Everybody, Everywear: Pattern Mixing (with an exploration of the shapewear industry)

I have a little secret. Under today's pattern mixed outfit (for Everybody, Everywear) lies a weapon strong enough to defeat the bloat of last night's chicken fried steak. Constructed of Lycra, Tencel and Spandex, this seamless instrument quietly does it's work. It fears little. Two slices of pizza? Salty snacks? Nachos scarfed at the rodeo? It scoffs at my vain attempts to stretch it's reserves. It boosts my confidence and inspires me to wear clothes I wouldn't dare consider without it.

I am speaking of shapewear.

The shapewear industry is worth $812.5 billion, according to WWD. Annual retail sales of shapewear — undergarments that control and smooth figure problems — grew 10.6 percent to $848.3 million from March 2009 to February 2010, and unit sales increased 3.8 percent during that period, according to The NPD Group research consultancy. A leading area of growth was plus sizes of XL to XXXL or larger, with sales gains of 14.8 percent last year.

Undergarment company Maidenform Brands Inc. this month reported a quarterly profit nearly doubled from last year which CEO Maurice Reznik put down to innovation - namely shapewear. Reznik said Maidenform has the largest market share in shapewear and is optimistic in the continued growth of the category. Women are now building shapewear wardrobes of basic and specialty pieces like control camis, waist cinchers and all-in-one body shapers, much in the same manner as they’ve made bras and tank tops wardrobe staples.

Body-shapers have long played a supporting role in fashion trends. The ancestor of shapewear, the corset, was "the most controversial garment in the history of fashion," says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who wrote a book about the garment. The girdle grew popular in the early 20th century, eventually becoming a key component of Christian Dior's nipped-waist "New Look," unveiled in 1947.

The popularity of shapewear began declining when the miniskirt emerged in 1965, and the introduction of seamless pantyhose made obsolete the need for control briefs with garters. In 1998, an office copy-machine saleswoman named Sara Blakely cut the feet off a pair of sheer control-top pantyhose so she could wear cream-colored pants to a party. Two years later, she founded Spanx, and celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Latifah started confessing their love of the shapers under their evening gowns. It picked up steam last year when Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Beyoncé were seen in provocative corsetry and other lingerie looks at the Grammys and the American Music Awards, as well as in magazines.

As reported in WWD, Guido Campello, vice president of marketing and innovation for Cosabella, an Italian-made intimates brand sold worldwide, said the company began receiving e-mails from retailers requesting shapewear following Grammys and the American Music Awards. “We didn’t expect we had a market for shapewear, especially in Italy,” he said. “But it’s because of the entertainment artists, such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, BeyoncĂ©, and even Eva Longoria in ‘Desperate Housewives,’ which has taken over ‘Sex and the City’ worldwide.”

The trend also has been propelled by shapewear and corsetry featured in popular TV shows like AMC’s “Mad Men, and HBO's miniseries "Mildred Pearce."

Underwear makers have discovered that men have an interest in shapewear as well. Since Spanx released a new line of “shapewear” or “profile-enhancing underwear” for men in February 2010, the “body compressing” tanks, crews and v-necks have become undeniable “retail hit,” as reported in the New York Times. Spanx isn’t the only company tapping into men’s growing insecurities about their midsections. According to the New York Times article, Equmen, Sculptees and RiptFusion have also released popular products for men, including a sort of “push-up bra” for men.

As I yanked on my Spanx this morning, I wondered why so many women (and men) are flocking to shapewear now. Is it because more women are struggling with obesity than ever before? Are fashion trends dictating the need for the smooth silhouettes shapewear creates?

I have a different theory. Vanity sizing, and a lack of sizing guidelines in the Unites States, have created confusion among female consumers regarding what clothing size they are. It is nearly impossible to accurately determine what size you need to wear to guarantee optimal fit.  This chart proves with empirical evidence how women's dress sizes do not conform to any standard. Furthermore, even when women's clothing does rely on measurements to determine size (such as waist size for jeans) one brand's size 28 in one style might not fit equally as a 28 in a different style.

I suspect more women are turning to shapewear because they have no clue what size they wear, are purchasing clothes that do not fit properly, and require a more supportive foundation garment as a result.

Now I ask you: Do you wear shapewear? What caused you to purchase it? When did you start wearing it? Why do you think the industry is booming?

Thrifted Ann Taylor blouse; thrifted Anthropologie skirt; Old Navy belt; Michael Kors platform espadrilles; vintage estate sale clutch; Forever 21 and Charming Charlie bracelets; Michael Kors rose gold watch

Prints cited: Polka dot top + floral skirt


  1. You pattern mixers amaze me. Your outfit goes so perfectly. I just can't wrap my head around how to make it work for me. I saw your bracelets were from Charming Charlie's! Is that not the most awesome place EVER?

  2. This is pretty weird, last night I wrote a post about shapewear as well! My post is not as eloquent as yours but I talk about the pros and cons of shapewear and my favorites.

    For me it's more about making the clothes look better and in turn I feel better.

  3. I love how ladylike this outfit is, but you roughed it up with your accessories. You are great and finding the perfect balance.

  4. Pretty outfit - it looks great on you! :)

    I tried some Spanx and they were not comfortable for me. I do use fitted cami's sometimes, though. I am in the market for a comfortable shapewear slip that doesn't compress "the girls", too. Plus...I'm cheap and Spanx are spendy! I'm not in a hurry to find one...I have a few months until I need to put on the dress I will need it with.

  5. I'm with Angela, Charming Charlie ROCKS. I wish I could pattern mix like you, I'm so bad at it. As for shape wear, I hate the stuff. I actually feel like I might have a panic attack when I get in to it. I also think it makes me look bigger, I can't explain why. But I swear I look better without it than with it. Or its just my anxiety talking.:)

  6. I do not wear shapewear. I wouldn't even know where to begin! I don't even wear expensive underthings. I guess I feel like I'm at the age (22) where I can make a choice: I can either say "Yes, I'm going to eat in a way that makes my body feel great and get the exercise I need and dress for that body," or I can say, "Well, who cares if I eat whatever I want, or don't work out, because I can throw on some shapewear and no one would know the difference!"

    I really feel like I need to start making healthy choices now to avoid health problems in the future. Also, I used to suffer from an eating disorder and my digestive system is still getting back on track. I feel like something that compresses my abdomen would do more harm this good :(.

    However, I must admit that I've never tried any kind of shapewear, so I may be painting a bad picture of it. If you like it, go for it! I mean, some people don't wear high heels and some people don't wear earrings. I guess it's just another fashion choice, but I don't think anyone should feel pressure to do it.

    Thank you for yet another well-written, thought-provoking post.

    Lindsey Soup

  7. Oh my goodness, those shoes are fabulous! And I like the subtle pattern mixing of dots and flowers. Very pretty.

    I wear lightweight shapewear. Not Spanx because I've found it uncomfortable, but items DKNY Smoothies. And I wear the Smoothies under my skirts less because I need to be pulled in and more so my thighs don't fight each other.

  8. Oh! I almost forgot: You look amazing! I love love love the print of that skirt! Mixed with the darker, smaller print of the top is gorgeous :).

    Lindsey Soup

  9. Its funny... my blog post today speaks to pattern mixing. I just can't for the life of me pull it off. You Mavens that do it, really rock it. You look terrific in every outfit I've seen you pull together.

    Also, those shoes - to die for.

  10. This was a fun challenge, Love the mixing!! I read your guest blog a month ago about sequins, couldn't agree more :)

    robyn of boluxe.wordpress.com

  11. I don't generally wear shapewear--I just don't like feeling constrained. I have a friend who thinks the popularity of it right now has to do with vintage-inspired styles, which were originally worn with more substantial undergarments than we wear now. What do you think about that theory?

  12. Nope, won't wear it. It is somewhat akin to torture to me. Shapewear is just a modern word for girdle. Before panty hose (another torture) we had to wear girdles or garter belts to hold up our hoisery. I hated them then and I refuse to wear them now that I am older.
    I do love your bracelets!

  13. You know I have never worn shapewear before, but I am actually curious to give it a try. I am by no means overweight, but I do have some extra wobbly bits that might do good with a bit of stretchy fabric to hold them in. Might have to look into this. How often do you wear yours?

    P.S. The outfit is fantastic, as always!

  14. I have tried several brands and none of them do anything for me.....my guess with that is that my shape is pure fat.....I do not have a waist (to be honest even when I was skinny as a teenager I never had a waist it was just straight up and down) and it doesn't seem to work, maybe if I had an hour glass shape it might do something but it just simply is a failure as far as I'm concerned with my body shape

  15. I tried Spanx for a special event dress a few years ago and fell in love! I don't wear shapewear on a daily/routine basis, but for those dresses that expose too much I think it's great. I decided to try it because I didn't want to be a bumpy lumpy mess in a beautiful dress. I think the fabrics and styles of clothing now makes us rethink going out of the house without extra support. For the younger women who have commented - one day you may consider shapewear :)...although something better will be available by then! You are gorgeous in your ensemble!

  16. Thanks for featuring Charming Charlie in your blog!! We have added your blog to our blog mentions page on our website. It’s a page we created exclusively for showcasing Charming Charlie blog mentions!

  17. I really love that gold belt around the top! So cute!


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