High heels have a reputation as sexy and stunning, yet effectively they change your figure and shape artificially. Why then does shapewear have such a negative reputation as it does essentially the same things?
Shapewear covers a myriad of items, but as this is a vintage blog this post looks at it from a purely vintage fashion point of view, so what and why good foundation wear is important under a vintage garment.
Disclaimer of sorts... "Shaping" the Body?
I have found this a surprisingly difficult topic to write about. Partially because I am naturally a slim person so I am concerned that people may think I'm not in a position to expand on this; however, the point is everyone sometimes feels they need a bit of help with their look- whether that is make up, high heels or shapewear. Tall people aren't ruled out from wearing heels, the same way that slimmer women feel the need for the smoothing effects of shapewear. The second reason is because it may seem like I am advocating changing your body by hiding it, in a way a "Body Snark" (see The Lingerie Addicts article). Personally, I feel the most important thing is to be happy (and proud) with your body shape and image, and shapewear in whatever form should be just a tool to enhance the fit of your clothes not to essentially change who you are. Although some shapewear, such as corsets, can indeed change the way your body looks dramatically- but it should be your choice not social pressure that makes you choose that option.
Right, disclaimer done. Down to business!
Girdles and Corsets
I am no expert in shapewear (the complexities of the corset are numerous) so this really is a (very) basic overview of my recent research and some personal experience.
I have to admit there was a time when the word girdle to me was simply another word for scary underwear my grandmother may or may not own. But girdles can be beautiful and very useful. The difference between a corset and girdle (according to Ivy Leaf's Corsetry Compendium) is essentially that a corset restricts the wearer and will not stretch with them, however in a girdle the wearer will be able to expand it.
Girdles can come in numerous forms- girdles which you step in to more like high pants (similar to control pants you might get in main department stores); a classic open bottomed girdle or a girdle dress. One of my favourite has to be the Kiss Me Deadly Vargas Dress, pictured here (the multiway is currently out of stock so I am stalking their website waiting for the next delivery at the moment!)
I will not even begin to go in to the in's and out's of corsets; all I will say is if it is for you, it is recommended to get one of the highest quality and make sure of its fitting for you.
As we mentioned in the last post on bra's, garments are made and designed with the underwear to hand at the time, therefore you get a truer line and silhouette by using original vintage underwear of the era of a garment or good quality reproductions. This can be seen in the 1950's in particular, with the advent of the nipped in waist dresses, wiggle dresses and pencil skirts meaning girdles were often not just the norm but essential.
Tips for Shapewear
Getting shapewear right is important unless you want to feel a constant sense of physical and perhaps social discomfort, so here are a few tips for shapewear:
- Look at what you are wearing, is it necessary to add shapewear? A wiggle dress and a pencil skirt quite often will need it, or indeed were designed in an era when everyone wore girdles. A looser fitting 1970s kaftan style dress probably won't need it.
- If you are planning on wearing it for a big event try it on for a trip to the shops under a similar garment to see how it feels, if it annoys you in an hour you will be tearing your hair out in a day. It's not worth ruining your day over.
- Make sure the line of your shapewear sits correctly, a skin tight wiggle dress may need a corsolette or girdle panties without suspender attachments which could show through.
- Girdles are your classic vintage shapewear, so if you're buying it vintage make sure there is still plenty of elasticity in it. The classic test is there should be plenty of resistance when you stretch it and it shouldn't make a crackling noise (that noise is the fibres breaking)
- You can get some very authentic and attractive modern vintage style girdles if you can't get genuine vintage, it is just as good (and sometimes better).
- The best tip of all is to feel attractive and comfortable in it, Catherine from Kiss Me Deadly puts this perfectly:
"I cannot say this often enough, to enough women: If it doesn’t fit well and offer support, you will feel crap and self conscious wearing it. If someone else thinks it looks great and you don’t, you will feel crap and self conscious wearing it. It matters not at all if this item fitted once, or never; or if it cost lots, or little; or even if it looks good when arranged properly and one doesn’t move too much. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it and find something that does work – for you." Kiss Me Deadly Blog
There is only one more in the foundation garment series- petticoats. I have been developing a love-hate relationship with these recently. I love how they improve dramatically the look of a dress but I hate the fact mine are losing their fullness, so I'm looking forward to some research on this one to see how I can counteract the hate bit! But in the meantime if you look at some of our new stock in the shop recently you can see the difference a petticoat can make to a dress, particularly on this one.
SOURCES: Ivy Leaf's Tribute to Corsetiere; The Lingerie Addict; Kiss Me Deadly; The Golden Age of Girdles