Contained within, you will no doubt find lacy Elle Macpherson underwear sets, slinky g-strings and maybe even an itchy looking Ann Summers diamante thong, but amongst all those ‘good’ panties and bras you will also find some mammoth garments known as ‘shapewear’.
Once upon a time women relied on trusty Spanx alone, but now there are brands like BodyWrap, Maidenform’s Control It! and Flexees, Miraclesuits, Yummie Tummies, the iPant (I jest not); even the groping gruesome twosome Trinny and Susannah have their own range, and of course the ever-patronising, annoyingly omnipresent Gok Wan has his own range of Paparazzi Pants, Banger Boosters and Slicker Knickers.
Kathy Murray, Group Buying Director for Lingerie at Brown Thomas, says shapewear is becoming a wardrobe staple for women everywhere. “Any woman who has tried it will tell you it is a must-have item. Whether you are a size six or 16, shapewear has now become so advanced; there is a solution for every woman’s requirements. Whether it is the need to smooth, hold or control, there is a shapewear piece out there for you. Shapewear is the secret weapon that happens to not be so secret anymore!”
Yet men still seem oblivious… did you all just nod off during that scene in Bridget Jones when Renée Zellweger and Hugh Whatshisface finally get it on? It’s not just regular Bridgets wearing control pants, celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow, Tyra Banks, Sienna Miller and Jessica Alba have all admitted to wearing Spanx on the red carpet, so no wonder they’ll be selling like hot cakes this Christmas.
According to Murray, the golden rule of buying shapewear is to try before you buy. “The smaller the size does not mean the smaller you’ll look. Ill-fitting shapewear can often create a problem rather than addressing it… too tight and it will create further problems”, ie, the dreaded muffin top, “too loose and it adds bulk and defeats the purpose.”
Sound advice, but be warned — trying on shapewear requires the equivalent effort of a 45-minute spin class. The first time I tried it out it was tougher than a workout with an over-zelaous pilates addict. After 15 minutes of panic stricken worming around I was so exhausted I thought I might have to ask the sales assistant to call the fire department and cut me out. After almost an hour I emerged, sweating like a pig at a barbecue, red-faced and dehydrated but triumphantly holding the chosen one … a nude body suit that made my boobs look like Marilyn Monroe’s, my ass like J-Lo’s and my waist like Scar Jo’s. This single blob of beige engineering set me back over 50 quid and a few pulled muscles, but it was worth it.
Now, for some women, the Germaine Greer-loving, proud feminist parts in us may feel a little ashamed about buying into all this shapewear business … they burned bras and now we are stuffing chicken fillets into ours. Well, maybe there is empowerment in walking down the street with your backside strapped in, your boobs hoisted high, while having the last laugh at gravity.
Murray says the object of shapewear is never to make a woman feel discomfort, but most women will only ever don shapewear for a special occasion. Unfortunately, Christmas parties and weddings usually mean ingesting a three course meal, drinking like a fish and then hitting the dance floor to show off you’re sexy moves.
So whatever your choice of magic knickers or super power turbo-charged tummy tuckers, I wish you godspeed this party season. And guys, now that you know the secret, make yourself useful, and give us a hand pulling off these Spanx.