Foundation garment

A foundation garment (also known as shapewear or shaping underwear) is an undergarment designed to temporarily alter the wearer's body shape, to achieve a more fashionable figure. The function of a foundation garment is not to enhance a bodily feature (as would, for example, a padded bra) but to smooth or control the display of one.

Specific styles of foundation garments have been essential to some fashion movements, and required in some social situations in various fashion periods, particularly but not exclusively for women.

Garments may be categorised according to level or shape control offered - for instance, light, medium or firm. The simplest foundation is a body-liner or bodysuit, which are an ultra-light-weight leotards, and offers a light touch of smoothing. These are available in a unitard style (shortened legs) or a camisole-leotard style. The leotard offers greater control from a body-liner, and is available in boy-leg and capri-leg lengths, with spaghetti straps, low cut necklines, and even scoop backs, to cater for the outerwear under which the garments will be worn. These softly smooth the figure and provide light support. Micro-fiber camisoles and boy-leg briefs or "hot pants" are also available. Girdles are often called "body shapers" or "contour garments". These garments are made with much more Lycra spandex than the 10% lycra / 90% cotton blend of most leotards, and they offer the highest level of shaping and support.

In recent years sales of foundation garments have increased considerably. A claim by Sarah Rainey in the Daily Mail in June 2016 that seven out of ten British women admitted to owning a pair of Spanx was unsourced and probably exaggerated,[1] but a survey of 500 American women carried out by Kelton Research for Jockey International in 2008 showed that 44% wore shapewear regularly or occasionally. It appears that the more traditional brands are mainly worn by older women: of two hundred and seventy reviews of best-selling Marks and Spencer control briefs, 73% of respondents were over 55. Similarly, in the USA only thirteen reviews of out of two hundred and thirty for two control briefs stocked by HerRoom were from women under fifty. But this proportion increased to over one third in the case of a firm long leg girdle. And of seventy UK reviews for two high waisted garments, 60% were from those under 55.


Women have worn foundation garments, such as corsets and brassieres, for a very long time.[2] Some have been essential to the fashion trends of the time. Others have been born out of the need for women to feel more secure. Better known today as “shapewear,” these garments include body briefs, bodysuits, bras, control panty hose, control panties, corsets, garter belts, and girdles. Specialist retailers include Frederick’s of Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret. Specialist online retailers include Classic Shapewear,Bradelis New York, Bare Necessities and Her Room. The industry continues to grow each year. For example, the UK-based retail chain Debenhams recorded a 75% increase in shapewear sales between 2009 and 2013.[3] Factors contributing to such increases include: fashions that emphasize body shape; technological advances in garment design and light-weight fabrics; re-branding of pantie girdles as panties; media items about celebrities wearing shapewear; and recommendations in fashion makeover television programmes and the media. Prominent brand names include Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Spanx, Maidenform and Just My Size.

Types of foundation garments

Foundation garments include:

Fashion considerations

A foundation garment may be worn for a specific outfit. Being underwear, the foundation garment should not be visible under the outerwear, unless the exposure is intended. A general purpose "all the way" shaper with clear straps that starts at the bust and ends at the knee or mid-calf is also available.

Foundation garments may come with a built in strapless bra for dresses and halters and are made in a range of different colours.

See also


  1. daily Mail 19 June 2016
  2. Valerie Steele, The Corset: a cultural history, Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-09071-4.
  3. Irish Examiner, 18 August 2013
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