HIP TO BE SVELTE

The return of the girdle

This season we are supposed to be Body-Conscious. Whether signaled by a skintight skirt or a busty blouse, the message is clear: hourglass shapes have returned to the fashion forefront. The only problem, of course, is that for many of us, our figures are not something we always want to be conscious of. Getting the right curves in the right places takes work and a liberal dose of expandable Lycra. And face it, all the sit-ups in the world can’t do the job of a first-rate girdle. The return of Marilyn Monroesque curves has the folks in the intimate apparel industry busy ringing up sales. The current girdle boom had women spending $272 million on the form-fitting foundation in 1986 alone, reports Eleanor Walsh, marketing communications specialist for DuPont, which makes Lycra spandex. That’s a far cry from the bust years of 1975 to 1982 when the market became dependent on the over-fifty-five set, she says.

“The girdle is definitely back-and for younger women,” says Doris Maddox, owner of the venerable Maddox Shop in Casa Linda Plaza. Maddox says that she sees more young professional women buying girdles than ever before.

Lightweight girdles account for more than a third of the market, and the category is expected to grow 8 percent to 10 percent a year for several years, DuPont’s Walsh predicts. Women today aren’t interested in the stiff, zippered tubes of heavy-duty white elastic of yesteryear. The new girdles gently “persuade,” with lighter, softer fabric and a good bit of lace around high-cut legs. The company line on the reincarnated girdle is that it’s not a girdle at all. “Girdle is a bad word,” says Walsh. Rather, it’s a light-control panty, bodysuit, body shaper, or body briefer. All together, they’re referred to as shapewear.

Some new girdles are lacy all-in-ones, such as the racer-back Lace Delights bodysuit by Young Smoothie, $31, or the plunging-front Pantyhose Partner by Olga, $30, in black lace over a flesh-colored lining. Both are at Lord & Taylor. Chantelle of Paris makes a pricier model in fine lace and lace-embossed Lycra, with a deep U back and seams that follow natural curves, $110, at the Maddox Shop.

But when gentle persuasion can’t get the job done, it’s time to break out the legless “skirt” girdles or “boned” merry widows. These little numbers are going fast, says Maddox. The strapless merry widow does double duty, pushing up on one end and smoothing down on the other, After all, in the era of Body Consciousness, all’s fair in love and Lycra.

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