New technologies have driven the production of fashionable, functional and, most importantly, comfortable shapewear in recent years. The question is: are retailers doing enough to make these garments available to consumers?
In ancient Greece, shapewear took the form of functional girdles, fashioned in linen or leather and bound at the waist. In Elizabethan times, iron-framed corsets kept the torso and bust flat while hooped petticoats and bum rolls created volume in the lower body.
Fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries and shapewear was made from a heavy canvas of whale bone or steel to create an extreme hourglass shape, particularly during the Victorian ages and the pin-up girl years of
Comfort wasn’t always the goal, but smoothing, slimming and toning have almost certainly been the result.
Sculpted, body-shaping underwear has come back into fashion in recent months, with the likes of Stella McCartney, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton showcasing modern corsets on AW15 fashion shows earlier this year.
But buyers should not be misled by the words ‘sculpting and ‘shaping’, with its connotations of pain and discomfort, as the garments on offer today feature lightweight and luxury fabrics.
Gone are the days of tight lacing. These are the days of control, fashion and comfort.
Take Wolford, for example. This season, the Austrian brand is promoting the ‘Unforgettable Touch of Wolford’ through three principal themes; Sensitivity, Elegance and Vitality.
AW15 collections, made up of forming dresses, shorts and tights, are designed with uncomplicated materials that feel like a second skin. Products are minimalist and translucent, giving them a seductive look, rather than a frumpy feel.
“Shapewear started out looking good but actually feeling terrible. Now there is comfort in garments,” says Wolford creative director Grit Seymour.
“You do not have to torture yourself anymore to look good. Fabrics and finishes have become much lighter and the range of styles has expanded. New [knitting] technologies, which allow for thinner and stronger fabrics, allow for fashionable designs in shapewear.”
Brands like Miraclesuit and Naomi & Nicole, distributed in the UK by Patricia Eve, have also produced elegant shapewear using lightweight materials that are designed to comfort, shape and control.
For AW15, Miraclesuit has expanded its Sexy Sheer collection with a new rear-lifting body short made with sheer panelling, while Naomi & Nicole has developed a Smooth Away range made with silky fabric cut on the bias to create a super satiny finish.
This collection also features flexible stays to comfortably ‘smooth away’ muffin tops and support the back, while its no-slip technology at the back prevents rolling down.
Vercella Vita, meanwhile, produces camisoles, bodysuits, slips and briefs made in Italy using high-quality Italian yarns.
“Most brands do not choose to manufacture in Italy because they are aware that it is extremely difficult to actually find technicians who are able to operate high-tech machinery. For example, there is only one other brand next to ours which offers a very innovative knitting technology combined with the highest quality imaginable,” says Vercella Vita head of international business Jana Wienbürger.
“Due to the technical skills that are available to us, we will be developing even more complex designs, made with lighter fabrics.”
When it comes to shapewear, fashion is also important. Consumers not only want to feel good, but they want to look good too, even if their shapewear is hidden from view.
“Today, shapewear has much more of a style element. Therefore, more customers have the need for shapewear and are looking for those styles that fit best to their personal taste and style – whether it is comfy, sexy or both,” explains Wienbürger.
“In my opinion, shapewear over the past seasons has become sexier, with lace and sheer fabric being added to necklines. Also, strap variations – whether skinny, broad, one shoulder, bandeau, cross, racerback or adjustable – have become more and more popular.”
Seymour agrees, adding: “Shapewear has become very trendy and fashionable in recent years. Spearheaded by Hollywood celebrities, women have come to appreciate the forming effect of shapewear.”
Triumph’s new Sheer Velvet Sensation series is both functional and fashionable with its floral flock print designed to shape the tummy and thighs.
At Naturana, sales of general core essentials, such as classic girdles and corselettes have soared in recent months, due to an increased interest from younger consumers looking to get the 1940’s vintage look.
The brand’s range of Cybele shapewear is also turning heads this season with its red and black camisole top and thigh slimmer finished with decorative lace detailing.
“Women now want to look good and feel good every day, not just on a special occasions like weddings, reunions, parties etc. They are demanding more fashionable, comfortable silhouettes from manufactures,” says Naturana sales office manager Debbie Axtell.
The shapewear market has transformed in recent years, with new brands coming on the scene and lingerie brands competing in this area with new and innovative products. So what is driving these changes in the sector?
Patricia Eve director Chris Eve comments: “The main reason I see traditional lingerie brands trying to expand in this area is pretty simple; they were losing market share and have realised that [shapewear] was an area for huge growth.
“Shapewear is being worn and talked about so much that it is a natural step for most companies to take. More and more celebrities are not so afraid to be featured wearing these fixes and even talk about what they are wearing. The secret is out there for all to see and hear.”
Axtell believes the surge of shapewear brands has been brought on by designers spotting a gap in the market for unique products.
“Most brands have seen an opportunity and are designing styles accordingly, with some brands being prepared to take bigger risks, such as Ender Legard, which specialises in unique corsetry-based shapewear. This brand has made good progress with getting its ranges stocked at luxury department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols,” she explains.
So, with so many brands looking to sell their products, is the shapewear market becoming over saturated? Or, is there room for more?
“As always it really does depend on what is offered. You could ask the same question about any product; is there more room for another television, pair of shoes, handbag etc? If it does the job then there is surely room,” says Eve.
Axtell seconds that argument, adding: “The market is already very congested, but if the brand has a clear USP and has the capacity to invest in good marketing then yes, there is enough room for more. But, in the end, it will always come down to good product and whether it does what it says on the tin.”
Wienbürger agrees: “I believe it is always great for customers to have a wide selection of different shapewear brands on offer so she can look for an item that best suits her body type and purse strings.”
Despite the choice of fashionable, functional and comfortable shapewear products on the market and the support for even more competition, some designers feel that retailers need to do more to make these innovative
garments available to consumers.
“Sadly, too many buyers are still afraid to offer such garments and feel they should be kept under the counter. This will only drive the end consumer, who is desperate for a solution, to other outlets. Shapewear is needed and will continue to be needed,” insists Eve.
Axtell comments: “The high street department stores always have a good shapewear offering. However, I do believe that more independent customers should allocate more space in store to promote and to raise the profile of shapewear because they continue to offer the personal touch and face-to-face advice.
“This is something that online retailers cannot compete with because women feel much more comfortable visiting a physical store and knowing that a product or style they buy will fit and do the job.”