In my career as a stylist, I’ve dressed hundreds of bodies, from models to actors to musicians to athletes to dancers to kids. From this I’ve learned that, without a doubt, posture is key to looking good in clothes. Slouching or slumping can contort a neckline, cause scrunching, and make even the fanciest things look cheap. The benefits of good posture, of course, aren’t strictly aesthetic. Correctly aligning your body can make simple tasks feel less strenuous (because you’re expending less energy in any given moment), improve your breathing (because your lungs properly fill up with air), and soothe muscles. Knowing all of this, I’ve lately become more inclined to invest in my posture than in any trendy top or dress. Physical therapy or ballet, yoga, and pilates classes can do wonders, but what to do about the 22 hours you spend outside of a studio, when your posture muscles can give in to underuse and unconsciously return to their resting place of slouching?
Enter: IntelliSkin, a line of men’s and women’s activewear designed to improve posture. The clothes — including sports bras, shirts, shorts, and other pieces (some are best for working out, others are more versatile) — promises to align your shoulders, spine, and trunk while wearing it, while also retraining your muscles over time to stay correctly aligned even when you take it off. I first learned about IntelliSkin from my favorite wellness tipster, Anna Zahn, the founder of spa Ricari Studios, and subsequently bought one of its sports bras. The clothes were developed by Dr. Tim Brown, a sports-medicine doctor and a pioneer of kinesiology taping methods (in which elastic tape is applied to parts of the body to target and alleviate muscle pain, increase stability, and promote better alignment). Brown told me he channeled these methods when creating IntelliSkin, designing the clothes with elastic fabric panels and tight banding to mimic the effect of taping and address universal muscle issues related to bad posture. He claims the clothing is actually superior to taping, because it is “closer to our skin and delivers the maximum sensory feedback,” adding, “more so than holding you in posture, IntelliSkin forces you to stay in posture.”
After I bought the bra, I asked the folks at IntelliSkin if I could test some other pieces from the collection, and they sent me a handful (some of which I passed to my very active dad and stepmom, both in their 60s, who hit the gym/trails/and strength-training sessions more regularly than I do). Before I get into what we tried, I will say that IntelliSkin garments are not as hands-off a way to correct posture as they might seem: After you put a piece on, you must manually adjust either your body or the garment until your posture is correct (the brand has videos that show you how to wear the clothes). Once you’re in, there will be a point where you’ll start to feel muscle fatigue and tingly aches, at which point Brown says you should take the garments off and start again the next day. And because they are designed to be a sort of second skin, the clothes are tight — which provides immediate feedback in terms of adjusting your posture, but means choosing the right size is key (the brand has a sizing chart to help you find the right fit). The tightness of the clothes, however, offers another physical benefit: compression. Like your favorite compression socks for travel, the garments’ consistent pressure on your body promotes blood flow and circulation.
Since I started wearing the clothes, the results I’ve seen are encouraging (and my folks say the same). Muscle fatigue doesn’t set in until much longer after I put any piece on; end-of-day shoulder and neck pain I experienced somewhat chronically before I started wearing them has abated; and now I find myself sitting correctly — and staying that way longer — while noticing more and more people constantly adjusting their posture. When I asked an independent chiropractor, Pasadena-based Dr. Kevin Cressey, about the science behind IntelliSkin, he cautioned that “anecdotally, I haven’t seen a lot of help with posture-support systems you can wear,” but added that he has “seen very good results from kinesiology-type taping therapies, so if [IntelliSkin is] similar to that, it’d be worth a look.” (Cressey also stressed that you should consult a professional about any chronic posture or muscle issues). Below are all the IntelliSkin clothes I — and my dad and stepmom — tried, and a few more I want to try based on my experience.
IntelliSkin clothes I tried
The sports bra I bought originally is part of Intelliskin’s Essential line, which offers mid-intensity support (its less restrictive Cuelight line offers low-intensity, while its more restrictive Foundation line promises high-intensity and the tightest compression). Because it is probably the easiest piece to wear under other clothes, if you want to dip your toe into the collection, the bra is definitely a good starting point. With its open neckline and cap sleeves, the bra (which also comes in white) looks kind of like a ballerina’s top. A combination of mesh and thicker fabric panels cover a broad swath of your upper back, promising to better support the weight of your bust by taking advantage of this extra surface area. On day one, I made it through three hours before fatigue and soreness between my shoulder blades made me take it off (Brown’s quick take: “That means you are working!”). But by day three, I wore it for seven hours beneath a long-sleeved tunic. I have since turned to this piece again and again: Anytime I have some posture-related pains in my shoulder or neck, I’ll wear it for a few days and they will subside. I’ve also spread the word to anyone who will listen, recommending the bra to a chef friend who works long hours on her feet and also an interior designer who is still nursing her infant (I wish I had found it when my kid was a newborn). Both have since added it to their wardrobes.
If you’re more inclined to dive (rather than dip your toe) into the collection, Brown says the Foundation Tee is a “great piece to get into your posture work quick, hard, and heavy.” The best way I can describe how wearing it felt is like a really tight hug. The tee has silicone banding at its arms and bottom hem to ensure neither will creep up. Like the bra, it has panels of mesh and thicker fabric, but the tee has a long main panel along the spine and is made of UPF 50+ material that offers broad-spectrum sun protection (it also comes in white, but in all black, it’s actually pretty sleek-looking). The moment I put it on, my shoulders instantly nudged back and I felt sucked in. I wore it to a dance aerobics class (shout out to PonySweat L.A.) and felt much more supported and balanced during the jumping, stretching, toning, and grapevining. Whenever I hunched, the shirt delivered instant feedback via a slight discomfort. I also found myself putting it on whenever I woke up feeling creaky, because I could feel it better aligning my body as I went about my morning routine of making my daughter’s lunch and cleaning up her toys. The one time I tried wearing the tee as an actual shirt (not to work out or putter around in) was to dinner, and the experience of eating in it was super unpleasant. Another thing to note is the tee runs long: My correctly sized small came down well past my hips. When I asked Brown about the length, he told me that for strong posture, you in theory have to connect the entire core, which “starts at the top of the diaphragm and goes all the way down below the knee,” so he designed the shirt to be as long as possible.
These shorts are technically part of IntelliSkin’s menswear, but I found a size XS fit my body (size 2-4) well enough. They are a very tight, boxer-brief style with built-in silicone panels gripping the thighs that I found easy to wear under other clothes. You can customize the waistband and thigh grip to your body and, like with other garments, should refer to the instructional video in order to do so properly. Since my initial posture concerns were mainly related to my shoulders and upper back, I wasn’t sure what kind of feedback I’d get from the shorts; but when I wore them to a pilates class I never felt more stabilized doing lunges and other balance-related exercises. I also wore them while driving and could feel when my left hip tilted up out of alignment, prompting me to correct it on the spot and sit squarely in my seat. I found the shorts to be very tight; a man could probably get away with wearing them as underwear, but on me they were more like bike shorts that dug in at the thigh (not a seamless fit).
IntelliSkin clothes my dad and stepmom tried
The long-sleeve Foundation Tee I was sent didn’t seem like the best option for me to try in L.A. with its never-ending summers, so I passed it on to my stepmom who lives in a more temperate climate. Technically, it’s more or less the above tee I tried, but with sleeves. My stepmom wore it to yoga class and around the house, and told me that the extra arm coverage (and compression) made her more aware of her posture while doing chores and reaching for this or that. Like me, she said that at first she “did need a break after a few hours of wearing it,” but added that she sees herself “working up to being able to wear it for a full day around the house or hiking.” In addition to black, IntelliSkin also sells it in plum and an electric-blue color.
Like the sports bra, this tee is part of IntelliSkin’s mid-intensity line (so its support is less intense than that of the tees my stepmom and I tried). My dad wore it to pilates class, the gym, and mountain biking, telling me afterward that he did not experience any adjustment period or soreness, and that he felt his posture improve during each activity.