, because the compression releases at the bust.

Mette: I can totally see myself wearing this every day because it’s so thin and breathable.

Brooke: So what are some of the other everyday essentials you recommend?

Heather G: I’m a huge Commando shapewear fan because Commando’s been known to make laser-cut panties. So now they’ve done shapewear, and they do a cotton version, a microfiber version. It’s taken their laser-cut technology and put a smoother in it. I wouldn’t wear it to a wedding, but it’s perfect under jeans or a casual dress.

Jeni: Yummie has a lot of seamless everyday panties and tanks and stuff like that, too.

Brooke: So a slip, a panty, what else? What’s Shapewear 101?

Heather G: If you were going to have a drawer of shapewear that made sure you have everything for every outfit possible, I’d have a seamless bodysuit, a mid-thigh shaper in a couple of different control levels. I would do a smooth, light shaper for work, nothing too constricting. Then if I’m gonna be in a wedding or going to a wedding, I would get something with extra firm control in the stomach. I would do a slip for wrap dresses. And then I would do a shaping tank, something like this.

Brooke: On the flip side of that coin, what are some of the really super specific, didn’t-even-know-it-existed pieces that are out there waiting to solve your problem?

Heather G: Some of the new technology is in the wear-your-own bra styles. They connect to your favorite bra, so it’s going to be a seamless fit from your bra all the way down to your thighs, but you’re not going to get compression on your bust.

Jeni: You also get a little bit of a lift and support on your bust, too.

Heather V: As a lover of bodysuits, I have to say, I don’t think people know that sometimes your favorite bra comes in bodysuits. Wacoal and Chantelle come to mind.

Candace: Like the Wacoal Visual Effects.

Heather V: Right. I wear minimizers pretty frequently, and they have firm-control bodysuits now with the bra in it, so it really is a solutions piece on top of being a shaper.

Brooke: That’s awesome. Jeni, you were saying, there’s pretty shapewear, too.

Jeni: There is! Going into spring, Spanx has a lace collection coming out. You want to wear it just because it’s gorgeous.

Mette: Are there any bodysuits that come with the legs that have the bra in it? Because my area is my legs.

Heather G: So you’re looking for a long-leg with a body. There’s this OnCore one I just saw here… It comes with a little bit of support, but you’re gonna wanna wear your bra underneath it. We were talking about fabrications getting lighter, and what Spanx has done is picked a really nice, soft microfiber that’s a lighter hand, but it’s firm control because they’ve put extra fabrication that doesn’t have as much stretch. It’s actually pretty structured if you want to give it a tug. And they’ve glued or bonded it to the shapewear, so you get targeted shapewear.

Heather V: That’s pretty awesome.

Heather G: It’s really great. And I love that it has it on the side, too, because it’s going to give you that hourglass.

Brooke: Any parting thoughts, things you wish people knew about shapewear?

Heather G: I just wish people weren’t afraid of it and think they should give it a try. I would recommend starting with lighter control just to ease your way into it because if you go from 0 to 60, you’re not going to be happy. So go into something that’s a little lighter control, a little smoothing, and then start working your way up.

Jeni: Start with what you need it for—who, what, when, where and why. It’s easier to build from those questions.

Shaneek: Know that it’s not a miracle worker. If you’re not comfortable with your body, you’re not going to be comfortable wearing shapewear.

Mette: It’s not going to change your body; it’s going to smooth your body. And buy your correct size. Don’t think you’re going to look smaller because you buy something…it’s not, like, an invisible eraser where it’s just gonna take away your waist and off you go.

Jeni: It’s called Photoshop.

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Brooke Glassberg
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, calligraphy, travel and her exceptionally adorable toddler and husband.
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