Fashion and the ‘ideal’ body shape are constantly evolving. Indeed, it seems we’ve always been striving to conform to an ‘ideal’. This can be tracked as far back as ancient Mesopotamia, when girdles were seen to promote magical powers and promote fertility. Over time, just as body shapes change, so does shapewear. However, this is bit of a chicken and egg situation. What came first, the shapewear innovation or the quest for a particular body shape?
In this article, we’ll explore how shapewear has changed over the years, from the late 19th century to modern day. We’ll examine how influences such as war and textile innovation have allowed shapewear to evolve, to accommodate and influence the body shape of the times.
The Victorian whalebone and steel era
The Kardashians may think they’ve invented the modern hourglass figure. However, the bigger bust and tiny waist that’s characteristic of the hourglass finds its roots in the Victorian era. During this time, whalebone and steel corsets were used to create extreme shaping. Indeed, women put themselves in extreme discomfort – and even states of asphyxiation – to achieve the desirable body style of the times.
Spiral steel innovation
In the late Victorian era, rigid steel corsets gave way to the more comfortable and flexible spiral steel. This was also a more affordable commodity, and so was quickly adopted by the bulk of society.
The impact of war and the emergence of the flapper
For shapewear, everything changed during the First World War. As war gripped Europe, steel became a precious commodity. It was no longer available for anything as frivolous as shapewear. Indeed, women were asked to give up their steel corsets for the war effort, which they did (and were glad to do so, we’re sure). With corsets no longer in supply, we saw the ‘flapper’ of the 1920’s emerge. Undergarments such as bandeau bras and light girdles that utilised new elastic fabrics were used to flatten the torso, creating an androgynous, flattened torso. This was the first emergence of ‘curves are out, thin is in’.
World War II and the advent of the girdle
Textile innovations over the next few decades drove the emergence of a new type of shapewear: the girdle. Popularised during WWII – again, a time where cutbacks on the home front – this shapewear utilised nylon and elastic. Stretching from the bust to the hips, and with stocking attachments, these foundation garments were the perfect combination of aesthetics and function.
The 50’s bombshell
The 1950s saw the resurgence of curves. Gone was the slimmed down athletic physiques of the 1920s to the 1940s. Padded and bullet bras were in. Waist girdles to accentuate a tiny waist were in. This is the era of the Hollywood bombshell – of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and their fuller, curvier figures.
Lycra – a shapewear revolution
The one defining moment in the evolution of shapewear has to be the creation of Lycra (also known as Spandex). Discovered by Dupont scientists in 1958, the revolutionary fibre was created as a replacement for rubber in corsets. It was perfect for shapewear. Durable and with amazing elastic properties, the fibre could be blended with other materials. This made it popular not only in underwear but also in sportswear and fashion apparel. In fact, it’s ascent was so rapid that by the 1980s, over 50% of underwear and hosiery relied on Lycra for maintenance of form and function.
We really can’t stress enough how pivotal the discovery of Lycra was to the history of shapewear. Ultimately, it led to the production of modern-day shapewear. Soft, subtle pieces that require little to no ‘scaffolding’ to hone and sculpt a silhouette.
The future of shapewear
As time moves on, body ideals will change. One prime example is the ‘slim thick’ look of today. Shapewear now comes in a huge range of sizes and styles, depending on the area you want to minimise, and the area you’d like to accentuate. Where once shapewear was simply seen as a way to slim down the physique, it’s now become more mainstream and about body sculpting. Butt lifting shorts for women and padded shaping tops for men that create that elusive six pack. These are all modern forms of shapewear. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got, and then some. So if you’re looking for premium plus size shapewear, then check out our collection today. Here are Elle Courbee, we can help you contour your curves, maximising your body confidence today.