Spanx: Not Part of a Patriarchal Plot to Subjugate Women

The derrier to which we should all (apparently) aspire

I’ve been promising a post on Spanx for a while. Spanx are a mysterious garment, of the type often referred to as “foundation” or “shapewear”. This is confusing, because there is also a makeup called foundation. It seems as though women can be very strongly, er, founded in parts that folks aren’t even supposed to see.

Hello, the 1980s called and they want their pantyhose back.

Hello, the 1980s called and they want their pantyhose back.

My earliest interactions with “foundational” garmets had to do with Control Top Pantyhose – the kind you ordered from the Hanes catalog that came in little plastic eggs. Their purpse, as far as I could make out, was to bisect the wearer. Perhaps this was to facilitate the old “saw the woman in half” magic trick. Or maybe it was part of a grand conspiracy to keep women down by making them so uncomfortable when formally dressed that women would decide to leave the board room just so they could wear some jeans already.

After a very brief flirtation with Control Top, I vowed my top would never be controlled again.

Are we SURE this isn't part of some evil plot?

Are we SURE this isn’t part of some evil plot?

When Spanx came around, I assumed they were Control Top, but worse. They were like Control Middle. Or Control All. It didn’t even occur to me to buy them – and the cover pictures of women non-chalantly standing around in peachy-tube-like-materials on the cover did nothing to convince me I was wrong. I would stay in technology – in jeans! – and avoid the Patriarchal Plot.

Then I was given a really, really cool opportunity to interview for a job that would be a big promotion and would involve me and my family moving to Germany. There are not that many opportunities you have like this. And Germans? They’re formal. A suit was an absolute requirement. A new suit. A nice new suit. So I went to the rarified air of the Burlington Mall, credit card in hand, and checked out the offerings at Macy’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and Ann Taylor.

You guys should know how dedicated I am to producing good content when I'll put on my best suit at 10 pm on a Tuesday night - just for you. Also, I got the buttons wrong - it usually hangs much better.

You guys should know how dedicated I am to producing good content when I’ll put on my best suit at 10 pm on a Tuesday night – just for you. Also, I got the buttons wrong – it usually hangs much better.

At that final place, I found A Great Suit.It’s cream colored, with some non-traditional tailoring elements. It fit beautifully. It said, “I can comply with German cultural expectations while still bringing my uniquely American flair to hit the right balance of fitting in and shaking up.” It had to be mine. I turned around to exame the posterior view when – to my horror – two vast lines were therein outlined – inverse parenthesis around my derrier.

The saleslady came in. I pointed out my posterior problem. “Of course” she said. “You’ll have to wear Spanx with that in order for it to look right.” Before the sun set, I had in my possession one cream suit, one silk blouse, a pair of extremely stylish (and woefully uncomfortable) high heeded pumps, and a package containing Spanx.

That night, I went over to my neighbor’s house and shared my opportunity and my excitement and my new purchase. My girlfriends insisted that they MUST SEE this amazing suit of mine, so I went into the bathroom to put it all together. But when I came out! Alack! The posterior parenthesis persisted!

“I thought that Spanx were supposed to get rid of panty lines?!” I complained.

“Um…. you’re supposed to wear them instead of underwear, not over them.”


“What about the pantyhose? Do they go on top or below?”

“If you need to wear hose, you buy the Spanx that include them, not the ones that are just the tops, but NO ONE wears pantyhose anymore. Even my grandmother doesn’t wear them anymore.”

And this, my friends, is why we all need girlfriends who are more sylish than we are: so we don’t show up a imporant interviews wearing three foundation layers when we should be wearing one.

No pantylines

No pantylines

That opportunity didn’t work out. I didn’t get to fly to Germany to interview. But I did now know when, why and how to wear Spanx, and I’ll happily share this treasured information with you, in case your girlfriends aren’t around next time you need to get ready for a big interview.

WHEN: You should wear a foundational undergarment with any outfit where you wear a tight, clingy fabric on your lower range. You can wear them with skirts, dresses (especially the knit dresses I like so much) or even clingy trousers.

WHY: Spanx do three things: they eliminate the dreaded pantyline, they even out your belly and thighs so what might end up looking like a bulge gets averaged out, and depending on the cut you buy, they can also prevent that annoying bit where your thighs stick together. Despite my early experiences with Control Top, I find Spanx actually quite comfortable to wear: no threat of bisection!

HOW: Wear Spanx instead of underwear. If you are the kind of person who still wears pantyhose – buy the version of Spanx that has them built in. If you sometimes wear shorter skirts, invest in one pair that doesn’t go down the leg, and one that does (for longer dresses).

While I have referred to the original brand name (partially because I find the word “Spanx” inherently amusing), there are bunches of great brands of shapewear – many of which are less expensive. Target, for example, carries a brand called Assets which is literally half the price. Dress Barn carries them up to 3X with great ratings for comfort.

Many dress makers now assume you’ll be wearing these, and design accordingly.

So…. quesions? Comments? Other incredibly obvious things I don’t know, and ought to before I make more stupid shapewear mistakes?


Cold weather clothes


It got down to 0 degrees in the greater Boston area this past week. Fashion definitely takes a back seat to survival when the mercury gets that low – especially since my commute involves waiting at a bus stop, taking a bus, and then walking a mile (including over a long, windy bridge). When it actually was single digits, I decided it was worth the $14 for parking to just drive in, but the rest of the time I suffered the cold.

In my humble opinion, it’s a lot easier to look nice for work in temperate weather. There was no way I was wearing a skirt (BRRRRR!) and I wanted at least three layers on the top. The shoes were hopeless – I was wearing wool socks in order to continue having 10 toes available to me.

Here’s the outfit:

A nice, warm outfit

A nice, warm outfit

From top to bottom:

Hair – I can do my hair curly, wavy or straight. (The straight is theoretical. Only my hairdresser actually achieves it.) This is the curly option.
Earrings – I’m wearing silver fan-shaped earrings with a red stone. You can’t really tell because my hair covers them pretty completely.
Makeup – I’m wearing light makeup. This is the end of the day, so it’s even lighter. We have powder, mascara and eyebrows.
Shirt – I’m actually wearing a silk long sleeve shirt underneath the orange turtle neck. This orange was one of my favorite colors from the fall season. This isn’t really a seasonal color set, but I’m particularly fond of it so nyah to seasonal colors.
Necklace – I liked how the silver in this really stood out, with all the warmer earth tones around it.
Jacket – The jacket is what makes the outfit distinctive. Remember that in a desk job, 90% of your conversations that matter happen while both of you are sitting, so you are only seen from the waist up. I loved the embroidery on this jacket. The variety of colors in the embroidery make it easy to match with a variety of shirt. I could wear brown (boring), orange, red or light green (I would if I had one that matched) with this jacket, and really change the look of the outfit with each. I’m not sure if the fit of this jacket is quite as flattering as I would want (I think it makes me look a touch thick at the middle), but I still really like it.
Pants – boring. Brown. Have a pair of silk long johns under them.
Shoes – complete capitulation. They are the sort of shoes that announce the wearer has bunions and is wearing wool hiking socks under them. These are true facts.

What do you wear when it gets really cold out?

Shopping redux: Dress Barn

I took today off, for no particular reason. Because my company doesn’t have sick leave, I usually conserve some of my paid time off in case someone gets sick (or needs surgery, etc.). But in the last quarter, if the days are unused, I take some bonus days off to do stuff.

Normal day off: jeans, brown sneakers with white socks, nerdy Starbucks/Klingon t-shirt and a White Lake State Park sweater

Normal day off: jeans, brown sneakers with white socks, nerdy Starbucks/Klingon t-shirt and a White Lake State Park sweater

Friday was mostly errands and chores. I got my hair cut, got my eyes checked, did the laundry (partially), had a roofer inspect our roof, dropped the kids off at school and did the grocery shopping. But it so happened that the eye doctor was right next to the Dress Barn. Now I’ve only ever stepped in a Dress Barn once… when I was about 22 years old. I remember thinking that the clothes were all huge and there were not actually that many dresses. I never went back. But my mother-in-law has gotten me quite a few Dress Barn things that I liked, and it was right there, and I really needed some new blouses.

Oh… my. Why didn’t you guys TELL me about this? It was GREAT! There are two “sides” to the store, one for standard sizes (S – XL) and one for plus sizes (to size 24). And all the clothes were really nice – clearly intended for work. When I tried my selections on I was in serious trouble. They all fit, they all looked great, they were all machine washable, and not a single one of them was on sale. I decided that obviously these clothes would be an extra birthday present to myself (my precious…). I decided that maybe that hiring bonus I got should go to this. I paid the money. Here’s my haul:

My loot haul

My loot haul

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Outfit 1: Sweater and plum/silver blouse

Silver and plum blouse: $32
Black sweater: $40

In my last shopping trip, I picked up two of the bright-colored slacks that are so stylish this year – one plum and one brick red. I was looking for a top that would pick up the plum, to build on what I already had. I spotted this plum and silver foil number and LOVED it. It is a silky knit fabric – very comfortable. I’m really fond of the foil inlay, which makes this blouse bright and conspicuous. I like a cowl-neck quite a lot. This one is well designed so there are no gaps or unintended cleavage. The sweater that was paired with it is a fabric that looked rather informal on the hanger, and was soft and comfy to the touch. But it got really classy really quickly in this combination. It’s a sweater I can see being a total favorite. It was pretty expensive – the most expensive thing I bought by a good margin – but it is well made and tremendously versatile, making it also one of the most valuable things I bought today. I could see leaving this at work for my “throw on” sweater, for when I inevitably get cold but still want to look good.

I probably will not wear a necklace with this outfit – it would be a bad idea to try to compete with that print!

Black knit blouse

Black knit blouse: $32

I really like the tailoring, rouching and fabric on this blouse. It darts in nicely at my waist to help give my figure more definition. It’s a great length. The best part is the fabric though – instead of being the stiff cotton that button up shirts usually are, this is a very soft knit. In practice, what this does is to prevent gapping. Now, I’m sure that many of you with two larger lovely ladies up front have some of the same trouble I do – button up blouses are fraught with a revealing peril between the third and fourth buttons. This one, regardless of gesticulation, will stay put. This is a great blouse for either pairing with a really interesting skirt or a really interesting jacket. It’s very versatile (again). The shortened sleeves show off bracelets nicely, although I find it hard to wear bracelets and type all day.

Black cowl neck  shell

Black cowl neck shell

Black cowl neck shell: $19.50

Once again: a comfy, stretchy fabric, a basic color, machine washable, nice cut. This is really a shirt intended to be worn under a jacket, when you’ll mostly be noticing the jacket.

Blue beaded blouse

Blue beaded blouse

Blue beaded blouse: $32

This was my real extravagance of the trip. The rest are either high-professional or basics. This one is not a basic, and not something I would wear to a client meeting. But it fit really well, and it felt really comfortable. Basically, I failed my will save. I regret nothing. Paired with a brown skirt, it will look a lot dressier than it does here with jeans.

Pewter Shoes

Pewter Shoes

Pewter “Me Too” Shoes @Famous Footwear: $40

That sound you hear is my mother-in-law squealing with delight. Footwear is really the last frontier with me, but I decided I would get one (1) pair of completely non-neutral, exciting shoes this fall and see what I think. Usually, if it’s on my feet, it’s either brown or black. I was looking for a burgundy, but figured a metallic would work too. I really liked these when I saw them (the sole is rubber and looks very durable, the fit was comfortable, there were no heels). You can see how, when paired with the silver and plum shirt, they make a much more interesting statement than just black shoes would. Having those two complementary elements so far away from each other really adds to the “pulled together and stylish” look that I am working to counterfeit.

Total damage: Just about $200.

So… Dress Barn.

Great clothes. Great selection of sizes. Practical (yay machine washable!). But it is expensive. Recommended, especially for people with larger sizes. In order to minimize pocketbook damage, I recommend signing up ahead of time for their coupons, and timing your shopping with their sales. Their standard sale rack was very small, so if you go on your average Friday in September, you’ll likely end up paying full retail price, like I did.

Pantyhose or no pantyhose

The Boston Globe Job Doc board raised an issue I’ve been wondering about lately…. pantyhose or no pantyhose?

Growing up, my father insisted that a properly dressed woman wore nylons with a dress or a skirt. I internalized this lesson, and have done so every since when I’m really dressing up. I’ll wear a summer dress without anything on my legs, and in winter I’d wear tights… but to an interview I would wear nylons for sure.

But I have the growing sense I’m terribly old-fashioned in this. Are nylons only for old-ladies? I know where Posh Spice stands on the issue (from my reading of Glamour: she’s agin it)… but what about you?

Bright, Patterned and Skinny: Top Fashion Trends in Fall 2012

Part of the inestimable service I do for you by writing this blog is to read the fashion magazines, so that you do not have to discover that Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) loves Lily Collins’ “little freckles and frizzy ponytail” because they make her look “fresh and less polished”. You’re welcome. I have just spent three commutes working my way through the Glamour September 2012 issue – taking notes in a notebook to identify trends and their strengths – in order to bring you information about What the Cool Kids are Wearing.

J Crew Shows off some pink pants

J Crew Shows off some pink pants

So the #1 hottest trend this fall?

Really flashy pants.

This trend seems to take two paths: brightly colored jeans and highly patterned pants. Lots of really crazy patterns are definitely a theme of the season – I’ve seen it in shirt, blouses, jackets and especially manicures. But the pants seem like the #1 trend. Even on the guys they’re showing orange, green, yellow and other solid but bright jeans.

I haven’t seen any in the wild yet, but as soon as the weather turns, expect your most fashionable colleagues and compatriots to begin wearing purple and pink paisley patterned skinny jeans. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

Here’s some of the bright, unpatterned pants at The Gap:

Colorful, unpatterned pants at the Gap

Colorful, unpatterned pants at the Gap

Juicy Couture apparently did an entire show with much crazier patterned pants than they’re offering for sale. Still, here’s what’s hit the market:

Crazy patterns

Crazy patterns

Kohl’s and Target are dipping their toes into the trend in terms of offerings, but you can see that they’re focusing on it with ads:

Kohl's Add shows bright pants

Kohl’s Add shows bright pants

So… should we buy into this trend or pass on it?

– Patterns are really fun
– One or two purchases could notch your “dresses like it’s this year” cred up considerably – especially since this is a breaking trend and if you buy now you will be a front-runner with it
– Colors are also really fun
– Usually we can’t get away with wearing stuff like this

– I suspect that if you’re larger than a size six, some of these patterns could be highly unflattering
– When something is this fashionable, you cannot wear it for more than a year … if it lasts even that long
– When something is this noticeable, you can’t rewear it very often. No one notices when you wear the same pair of black slacks twice in a week. But if you wear your leopard print pants twice in a week, people will notice.
– There’s no guarantee this trend will take off… at which point you will not look like a trend-leader, you will look like a person wearing weird pants
– You can’t buy it on sale – or even at discounters like Target – yet. It’s too early in the fashion cycle. And by the time it is not too early, the trend will already be passing by. Woosh!

Buy a pair of these pants if:
– You are not budget strapped, and it’s ok with you if you have a pair of pants you only wear 20 times before you get rid of them
– You really like pretty designs
– You really like colors
– You want people to notice you

Do not buy these pants if:
– You have a minimalist wardrobe
– You hate waste
– You’re trying to stretch every dollar as far as it can go
– You don’t like being noticed for what you wear

Be careful about whether the colors and patterns look good on your body type. When in doubt, take a picture of yourself in the dressing room mirror and look at the picture. Is it just too much? Then stick with khakis. However, some of the asymmetrical designs I’ve seen would look good on larger legs. As usual, it just means you have harder shopping in front of you.

So what do you think? Is this the trend you’ve been waiting for since Hypercolor went out of style in the 90s? Have you spotted a real life pair of these pants yet? Do you find this trend fun or terrifying? Would you consider buying some, or have you already bought some? Do these pants make people look good?

What I wore today: brown knit dress

I have a schedule – more or less – of what KIND of outfits I wear to work for each day of the week. Monday – slacks and blouse. Tuesday – dress. Wednesday – slacks and blouse. Thursday – depends on what I feel like. Friday – jeans and shirt. There are exceptions of course: a client visit, a work-from-home-day, or Red Sox tickets after a day’s work will all affect my choices. (As will the weather.)

Brown knit dress

Brown knit dress

Today being a Tuesday, I wore a dress. My favorite dresses for work are knit dresses. I probably own six or so knit dresses. Why?

1) They machine wash
2) They’re comfortable
3) Done right, they look pretty good
4) They do not wrinkle
5) They are a moderate weight, good for layering (or not)

Did I mention that they machine wash?

Today’s brown dress is a good two season dress. I’m not sure I’d wear it in spring just because brown is not a very springy color. It also doesn’t layer as well as some of my other knit dresses, so I probably wouldn’t bother with it in winter. I pair it with sandals in summer, or with boots, tights and a sweater in fall. It can dress way up or way down, depending on how I want to play it. I could wear this dress to the theater easily. At the same time, with casual jewelry, shoes or a sweater, it doesn’t look out of place in the office. It’s not going to knock someone’s socks off with how amazing I look, but I can live with that.

There are two tragic failings to the knit dress (in general). The first is panty lines. The second is bulges. Knit looks good, but it hides nothing. Part of what makes it comfortable – that lovely give it has – also means it, er, outlines everything and forgives nothing. You will feel comfortable in a knit dress that is too small. You will look sausage-esque. The solution I’ve adopted to both these problems is either a) not to care (especially with my looser knit dresses) or b) to wear spanx. I have a whole paen to spanx lined up, defending them from the very judgement I myself weighed upon them before I actually owned them… but for now let’s just say that they fix the panty line and bulge issues nicely.

So here’s today’s fashion lineup for an 80 degree summer Tuesday at the office:
Straightish/wavy hair with barrette
Diamond stud earrings
Standard makeup
Caramel-colored rose necklace (custom made by Laureen)
Cocoa brown knit dress (this one is Dress Barn – most of them are Chaps from Kohl’s)
Brown sandals

What do you think? Where would you wear this outfit? (Or would you ever wear it.) What changes should I make to be more office appropriate? What outfit did you wear today? Do you have a “regular schedule” of outfits?