Why shapewear is here to stay despite the pandemic and 'bad feminist' controversy (and it’s not just because it shaves 5cm off your waist!)

Trends come and go but Heist believes shapewear will always stand the test of time

The future of shapewear: Heist sheer collection
(Image credit: Heist)

Shapewear has come a long way since Bridget Jones donned her infamous giant “granny pants” in the early noughties. Thanks to clever technology and new innovations, they are now considered a style staple, earning the best shapewear a place in nearly every woman’s lingerie drawer. 

We all know the purpose of shapewear: it should enhance your natural curves, cinching in at the right places. It should be like a second skin, streamlining your silhouette and smoothing out any unwanted VPL. As a result, though, it doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being comfortable, especially contraptions like waist trainers.

What’s more, for many of us, the events of 2020 have changed our priorities, especially when it comes to dressing and comfort. All of a sudden, waist trainers and underwiring and too-tight anything just doesn’t appeal. But where does this leave our lingerie drawer? We spoke to Natasja Giezen-Smith, chief operating officer at Heist, about why interest in shapewear is still growing and will never go out of style… 

Launched in 2015, Heist has made it their mission to “liberate women from disappointing underwear”, and became makers of the best plus-size shapewear in the process. Using ground-breaking technology and an in-depth understanding of the female form, Heist has invented underwear and shapewear that really works. Their body shapers promise to slim 5cm off the waist, smooth and enhance your silhouette and even support posture.

“We launched shapewear in 2018, having asked over 1,000 women what they wanted to change about the category, because we knew it was seriously lacking when it came to innovation,” says Natasja.

“Lab12, our in-house design team, then worked to create revolutionary shapewear with HeroPanel™ technology, which gives wearers strong, even compression. Ultimately, this is shapewear that feels comfortable, you don’t sweat in and that looks good.”

Has Covid changed the popularity of shapewear?

Despite our social lives taking a hit and us all spending a lot more time at home thanks to COVID-19, it doesn’t look like our love of shapewear is fading any time soon.

Fashion search engine Lyst has seen searches for shapewear up 22%. And following the launch of Kim Kardashian’s Skims maternity shapewear collection in 2020, shapewear searches including the term “maternity” went up a whopping 233%. That’s the Kim Kardashian effect for you!

So, although we’re all still pretty much obsessed with shapewear, our priority is now clearly comfort over corsets, with many of us ditching underwires for something softer.

“We have seen continued demand for our shapewear – and this is almost certainly a result of it being designed with comfort in mind. The impact of COVID-19 and the work-from-home revolution has meant that, when it comes to dressing, people want shapewear (and underwear!) that is comfortable and supportive,” adds Natasja.

Heist launched The Sheer Collection back in May 2020– a range of knickers and bralettes with comfort at the core. The Sheer Bralette, a seamless clasp-free style that smooths and supports, sold out instantly, resulting in a waitlist of more than 2,000 women.

We’re no longer ashamed of wearing shapewear, either. Celebrities are often seen flashing a glimpse of their shapewear to prove their relatability, and when underwear-as-outerwear emerged as a key trend, shapewear showed us it can be pretty versatile, too.

“During peak lockdown, we found that customers were even wearing our shapewear – specifically The Highlight Short – to exercise in because the breathable second-skin fabric makes them perfect for yoga practice,” says Natasia.

“Customers have also told us that they’ve been living in The Outer Body, our shaping bodysuit, because it’s cool, comfortable and doubles up as outerwear and can be worn as part of an outfit.

“While there have been fewer events – weddings, for example, a key season for us – we’ve found that customers still demand shapewear that makes them feel confident and comfortable, and that they’re still dressing up for occasions, even if they are virtual ones.”

Does wearing shapewear make you a bad feminist? 

Women have had pressures to conform to the “ideal” body shape since, well, the beginning of time, and shapewear isn’t without its controversy. 

From tight-laced 19th-century corsets to slimming knickers, the concept of shapewear implies women’s bodies need tweaking, and with today’s body-positivity movement, shouldn’t we be embracing our bodies just as they are?

“In 2019, we ran a campaign that asked the question, ‘Shapewear is anti-feminist, right?’, to encourage thoughtful conversation around shapewear, as it still incited debate. We also wanted to be clear, as a brand that designs and sells it, that wearing shapewear is about personal choice. We stand by this and will continue to innovate products for women so that if they choose to wear it, they have the best and most comfortable possible garments to wear,” says Natasja.

“Shapewear has certainly become less taboo and we have worked hard to remove the inherent stigma around wearing it. There is no shame. For us, just like with make-up, it's about having personal choice over your appearance.

“We think this will continue to become popular opinion as more brands enter and innovate the market, and as more people share their experience of it.”

Whether you choose to wear it or not, it looks like shapewear is here for the long haul – and if comfort remains at the forefront, then we are fully onboard.

Charlie Bell

Charlie is the Deputy Fashion Editor at Future plc across multiple women’s magazines including Woman & Home, Woman and Woman's Own.

She bagged her first magazine job in 2009 and has previously written for titles including Stylist, Closer and Dare. Over the years Charlie has embraced anything that was thrown at her from styling celebrities to testing out the best jeans on the high street to writing about must-have beauty buys.

With a weakness for a printed midi dress, Charlie is on a mission to shop more sustainably and loves finding new ethical brands and second-hand buys.