A Guide to the Different Types of Shapewear

by Estelle Puleston

Disclosure: This blog post is sponsored by UK Lingerie.

Shapewear isn’t something I feature on the blog regularly, but it is a hugely important part of the lingerie industry – you only need to look at the phenomenal success story of Spanx, the most famous name in the shapewear world, to understand just how many women have a shaping garment or three in their lingerie drawer. Launched in 2000 out of the founder’s own home, the brand sold $8 million worth of product in its first year alone, a figure that’s now closer to half a billion. Women, it seems, love shapewear.

There is a misconception that it’s only for people who want to look slimmer. Sure, that’s a key reason buy it, and seems to be the only thing shapewear brands ever focus on in their marketing, but there are other reasons to consider shapewear too.

With the rise in form-fitting, ‘bodycon’ fashion has also risen a need for invisible underwear – a need that regular lingerie, with all its seaming and hardware, just can’t fill. The appeal of shapewear is that it goes unseen, smoothing out not just lumps and bumps but things like visible knicker-lines and the ridge of a bra band too. It can also provide a sleek, opaque under-layer for sheer clothing, and as I will explain below, certain pieces can combat thigh-chafe or even provide a comfy alternative to a bra.

I haven’t included corsets in the list below because whilst they do shape the body (and rather a lot!) they are very different to anything else here. Their construction is totally different (metal bones rather than stretch fabric) and their effect is different too; only a corset can nip your waist in by five inches, whereas shapewear is more about flattening and smoothing than hardcore cinching.

Here are the main types of shapewear that exist, and the benefits of each:

Shaping briefs / thongs

These are knickers or a thong that comes up higher than usual on the torso. How high they go exactly can vary from below the belly button, to smooth just your lower tummy, to all the way up to the bra line. Shaping briefs that reach your ribcage will sometimes have clips to attach to your bra, to ensure that they don’t start to roll down.

maidenform power slimmer high waisted brief

Maidenform Power Slimmer Brief, £31 (~$40 / ~36€)

Spanx Undie Tectable Lace Hipster Smoothing Brief

Spanx Undie Tectable Lace Hipster Smoothing Briefs, £24 (~$31 / ~28€)

spanx oncore high waisted black knickers

Spanx Oncore High-Waisted Brief, £58 (~$75 / ~68€)

Shaping shorts

Like the briefs above, these usually have a high waistline designed to shape the tummy, waist and maybe even the ribcage, but have the added benefit of slimming your thighs too. Plus, they have another benefit – if you suffer from thigh-chafe in warm weather, close-fitting shorts like these can really help with that.

Even if you’re not bothered about shaping your thighs or preventing chafe, shaping shorts may be a good option to look into if you’re wearing something tight-fitting and want to not only smooth your stomach but eliminate VPL too, and aren’t a fan of thongs.

spanx thinstincts thigh shaping shorts

Spanx Thinstincts Mid-Thigh Short, £51 (~$66 / ~59€)

wolford velvet control high waisted shaping shorts

Wolford Velvet Control Shorts, £70 (~$90 / ~82€)

spanx oncore beige mid thigh shapewear shorts

Spanx Oncore High-Waisted Shorts, £66 (~$85 / ~77€)

Shaping bodysuits

A bodysuit combines all of the smoothing goodness of shaping bottoms with higher coverage at the back, and eliminates the possibility of any bumpiness between the bottom of your bra and the top of the brief. If you want maximum all-over shaping, this is the option for you!

As far as the bust area is concerned, you’ve got three options – compression here also, built-in cups, or open-busted for you to wear with your own bra. The third type is great if you wear a hard-to-find bra size, or if your outfit has a low-cut neckline so that you can pair the cupless bodysuit with a plunge bra.

felina choice spacer bodysuit - red shapewear

Felina Choice Spacer Bodysuit, £95 (~$123 / ~111€)

Spanx Open Bust Mid-Thigh Bodysuit, £77 (~$99 / ~90€)

spanx oncore full shaping bodysuit in black

Spanx Oncore Mid-Thigh Bodysuit, £86 (~$111 / ~100€)

Shaping slips / half-slips

Want something that’s going to smooth you all over, but not a fan of shorts? A shaping slip dress is an alternative to the shortie bodysuits above, still providing coverage all the way down to the thigh and preventing VPL, but allowing you to go to the toilet without needing to undress!

Half-slips, or skirts, are also available if you’re only bothered about slimming your tummy and hips, and would like to wear a separate bra of your choosing.

charnos lace shapewear slip with lace cups

Charnos Firming Slip With Lace, £34 (~$44 / ~40€)

wolford tulle forming shaping cupless dress

Wolford Tulle Forming Dress, £130 (~$168 / ~151€)

wolford velvet forming skirt - high waisted shapewear

Wolford Velvet Forming High-Waisted Skirt, £70 (~$90 / ~82€)

Shaping camisoles

When you’re only interested in shapewear for your upper body, how about a shaping camisole or tank top? Some of these will have the same, powerful-stretch fabric at the bust as on the tummy and waistline, meaning that for many people they can be supportive enough to wear without a bra.

But, you can still pop a shaping cami over a bra if you prefer, which has the added benefit of covering up visible bra seams for a smoother line under clothing.

spanx thinstincts shaping camisole in black

Spanx Thinstincts Convertible-Strap Cami, £51 (~$66 / ~59€)

spanx thinstincts shapewear tank top in black

Spanx Thinstincts Tank Top, £51 (~$66 / ~59€)

charnos V neck shapewear camisole top

Charnos Firming Camisole, £28 (~$36 / ~33€)

Girdles /panty girdles

Last but most definitely not least are girdles – a waist-cinching, elasticated garment that covers the tummy and hip bones, ending around the upper thigh. An often sexier take on shapewear, many girdles come with attached or detachable suspender straps, and it’s easier to find these in prints and fun colours.

Open-bottomed girdles are essentially a tall suspender belt, using the suspender grips to anchor the hemline in place so it doesn’t roll up. If you dislike stockings, or the suspender grips are going to cause unwanted bumps under your outfit, then a panty girdle may work better. A panty girdle could fall under the title of a shaping brief, but tends to have more of a focus on flattening the tummy, such a diamond of double-layered fabric at the front-centre.

esbelt red and black floral panty girdle

Esbelt Elegant Girdle, reduced to £30 (~$39 / ~35€)

sassy 6 strap black girdle suspender belt

Sassy 6-Strap Open Bottom Girdle, £36 (~$46 / ~42€)

kiss me deadly jacquotte shaping girdle suspender belt

Kiss Me Deadly Jacquotte Girdle, £80 (~$103 / ~93€)

Do you wear shapewear? What’s your favourite type, and why do you choose to wear it?


The product recommendations directly above are affiliate links

More on this topic

Leave a Comment


Victoria M. May 18, 2017 - 4:16 pm

I am sooo grateful for this post! I always have trouble to identify my shapewear, I don’t know why, but sometimes is pretty difficult to me haha I just fell in love with those panty girdles to hide those undesired parts…I am loving the suspenders, I think they add a touch of sensuality and elegance to the mix, I am on my way to buy something like that! Everything looks so comfy!

Shapewear Before and After – The Effects of Wearing Shapewear - Red Hot Bargain September 11, 2019 - 6:00 am

[…] This is perfect if you are wearing a tight-fitting dress because the shapewear will give you an hourglass shape by hiding your tummy flab and trimming down your […]

Irza, The Supermelon September 24, 2023 - 12:36 am

Wow, this article is so helpful and informative! I never knew there were so many different types of shapewear – definitely going to be trying some out now.