‘How Does My Butt Look in This?’

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You can diet. You can exercise. You can even try to pray away the pounds. But when it comes to smoothing and shaping your curves, nothing does it faster than the newest generation of shapewear.

From control-top “power panties” to minimizer bras to shaping swimsuits, these “diet-in-a-box” garments are a far cry from your mother’s girdle. Whether you’ve got a lot of extra pounds to get under control or just want a little less waddle in your wiggle, you can do it without feeling like 10 pounds of sausage stuffed into a 5-pound bag.

“I’m a baby boomer and I grew up before pantyhose, so I know how uncomfortable girdles used to be,” says Colette Wong, assistant professor of intimate apparel at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). “What’s important about this new generation of shapewear is that they not only fit, but they control without sacrificing comfort.”

What makes them special is both the fabric and the construction, says Wong, who is also assistant chairwoman of the fashion design department at FIT. Their designers use plenty of ultra-stretchy Lycra and engineer the garments to put control just where you need it. “Most garments carry hang tags that clearly spell out where the control is concentrated — like upper or lower tummy, rear end, thighs, or waist — and paying attention to those tags can help you select garments that net you the exact result you’re seeking,” says Wong.

Just as important is getting the right fit for your body type.

“If the garment is made correctly and it fits correctly, you won’t get those “ripples” of flesh overflow that can occur in the upper breasts seem to be ‘over the top’ in any bra you try,” Wior tells WebMD.

While a well-fitting minimizer bra can actually take you down a size or two, not all styles are alike.

“Try on, try on, try on — and it helps if you buy your bra at a location where there are fit experts,” says Wong. If you pick the wrong style or the wrong size, you can instantly go from shapely to squatty.

“If you put on a minmizer bra and you don’t like your shape, it may not be that a minimizer is wrong for you, but that this particular minimizer is wrong for you, “says Wong.

At the same time, Wior says, don’t overlook the possibility that you may not even need a minimizer at all. What you may actually need is a bra in the right shape and size.

“If the bra fits well, you’ll look thinner and smoother, whether it’s a minimizer or not,” says Wior.

Discovering Your Shapewear Needs

While much of today’s shapewear is a far cry from the girdles of yesteryear, experts say there are some occasions when we might want to turn back the fashion hands of time. The reason: The more shaping your body needs, the more control your garment should have.

“If you’re a plus-size woman, you’re just not going to get the same level of control with a new shaper that you’d get from a regular girdle,” says Wong. “You’ll see some effect and a smoother-looking figure, but it’s not going to be as dramatic a difference as you’d see in a woman who is a size 10 or 12.”

For the best fit in shapewear regardless of your size, don’t be afraid to go up a size — particularly if the garment has high Lycra content. You won’t sacrifice control, but you could be more comfortable.

And don’t try to buy on the cheap. According to Wong, the more established a shapewear company is — and, sometimes, the higher the price — the better the fit and the support tend to be.

“It’s not so much the cost, as it is the brand,” says Wong. “Companies on the low end of the price scale may not use the same kind of quality fabrication as the more established companies, so while the product may look the same, it may not perform the same.”

And what about the future of shapewear? According to Wior, the next big trend might be a real diet in a box — lingerie made from fabric that she says actually helps you lose weight while it nips and tucks you in.

In the interest of keeping trade secrets, Wior didn’t explain how these new garments might work. But, she said, “we’re wear-testing the new fabric right now, and so far, it’s comfortable, it holds you in, and it even looks as if it shaves off a few inches!”

So stay tuned — and stay toned (or at least look that way) with the latest in shapewear.