Wriggling out from under fashion police

This week our columnist Claudette Sandecki talks tightening garments, then and now

The average woman will spend any amount of money, suffer any discomfort and believe any ad that promises to make her more beautiful. Leading the trend are ‘shaper garments’.

‘Reducing garments’ are not new. In great grandma’s day, a fashion conscious woman clung to the bedpost while another adult planted a firm foot in her back and heaved on her corset strings like a fisherman securing his boat to the dock before a storm.

The goal was a figure nipped at the waist like a vinegar cruet, even if she risked an attack of the vapours for lack of oxygen.

In 1957 , Playtex came out with a two-way stretch latex rubber girdle with molded garters, that clung comfortably as a second skin and left no panty line.

Tiny perforations in daisy designs allowed rubber to adjust elasticity and trapped flesh to breathe. And trapped flesh certainly was. I recall after a lunch including raw carrot strips, I lay for 30 minutes in the locker room with my girdle rolled down below my hipbones so my tummy could expand and ease abdominal pains.

Because a Playtex girdle cost roughly half my week’s salary, I could afford only one. Every bedtime I hand laundered it, patted it dry with a towel, and spread it out to dry overnight.

If it was the faintest bit damp, such as after sweating, (and in New York most summer days were humid) no amount of baby powder would ease it on. So I wore it all day like a prosthesis, removed it at bedtime or after I was certain I would be staying home.

Once on, it bridged from hipbone to hipbone, allowing no hint of tummy protuberance, and painless so long as I swallowed not one extra bite.

The latex, though powerfully elastic, was supremely vulnerable to fingernail puncture. The tiniest puncture enlarged in seconds as though a perforated postage stamp. It had to be rolled down, every inch liberally sprinkled with Johnson’s baby powder,, stepped into, and gently unrolled toward the waistline a little here, a little there.

When new, pink and sweet-smelling as a freshly bathed baby , after months of wear it gradually turned grey, until the day it would split and fall off taking along nylon stockings.

In 1961 I met pantyhose and my future husband. He hiked my Playtex girdle to the nearest garbage can and forbade me to replace it. I happily complied.

Now, after years of pantyhose comfort, and even the acceptance of bare legs, women are rushing to adopt the latest torture device – Spanx – advocated by fashion and Hollywood’s red carpet.

Essentially a tube of industrial strength elastic, Spanx have two improvements over the Playtex girdle – they won’t split , and they let skin breathe. Just pulling them on gives a woman a strenuous full body workout and burns a lot of calories.

In one YouTube video, a slim young woman grapples with her Spanx as she strives to raise them to her waist.

Halfway through her protracted contortions her buttocks project like a shelf over the Spanx waistband.

Fancy manipulating that trapped flesh into a semblance of womanly charm without dislocating a wrist or elbow. By contrast, wriggling into pantyhose is effortless.

Then last week I saw a TV ad for arm shapers. These are sheer elasticized sleeves to be worn under regular garments, to “reduce unwanted arm flab while providing a smoothing and compressive effect.” Velcro tabs attached to bra straps at the shoulders hold the sleeves in place.

Don’t ask me to believe arm shapers can reduce upper arm batwings or Spanx reduce excess pounds. Only eating less and moving more can accomplish either.

Claudette Sandecki keeps a close eye on fashion from her Thornhill home.