Everything You Need To Know About Shapewear

An expert shares tips on how to choose the right style and fit.

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Maybe you could use a little extra help feeling your best in your favourite trousers, or maybe there’s a special occasion on the books and a dress to match. Either way, when it comes to tight-fitting clothes and slinky fabrics, a foundation garment can give you a confidence boost by helping smooth and contour your silhouette. With so many options on the market, we turned to an expert to answer our burning questions about fit, fabric and budget. Here’s everything you need to know about how to choose and wear shapewear, plus a few of our favourite picks for every occasion.

What is shapewear?

Shapewear is an undergarment that helps create a smooth silhouette and sculpt your figure to highlight your natural curves, especially when wearing tight-fitting clothing. This type of foundation garment is often called ‘Spanx’, after one of the most popular brands available on the market, though countless fashion and lingerie labels sell them. Because of its compressive nature, shapewear has a reputation for being uncomfortable but, thankfully, things have improved in recent years thanks to advances in fabric technology. One thing that hasn’t changed is the role of such undergarments—they’re designed to help your clothes fit better and boost your confidence, whether you wear them every day or on special occasions.

What makes modern shapewear more comfortable?

“It’s no longer the dreadful days of Mrs. Doubtfire shapewear—super heavy and terribly uncomfortable,” says Amie Heenan, co-owner of Melmira Boutique, a Toronto store that specializes in bra and shapewear fittings. “Fabric technologies have transformed [foundation garments] into lightweight, breathable garments that pull in, lift up and sculpt the figure.” If you’ve written off this type of pieces based on a previous bad experience, you may be surprised to see how the category has evolved. “It’s really come a long way,” says Heenan, who lists bonded panels that help nip and tuck the silhouette without compromising on comfort, seamless finishes that disappear under clothing and cling-free fabrics as details that have modernized the shapewear industry.

What is shapewear made of? Are there different levels of shaping available?

Two types of textiles tend to dominate the foundation garment industry. “Varying combos of elastane (spandex) and polyamide (nylon) work together to provide the magical relationship between the compression/control and the softness/comfort,” explains Heenan. Some brands offer shapewear in a range of compression levels, from gentle shaping to firm contouring. The design of a garment also plays a role—styles with strategically-placed seams and intricate panels offer more noticeable lifting and shaping.

How do I pick the right shapewear style for my needs?

First, figure out what you will be wearing the piece with. Will it be pants or a dress? A top with sleeves or straps? If you’re planning to wear the shaping underwear primarily with your party frock, a dress slip that sits just below the bra line is a good option, especially if you’re planning to hit the dance floor. “It offers maximum coverage with seamless control and allows you to wear the bra of your choice. Plus, straps prevent the garment from ever rolling down the torso,” says Heenan. Want to give a pair of curve-hugging trousers or a slim-fitting skirt a boost? She suggests investing in a pair of control panties—they provide light tummy control and are comfortable and breathable enough for daily wear. You’ll also find high-waisted and bodysuit options in a variety of cuts, from thong to bikini to bike shorts.

What is the most versatile type of foundation garment to own?

High-waisted long leg shorts rank at the top of Heenan’s list. Equally suitable under dresses, skirts and pants, this hardworking piece smoothes, shapes and lifts the entire body. “The garment sits just below the bra line and extends to just above the knees to provide smooth seamless lines from torso to upper leg. The waist provides extra tummy control, with side panels for slimming and pockets in the back to provide lift and prevent ‘uni-bum,’” she says. Shorts are also an ideal choice if chafing is an issue. Plus, this type of full coverage shapewear helps prevent visible panty lines, Heenan adds.

How should the perfect piece fit?

When it comes to a flawless fit, shapewear can be tough to eyeball online or on the rack. Like jeans or swimwear, trying on a foundation garment is recommended. You’ll know you’ve found a match when it looks and feels comfortable, yet has a firm, body-hugging compression with seamless lines, says Heenan. If you can’t breathe or move freely, it’s not the right fit for you. If you’re in-between sizes, the expert advises to opt for the larger option. “A snug fit is important, but if the garment rolls up or down easily, it is not the right fit,” she says. “Every woman’s body is unique, so finding the perfect garment takes patience and exploration.” A visit to a specialty boutique can help find the perfect piece, but wherever you choose to shop, be sure to take the clothing you intend to wear with it with you. Seeing how both garments work together will help you pick the right shapewear for you.

How much should I spend on shapewear?

When it comes to shapewear, quality pieces can be found at every price point—how much you should spend comes down to your specific needs and budget. If you’re shopping at a store that carries different brands and styles, it can be worth trying on a few options and comparing what each piece offers for the price. The most important thing is to make sure that you end up with the results you’re looking for at a price point you’re comfortable with.

Below, a few of our favourite shapewear picks: