In our advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.
Question: What’s the best shapewear?
Shapewear has a reputation for being unforgiving, torturous even — the term “sausage casing” came up a lot in interviews for this story — due to the way it sucks people in so tightly that they have to wriggle into their form-fitting outfits. Not just a fixture on red carpets, shapewear is now for civilians who want instant lifting and tucking for special occasions or even every day. For this edition of Ask the Strat, we asked a panel of boutique owners, plus-size experts, and Hollywood stylists and costume designers for their recommendations among a range of shapewear styles and brands.
When it comes to shapewear, celebrity stylist Ali Levine says, “I always say the Four F’s: fit, form, fabric, and fashion.” She thinks this Bali women’s body briefer is sort of the best of all worlds: “very sexy as well as slimming and trimming for the body. To me it’s the perfect blend between comfort, function, and fashion. Great price point as well!”
And, of course, we couldn’t write a story about shapewear without mentioning Spanx. Levine says, “We all think Spanx when we hear shapewear, and though they are not the be-all and end-all of shapewear, I will absolutely go for a Spanx high-waist brief for the right look. They grab just enough and give the right shape.”
For something that can actually transform your figure, Levine tipped us off to Jackie London, a New Jersey–based store that offers both shapewear and fitness options. “Jackie London has a great bodysuit! It’s a long body shaper — I’ve used this for celebs for the red carpet and it changes their silhouette, truly!” Jackie London has a couple different types of bodysuits, from below-the-bra options like this, to a more seamless all-in-one bodysuit.
We also reached out to Danny Koch, fourth-generation owner of the Town Shop on the Upper West Side, one of the best bra shops in the city for people with big boobs. He recommended a brand called Body Wrap that has been around since way before Spanx. “It’s still, to this day, one of the favorites of our sales staff. It has a terrific hold, a really great feel, and it’s thinner than most shapewear.” He says they even go up to sizes XXXL, and have this plus-size all-in-one, which looks like a bathing suit, basically.
Our very own Alison Freer, an expert shopper and costume designer who knows all about Hollywood’s tricks and secrets, also weighed in on shapewear for us.
Here’s what she had to say. “Actresses on TV shows all show up to work with some sort of full-body shaper (from thighs to under-bust) that can be worn with their own bra. We call it the ‘Sausage Casing,’ but it really works wonders, making your clothes lie perfectly with zero lumps or bumps. This one from Rago (started by a pair of Italian immigrants in 1947) is so firm, you could bounce a quarter off of it, but it’s still shockingly comfortable — a testament to what proper garment construction can do for the female form.”
“The best shaper garments are always high-waisted, as anything that cuts you off in the middle of your midriff won’t be able to do much real shaping,” says Freer. (This seems to be a general consensus among our experts.)
“This long-legged pair of shorts has totally flat seams that won’t ever show under clothes, a split crotch so you don’t have to wriggle out if it to use the bathroom, and special grippy, lace leg holes that don’t ride up or bind your thighs. The directional contour bands worked into the lace are what allow it to shape your waist, hips, and derriere — while still moving with your body for maximum comfort.”
Koch also mentioned that shapewear these days is all about targeted compression. As he explains it, “Shapewear used to be a sausage case that just squeezed everything, but the issue is that when everything’s squeezed it needs somewhere to go — up, down, or sideways. Now, they’ll make a zigzag down the thigh, say, and specifically press everything in there, so it’s a zoned compression and nothing goes where it’s not supposed to go.”
Which brings us to Spanx’s newer OnCore collection, which Koch says is terrific at skirting this issue specifically. “They’ve figured it out and we sell a ton of them. Those are offered in plus sizes, too.”
Another high-waist shaper Koch recommends if you want that smoother, targeted compression look is this one from Paris-based lingerie and shapewear manufacturer Simone Perele: “They have a group of shapewear that works and is pretty, and that’s something that people have not really done before. We’ve sold like a thousand pieces already.”
Koch’s also a big fan of the Oprah-approved shapewear brand Yummie, which he says is “really terrific” for smoothing and shaping.
Yummie’s best known for their tanks, though, which are what Levine usually has clients wear for red carpet and press events: “I like how soft yet fitted they are. I especially love their shaping tank for underneath sheath dresses and blouses, and even with a nice pair of trousers.”
If you want something patterned, Freer recommends this panty from Rago: “This firm-hold granny panty has special V-shaped leg openings that allow it to expand around the thigh, giving you the freedom to walk, run, and jump in total nonbinding comfort. The only seam on this panty is cleverly hidden between the cheeks, making it invisible under clothes — and the floral-patterned lace gives it a certain coquettish charm, should the wind ever decide to blow your skirt up over your head.”
Because you might be in the business of shaping your legs under trousers, we got in touch with fashion and plus-size stylist Steffany Allen, who offered this advice: “For those who wear trousers and want to minimize a visible panty line, or to smooth out from the waist to the ankle, they could try control panty hose or a waist to ankle/capri length Spanx. Spanx uses better-quality materials which means you will pay a little more, but the product will last longer.”
And for more lingerie-like shapewear, Cora Harrington of the blog the Lingerie Addict and author of the forthcoming book In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie also suggested a little number from Gossard. “I’m a big believer in the notion that even your ‘functional’ underwear can be beautiful, and the Gossard retrolution high-waist cincher is the ideal example of shapewear that also holds its own as perfectly elegant lingerie. This high-waisted panty offers moderate shaping, helping to pull in the stomach and waist and lift the derriere. Removable garters complete that vintage-inspired look.”
If you’re going for a pinup look, she prefers this corselet from Rago. “Some days, you just want a bit of old-school shaping, and nothing — absolutely nothing — gives you an hourglass figure like Rago Shapewear. This is definitely your grandmother’s girdle, but let me tell you, Rago Shapewear works. Everything from the floral power mesh, to the reinforced diamond at the front, to the shaping bands around the hips and waist is geared towards lifting, nipping, and tucking your figure into that iconic hourglass silhouette (perfect for pinup dresses!).”
Or, for shapewear that can be worn as a stand-alone piece, Marie Jean-Baptiste, the founder and CEO of size-inclusive brand Rue 107, says, “My go-to shapewear is definitely Wolford’s cotton conforming dress. I love that I can wear it as a dress under a vintage kimono robe, as a tank under a tulle skirt, or for a seamless finish with a form-fitting dress. The fabric is also breathable and comfortable, a win-win for shapewear!”