How to wear shapewear if you're new to control lingerie

Our expert guide to how to wear shapewear included everything you need to get the most from your control lingerie

how to wear shapewear: skims, maidenform, m&s
(Image credit: Skims, maidenform, m&s)

It seems like an obvious thing, but actually learning how to wear shapewear will ensure you get the most out of your new purchase. With so many different styles and cuts now available on the market, making sure you get the correct piece to slip under your look can make or break your outfit. 

Regardless of your size and shape, the best shapewear is all about delivering a smooth finish to your chosen outfit. While shapewear used to have a fairly bad reputation, the idea of using it to 'drop a dress size' is now considered passe and instead, new shapewear brands have a much more body positive approach and aim to enhance your assets, smooth your shape and support your curves. With a host of celebrity fans, shapewear is now  taking its rightful place as a key foundation in our wardrobes.

There is no doubt that the shapewear market continues to expand, with an expected growth rate of 8% year over year, reaching a whopping 3.7 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research. Skims, the shapewear brand that Kim Kardashian launched in 2019 continues to be a powerhouse in the industry. With a "solution-focused approach to shape-enhancing undergarments," and sizes up to a 5XL it's not just inclusive, it's one of the best plus size shapewear brands on the market. But it's not just Skims we're excited about, new wonder brands such as Heist and Item M6 have ensured the offering is continuously evolving, and traditional names like Spanx, Wolford, and Triumph are rising to the challenge with increasingly innovative designs too.

How do I find my shapewear size?

With so many more brands in the market and so much brilliant fashion technology to hand, learning how to pick the right shapewear is not the easiest question to answer and there are lots of things to consider. From compression types, color choices, and fabric formulas, even someone who is used to the shapewear world can find nailing the right size and piece for their body type a challenge.

But whatever you do, don't be fooled into old ways of thinking. When shapewear first hit the market, there was a lot of chatter about how you could drop a dress size instantly by squeezing yourself into uber tight shapewear. But as the market has developed, it turns out, the opposite is true. So the most important thing is to get the right size. Wearing shapewear that is too small will give you the opposite effect, giving you a bumpy silhouette, instead of a smooth finish.

And to make it all more complicated, not all shapewear will correlate directly with your regular dress size, so there is definitely a little bit of trial and error involved. 

Instead, you should use your measurements: bust, waist, and hip - to select the correct size. This is also because no two dress sizes are really the same, two size 12's can have wildly different body shapes, so it's best to use your measurements and cross-reference them with individual brand size guidelines to ensure the best fit. 

What color shapewear should I wear?

Color is often affected by what you plan to wear your shapewear with. Should your wardrobe be dominated by lighter shades, then shapewear that closest matches your flesh tone would work best. If you’re shopping for evening or date-night shapewear, black or bright colors can be more exciting choices. If the latter is true, Triumph is our go-to for colorful, sexy shapewear with lace, embroidery or sheer detailing. 

Thankfully the shapewear industry is growing increasingly more diverse as brands such as Heist, Skims, and Commando push for a range of inclusive 'nude' color choices. For example, Skims offers fifteen shades (twelve being skin tones), from a pale, milky hue called Sand to a deep cocoa brown. Alternatively, Commando offers four shades (Beige, Caramel, Mocha and Black).

Should I wear underwear under my shapewear?

The purpose of shapewear is to create a smooth, streamlined and seam-free silhouette under your clothes. Wearing underwear underneath however could cause the opposite effect. Of course, it largely depends on the type of shapewear you choose, but as a general rule, if you can, treat shapewear as an alternative to underwear. 

However, many types of shapewear: briefs, thongs, shorts, thigh or body shapers, and bodysuits - include a gusset in their design and support you fully without the need for an extra layer. For gusset-free shapewear like shaping slips and skirts, girdles, shapewear tank tops, or wear-your-own-bra torsettes, it is expected (though not necessary) that you will wear your own underwear or bra underneath. 

How should I wash and dry my shapewear?

Much like other lingerie, shapewear needs to be treated carefully as it is very delicate. Incorrect washing can result in shrinkage, snagging or a loss of elasticity, all of which will make your investment purchase redundant. 

Firstly, always check the label first and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Most shapewear brands suggest that you hand-wash your shapewear in cold water with a mild detergent or baby shampoo. Hand-washing will ensure your shapewear lasts for longer but, sometimes, you can get away with a machine wash, although if you do, keep it only on a gentle cycle though (like those usually used for cashmere or silk), so that it is in there for a shorter amount of time and spins less. You will also want it on a relatively cool wash to help avoid shrinkage.

If you are popping your shapewear in the machine, we suggest you put it in a protective delicates bag first. And keep them separate from bras, as their hooks and clasps can get caught on the delicate fabric and cause tears. If your shapewear has any hooks, make sure to do up fastenings before putting in the lingerie bag to ensure it doesn't catch on itself in the process.

Although we can't stress enough, how as a general rule, hand washing is always preferable. Whatever you do though, don’t put your shapewear into the dryer; air dry it to preserve the fabric’s elasticity and size.

When should I wear shapewear?

four women in shapewear shorts

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are no hard and fast rules as to when and how to wear shapewear. Some women opt to wear shapewear every day as it helps their confidence in their chosen clothing, others keep it for special occasions. When deciding, you should also consider the type of shapewear and its compression or control level, as not all shapewear is the same. 

Lightweight-control: this level of shapewear is more about smoothing, rather than control. It often has a lot more give and stretch in it and its main job is to just smooth out any lumps and bumps under clothes offering a streamlined finish. It's not as rigid, but will still feel supportive. Lightweight control is therefore good if you want to invest in shapewear for day-to-day use. 

Medium-control: this offers a little more support and it can still be worn every or most days. It is firmer than light control and will emphasize and sculpt your curves a little bit more, offering more hold. While it isn't tight it will feel slightly firmer than light support.

Firm-control: this offers the most contouring and is the sturdiest of all shapewear items. The fabric here is often much more rigid and this really offers a lot of contouring but is not as comfortable as lightweight control as it naturally is more restrictive, although you should still be able to breathe, sit and enjoy the event. Most will reserve this for special occasion use, under evening wear, wedding gowns and cocktail dresses. It does offer some serious sculpting but doesn't have everyday comfort. 

"When it comes to shapewear always make sure that the fabric is breathable and ideally has sweat-wicking properties, especially for firm control as you'll want your skin to be able to breathe. Lightweight control shapewear can be great for everyday use, as it offers the lightest level of shaping but can also help your clothes to sit in a more streamlined way. Regardless, choose the option and the occasion where you'll feel the best, shapewear is simply there to make you feel more comfortable in your chosen outfit" - Rivkie Baum, fashion channel editor, woman&home

Can you wear shapewear while pregnant?

Yes, you can wear shapewear while pregnant, but this comes with a few important caveats. It depends on the type of shapewear worn, when you wear it and for how long. As with anything, moderation is key. 

Shapewear that is too tight or worn for too long is a no-go as it will put too much pressure on the body, not to mention feel horribly uncomfortable. Shop for your correct size and avoid shapewear that squeezes and compresses your internal organs, ribs, or abdominal muscles - such as waist trainers or cinchers. If you're in any doubt, double-check with your doctor or midwife.

If you have been given the go-ahead look for maternity-specific shapewear. SPANX has its own Mama range, including sheer, supportive Mid-Thigh Shapers and Seamless Leggings, whilst Skims’ (Kim Kardasian's shapewear label) maternity collection features everything from a nursing bra to a sculpting bodysuit.

The best types of shapewear to wear under...

Hopefully, you're now feeling a little more confident with your shapewear purchases. But to help you on your journey of how to wear shapewear in the most practical sense, we've rounded up the different shapes and styles to wear under some key capsule wardrobe items.

Fitted t-shirts or blouses

Skinny jeans

Bodycon and fitted dresses


Esther Newman

Esther is a features and fashion writer and stylist, who is particularly focused on the intersection between fashion and social issues and feminism. Her work has been featured in woman&home, Refinery29, ELLE, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, HelloGiggles, and HuffPost. 

She also founded The Activist, a fashion, arts, and culture magazine, dedicated to celebrating young women and non-binary people in politics and protest. 

When she’s not writing and styling, Esther is an avid bookworm and usually devouring something from the latest Women’s Prize longlist, getting crafty with embroidery art, or enjoying a jaunt around the Suffolk countryside.