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?


New Years Resolutions

It’s a the time of the year to think about how we want next year to be different! One of MY resolutions is to write more here and build the community. But I’m curious, for those of you who have been reading this for a while, do you have any fashion related new year’s resolutions? Do you want to look different in the coming year? If so, what would you like to change?

Share your new years resolutions with me!!

Cup runneth over

I read a great post on my way home the other day about self-image and bust size. In addition to being very affirming, this post talks a lot about the context of clothing, and at the bottom has some great advice on clothing to deal with unusually large mammaries.

There’s some great advice here!

Cups Runneth Over: Love, Lifestyle, and Clothing Tips for Large-Busted Ladies

Thank you, Mr. Jones

Our toilet started running. At 11:15 pm on a day that started at 6:15 am (with another 6:15 morning looming), this is the last thing I wanted to notice. I brushed my teeth eeeeexxxtra slowly, hoping I was hallucinating. Finally I gave in to the cascade sounds and watched the water in the tank run and run. Hmmmm. A quick tap on the float and it raised itself back up, stopping the waterfall. “Maybe,” I thought, “Maybe this is a one time thing?!”

My ears were extra-vigilant for bathroom noises. They are anyway… with two young boys, you stay vigilant for sounds that indicate someone is drinking out of the toilet, or taking an unapproved bath. And sure enough, that dreaded hiss of water! Truly, this was a problem that must be solved.

I’ve entered this unpleasant stage of life. Let’s call it the “Harry Truman” stage. When I was a girl, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. As a teen, I might have told my parents. Probably not. As a young adult, I would’ve called my landlord and it would’ve been his problem. But now, squarely into my fourth decade, the problem was mine. All mine. Note that I’m not the final stop of the Responsibility Train for just toilets. No. My purview includes dietary choices, project dates, playground time, what we can and cannot afford, appropriate number of treats per day (and whether Flav-r-pops count as a whole treat), business rules for new applications, and how stained is too stained for a shirt to continue in a wardrobe. In so many areas, there is no one for me to escalate problems to.

Thus, the toilet.

Back when other people had all the responsibilities, in Junior High, I decided that shop sounded waaaaay more interesting than Home Economics. I’m old enough, I suppose, to have had gender-segregated classes. The plan was that the girls got a year and a half of Home Ec and one semester of shop, and the boys had a year and a half of shop and one semester of home ec. I got through my first, divided year, and emerged convinced that if I never saw another apron pattern in my life, it was too soon for me. So I ended up the only girl in a class of 26 guys and a poor, harried Mr. Jones.

In that year I made a bowl on a lathe. I turned metal. We rebuilt lawnmower engines. We wired and drywalled a fake wall with real electricity. We plumbed, carefully fitting together the tubes with all the various goos. I used the jigsaw, the planer, the lathe, the scroll saw. I used wrenches and hammers and WD-40. I also learned that just because I had no clue how to do something, it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. The most arcane of masculine skills were not out of my reach; I simply had to find a book and/or a mentor and roll up my skirt.

This came back to me as I gazed into the swirling waters of the toilet. OK, so I didn’t know how to fix this. I knew how to begin. I pulled out the books on home repair (toilet technology in the US hasn’t changed that much in the last 50 years, and our toilet is probably that old). I observed and tinkered to figure out where the problem was. (The floaty thingy wouldn’t float.) I learned the correct name for it, and proceeded to giggle uncontrollably. (It’s a ballcock. I couldn’t wait to go to Lowe’s and tell them that my ballcock wouldn’t rise. Sadly, they proceeded to help me right away.) I bought the spare parts I needed. I turned off the water. I drained the tank. I spent about 2 hours trying to get frozen, rusted bolts to give, until they finally admitted that I was more stubborn than they. I installed the new fitting. And it worked perfectly. I looked down at my hands – black grease embedded stubbornly under my fingernails. It looked better than the finest manicure, to me.

This is a small thing in the realm of home maintenance. Just saying that I can figure out how to fix my toilet, that’s minor. But one of the lessons I think I internalized in that shop course, as I learned about masculine and feminine fittings, was that I could learn about things about which I was completely ignorant. I learned that just because I knew squat about what I was doing right now, that didn’t mean that I had no chance of doing it. I just needed to start at the beginning and follow it through. That lesson, there, is extremely relevant to my Life As a Grownup. Don’t know how to run a meeting? Start at the beginning. What does a meeting look like? Don’t know how to program in Java? Start at the beginning. Find a site or a book with a good overview. Don’t know how to pick a life insurance policy? Start at the beginning. What are the options?

To me, that is the height of what education really is. It’s not about dates or facts or information, although that background is important. It is about the tools to break down problems in areas where you are ignorant, and the confidence to believe that you can learn about things you don’t know. Perhaps other people learn these same lessons doing algebraic equations, or parsing the meaning out of “A Tale of Two Cities”. For me, it came at the business end of a wrench, unveiling the cam shaft of a geriatric lawnmower.

Where did you learn this lesson? Have you?

Laureen’s Corner: Thoughts on Fashion

Those of you who know me have almost certainly encountered – by reputation or in person – my mother-in-law Laureen. Unlike the stereotypical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict, Laureen and I get along superbly. We share some common loves (like her son and grandsons) and we’ve developed some common interests. When I first started dating her youngest son, I thought fashion was definitely for other people. Over the twelve years since I married her son, Laureen has persistently and patiently introduced me to a wider world. Every time she comes, she brings an entire season’s worth of clothes for me (paying attention to my preferences and feedback). She’s gifted me appropriate jewelry from her collection – or made me bespoke jewelry from her business at Jeweled Dreams. She’s pushed, prodded, gotten me to buy new things and told me I looked fabulous for years now.

She has also agreed to be a guest commentator on this blog. So, with no further ado, I give you Laureen.

Laureen and Adam before the ballet this winter

Laureen and Adam before the ballet this winter

Ahhh fashion, a constant preoccupation.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on a couch at age four reading my aunt’s issues of Vogue and Mademoiselle. My aunt was a graduate of Katherine Gibbs and New York secretary for over 50 years, her timeless elegance influenced me all my life. For me the word timeless is where fashion begins and is the starting point for all clothing in all situations. This seems especially relevant for young professional women who are expected to play all roles to all people while still giving credence to their femaleness, balancing comfort, practicality, professionalism and still qualifying as pretty and put together is not out of reach by any means.

Cooking, architecture or brain surgery all start in the same place: with a foundation. Make certain your appropriate parts are covered and supported before you start to embellish. Next, the basics are not necessarily expensive, but if you put in some initial thought they allow you the freedom of expression and personal taste that makes a look yours. Fit of anything including a basic T-shirt is important. With well fitted dark washed jeans, a white T and a nice blazer you can go almost anywhere including the red carpet (though you might want to add accompanying bling). Brenda and I are still working on the shoe issue Ed note: this is totally true, though I concede to the need for marathon walking and comfort. However, having walked for miles in boots and low heels on the cobblestones of Europe I highly recommend gel insoles for all. (I buy a half size larger for all shoes and immediately insert the insole.)

Humans as a species are highly visual so our first impression of one another is usually by sight. As such we make immediate judgements about another person based on what we see. If we are shocked or offended we may never overcome that first reaction to discover other more worthwhile qualities. As most of what this blog is referencing is in relation to the working world consider the politics of the work jungle. As if working with wild animals the professionally pretty woman wants to generate smiles not raised eyebrows. To do this protective coloring is required. That means initially wearing outfits that fit in with what others are wearing. Again the words timeless and classic come into play. Some of the best visual examples of this type of dressing can be found in any photos of such as Katherine Hepburn (especially great tailored pants) and Jackie Kennedy (wonderful sheaths and suits) to name only two. This year is especially bountiful for tailored dressing in everything from Target, to Ann Taylor and Ralph Lauren and more. Just remember, classic and tailored are not synonymous with stodgy or looking like your mother (though even we can be fashion forward).

Having established a comfortable basis you are now free to add those elements that make a look yours and speak to your preferences and personality. Whether it is the color of a blouse or purse a quirky shoe or scarf or in the case of my darling daughter-in-law one of a kind jewelry (which I delight in creating for her) you are icing the cake. If you have established your basics, little thought is required except to choose the decorations each day. Hopefully this cuts down on time and stress.

Ultimately for me, fashion is everywhere, color, shape, textures,, even as in the case of something like leather, smell and the sound fabric like silk makes. It plays to all the senses and weaves in and out of all my life bringing energy and pleasure.

And now for a final initial bit of advice-GET A FULL LENGTH MIRROR. You may look like Venus rising from the sea in front but if you haven’t checked the back view… disaster will surely follow. Literally.

Having been given the amazing gift of a daughter-in-law who is willing to let me shop for her I am enjoying our adventure as we explore the path to technically pretty.

Why bother?

I spent a lot of my youth and young adulthood feeling that anyone who judged me on my looks was someone whose good opinion I could live without. I was loved by a good parter. I was happy with myself. Why should I conform to some sexist, culturally derived notion of beauty just to please them? I had (have, actually) no desire to look like a fashion model.

But there are a lot of reasons – internal and external – why it pays to attend to how you look.The internal ones you hear a lot about: how you will feel better when you look good, the morale boost of being attractive. There is some truth to those. But what I’m paying attention to here are the external ones. In short, people treat you differently based on how they think you look. This goes beyond, “And when you look good, you are more confident blah blah blah”. This study,done by Harvard University and published in the New York Times, concludes that makeup “…increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness”. I think that lesson of “looking good means people think you’re better” can be extended beyond makeup. Still, for the scientifically minded, here it is: a double blind study showing that you can be more effective in (most) jobs if you pay attention to how you look.

Should this be the case? Probably not. Is this the way society ought to be? Unlikely. Should work be a pure meritocracy based on production? That would be nice. But right now that’s not the case. As women, we already suffer a penalty in the “Being taken seriously department”. Add in being women in a technology field, and sometimes it feels as though that penalty is squared. Is it cubed if you add in “Being an unfashionable woman in a technology field?” I don’t know. I do think that whatever mitigations we can take to lessen the slope of our uphill battle, we should seriously consider as a tool in our arsenal.

It might not seem like conforming to society’s standards for good looks can help the cause of women in technology, but I am going to argue that it does. Some of the key reasons that the share of women in technology is actually dropping since the 1980s include: lack of mentorship, lack of role models, lack of desire and stereotype threat. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: there aren’t women going into science and technology because there aren’t women in science in technology already. So if we few (we proud few, we band of sisters!) can take steps to be successful, to be seen, to impress our peers with our overall competence… that helps all other women. Additionally, it might convince some girls who WANT to look pretty and feminine that they do not have to check their cute heels at the door if they want to be a programmer or an electrical engineer.

What do you think? Do you believe that it’s selling out to change your look because it may make you more successful? Have you ever noticed a difference in how you’re treated at work based on how you look? Do you treat women differently based on their external presentation? Or do you work in a place that is a true meritocracy?