Booming industry ... A Helen Rodrigues shapewear bodysuit.
If you’re a man then you should stop reading this now. Really you should. There’s nothing in this column for you. It’s about boobs, bottoms and naked bodies. Woman’s naked bodies. And underwear. Not the lacy, frilly stuff you like looking at and taking off. It's about the other kind. The kind that frightens you. The stuff that looks like it was made for giant people from a land where the national dress is flesh coloured wetsuits. Why are you still here? The naked body bit? Seriously, you need to move on because I'm about to discuss girdles, muffin minimisers, thigh crushers and waist whittlers…
That's one way to clear a room.
Boring, brown, unsexy undies have become fashions new crack.
Hands up if you use control underwear? Okay lets try that again. Hands up if you use it everyday? That’s more like it because it seems that we – as in all of womankind –are obsessed with the stuff. From bras that push-up to undies that suck in there’s an underwear solution to fix every possible figure flaw - thinner, bigger, rounder, smaller, no lines, some lines - it seems we just can't get enough.
Exhibit Spanx - the Grand Poo-bah of the control garment industry has just been valued at US$1 billion. The brainchild of CEO Sarah Blakely, she invented the now ubiquitous body suckers one afternoon while on a quest to find something to wear under her white jeans. Out of frustration sprang innovation and she chopped the feet off a pair of sheer stockings and realised that the garment she was looking for didn’t exist. In the first three months of trading, Blakely sold over 50,000 pairs of Spanx. Ten years later she's turning over around $280 million a year and has landed herself a berth on the Forbes Global Billionaire List. Spanx is all the proof you'll ever need that problems really are the mother of all invention and women will stop at nothing to look better in clothes.
Rewind to 2001: I was in Los Angeles attending a major awards show. Back then the word girdle was whispered in the same way as botox - no one admitted to using them. Half way through the broadcast I found myself standing in line for the bathroom - next to me was a couple of actresses who happened to be best friends and starred together in a show about being best friends; a blonde television doctor and her Mum and a slightly tipsy teen queen - when suddenly from behind one of the stall doors came a quiet call for "Help!". No one in the queue even flinched.
There it was again. I seemed to be the only person in the bathroom with working ears because moments later I responded to the SOS and found myself locked in the stall with an almost nude, A-list actress. The "help" she required was getting her multi-million dollar bottom back into her boob-to-knee Spanx. It was like stuffing a cushion into a condom. This thing sucked, squeezed, lifted, separated and shrank like nothing I’d ever seen before - it was a two person job. I pulled, she wriggled and we eventually managed to get her zipped up and onto the stage in time to receive her Golden Globe.
Look at pictures of said actress from that night and they tell a very different story. A story of a beautiful, size tiny woman who was seam and bump free in a haze of lavender satin and tulle. It's little wonder we’re buying control underwear like toddlers are buying Dora merchandise - if that's the dream, I want in.
Back to 2012 and control underwear is anything but taboo. In fact it’s quite cool with everyone from Ellen De Generes to Miley Cyrus admitting they don't leave home without it. Adele recently wore four pairs of Spanx to The Grammys although she confessed to removing a couple before she sang her ballad Someone Like You - presumably this was to breathe.
Off the red carpet back in the real world control underwear is just as big news. We’ve come along way from the days of Bridget Jones hiding her Nanna Knickers from Daniel Cleaver. New generation Singletons love their control garments and aren't afraid to use them. “It’s all about looking good and frankly my suction undies and push-up bra are a big part of my game -it’s no different to fake tan or hair extensions – why not use what's available?” one friend tells me.
Another: “I like being able to tuck my tummy into my pants. After kids it’s just the reality. I’m not overweight - but my magic undies make it possible for me to wear my old clothes with confidence and without having to hire and trainer and a chef”.
It's that 'magic' which manufacturers are banking on. Retail may be down but not in suction land with all things control becoming part of the instant gratification buying culture. Just like lipstick or shoes this type of underwear answers an immeadiate need in women - to look good and feel better. Remarkably boring, brown, unsexy undies have become fashion's new crack.
Just last month, at another award ceremony much closer to home, a similar bathroom incident occurred. This time the actress in need walked brazenly out of the stall holding her dress in one hand and her bra in the other. “Can someone help me get my bloody Spanx back on”.
No one flinched, everyone helped and if that's not a sign of times...I'll eat my Spanx.