Party season is upon us. And, as man lurches from one festive knees-up to the next, finding time to smuggle a breather between canapés let alone a quick lunchtime jog is impossible. Keeping in shape is a challenge.
For an increasing few, the solution is faster than dieting, less testing than a personal trainer and promises instant results. Shapewear, bodywear, control pants: call them what you will, elasticated sheaths designed to discipline your wobblies, normally marketed to women, are now becoming a fixture in many men’s wardrobes - or so say the marketeers, who are increasingly adopting more creative ways of promoting them.
It took Spanx a decade since their founding in 2000 to release a line for Rubenesque men thus triggering a wave of high street imitations: Marks & Spencer’s ‘Bodymax’ collection soon followed and, at Asos, cummerbund-like waistbands were appended to tighty-whities shortly after. Smaller, niche companies like Zerobodys have been streamlining beer bellies since 2001.
Whether it’s an elbow length zip-through top or a skimpier girdle (some wearers prefer to compound ‘men's girdle’: mirdle), Zerobodys strives to “help men feel great about themselves,” says founder, Shaheen Mirza, who always notes a spike in sales as Christmas edges closer.
His best-seller? “Our incredible bodies vest” - a finely-woven tank top with mercilessly taught focus on the abdomen and serious chest support. “We’re most popular among men aged 30-55,” says Mirza, “especially those who have a wedding or big occasion coming up”.
Perhaps you, dear reader, consider yourself above such foppery? Think again. Specialist underwear store, Bang & Strike, relay that it’s not just torsos being tamed, but that the scaffold holding everything together down there is subtly changing, too.
Spanx Slim-Waist slim-fit jersey trunks, £50, Selfridges.com
Emporio Armani’s ‘Magnum’ brief is one of their best-sellers, offering a concealed jockstrap and a U-shaped variation on the Y-front design akin to a medieval codpiece. The flattering result is such that, subject to consumer demand, Calvin Klein are reportedly releasing a similarly repackaged version of their iconic brief next summer.
And, as more of us are encouraged to spend an increasing amount of time sculpting ‘gym bods’, the tactics used to flog sportswear have also become conflated with shapewear. “Compression technology” - a phrase first used on Spanx labels, is now also on those of countless athletic brands, who suggest that tightly binding the body during exercise can facilitate muscle growth thereby enhancing masculine physique. Seemingly simple though they are, the underlying vests belie a patchwork of considerately positioned panels which, according to sportswear brand Atak, at least, are “scientifically proven to increase muscular strength”.
While a 2013 study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests compression wear is “effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage,” and can, consequently, bolster hypertrophy, Harri Cizmic, from the University of Bath’s Department of Sports Development, believes that the research is inconclusive. “You’re improving blood-flow to certain areas,” Cizmic says, “but it’s going to have a very marginal effect”.
Regardless of their efficacy, brands are vacuum-wrapping men the world over in such garbs. Spanx and Asos may have since wound down their men’s shapewear collections, but the growing compression wear industry - estimated to reach six and a half billion US dollars by 2024 - looks set to fill the pant-shaped market void, with many men opting to don the garments outside of the gym, too.
Atak Gaelic Compression Top, sportsdirect.com
"A lot of guys are wearing them under their day-to-day clothes,” says Cizmic, who thinks the flattering, muscular definition instantly offered by compression tops is a driving factor in the sector’s expansion.
As a flagellant approach to fitness becomes increasingly normalised and brands begin to weave soft sculpture into underwear, it’s worth asking to what extent men of today are prepared to listen to the marketeers and embrace this trend, or not.
After all, there’s really only one way to get in shape: it comes at the expense of hard work and much sweat. Best to eat and drink like a hopeless glutton, for if party season is about anything, it’s letting loose, not sucking in.