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shapeware also shape wear

noun [uncountable]

underwear designed to change the shape of your body and make it look slimmer

'Shapewear couldn't do its job if it wasn't tight. Unfortunately, this leaves your stomach, intestine and colon compressed, which Dr. Kuemmerle says can worsen acid reflux and heartburn.'

Huffington Post 20th January 2014

As someone who is rapidly approaching quintastic status and lacks the willpower to resist anything deliciously calorific, I confess that I have, from time to time, purchased undergarments intended for the purpose of concealing unwanted excesses. And it seems I'm not alone, since there's a thriving strand of the lingerie market dedicated to what's now referred to as shapewear.

like all quick fixes … shapewear has its downside, some medical experts suggesting that it may not be particularly healthy as it compresses internal organs and can cause digestive problems

Shapewear is simply underwear which is designed to temporarily alter the shape of the wearer's body, typically to flatten their stomach and make them look slimmer and more attractive in the outfit they're wearing over the top. Worn by women, it comes in various forms, from simple pants through to larger one-piece garments covering the thighs and/or upper body. Shapewear is usually made from Lycra™ or Spandex™, trademarked terms for a light material made from artificial fibres, which is stretchy but retains its shape.

Underpinning the success of shapewear is, of course, the idea that you can ditch the diet but still look fantastic in figure-hugging outfits by secretly tucking away excess fat into specially designed undergarments. In the early 21st century, the film version of the highly successful book Bridget Jones's Diary (Helen Fielding, 1996) did much to break down traditional taboos surrounding this concept, with its famous scene in which a prospective boyfriend has a close encounter with the eponymous Bridget's 'big pants'. The more recent fashion trend of body con (short for 'body conscious' and describing a style of tight-fitting women's clothing revealing contours of the body) also looks likely to have boosted the shapewear market.

Like all quick fixes, however, shapewear has its downside, some medical experts suggesting that it may not be particularly healthy as it compresses internal organs and can cause digestive problems. Those of us who find this a little off-putting might like to be aware of a couple of related neologisms. Anyone who prefers their weight loss to be a bit more permanent might consider the 5:2 diet, in which you starve yourself for two consecutive days and then eat normally for the other five. At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who would rather just throw caution to the wind might be tempted to commit carbicide, a humorous new word which describes an all-out binge on fattening foods.

Background – shapeware

Shapewear is a 21st century take on a concept dating back hundreds of years, originally epitomized by the corset, a stiff piece of underwear reinforced with wood or bone and used to give the appearance of a very small waist. The corset was later superseded by the girdle, a piece of very tight, body-shaping underwear worn from the early 1920s through to the 1960s. The word girdle today sounds rather old-fashioned and is disappearing from use in favour of more transparent terms such as body shaper, controlwear and shapewear. However, an alternative term which dates back to the 1940s but is still in contemporary use is waist cincher.

The combining form -wear, dating as far back as the 16th century, is highly productive in English and used in words indicating that clothing is suitable for a particular purpose (e.g. swimwear, nightwear), for a group of people (e.g. babywear, menswear) or for a part of the body (e.g. footwear, eyewear). Such words also sometimes indicate how or from what materials clothing is made (e.g. knitwear, leatherwear).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 18th February 2014.

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