Men in Spanx? No thanx. That has always been my reaction to flab-restricting girdles, body-sculpting T-shirts and high-waisted shapewear pants that redistribute your love handles’ fatty bits to other, less obtrusive areas.
But now, after two lockdowns of overdoing it on the Pinot Grigio and the Deliveroo dinners and being a mainly horizontal, gym-phobic type looking for a quick fix, maybe it was time for a rethink. With WFH coming to an end and office and social lives starting up again, I wanted to dress up and abandon my baggy H&M sweatpants in favour of a nicely tailored Brunello Cucinelli suit. No time for cardio or a crash paleo diet: I needed an instant, blubber relocation-based solution.
My thinspiration came from an unlikely source – Ned Rocknroll, Kate Winslet’s husband. Described by the actress as “one of those impossible people you look at and think, how can you really eat six meals a day and look like that?” it turns out that young Ned keeps himself Jagger skinny by eating copious amounts of chia seeds and lying around in male Spanx.
So I ordered some new Spanx Mens Ultra Sculpt wear for myself. They were delivered by a courier clearly tickled by the prominent logo on the bag. ‘How’s it hanging?’ enquired the blurb on the box, with the accompanying leaflet promising ‘Top control and ultimate crotch comfort’. Ew.
A decade ago, a man like your reporter, middle-aged and coy about the comfort of his crotch, secretive about personal stuff like his waistline, would have been shy of receiving a package (sorry) like this. On the Jimmy Kimmel Live show back in 2010 actor Rob Lowe accused the host of “wearing Spanx”, precipitating a look of horror on the face of fellow, super buff guest Matthew McConaughey. Spanx? How could you?
Fast forward to today and chat show host James Corden openly admits that he wears a Spanx bodysuit to look slimmer in tailoring. He’s joined by other proudly crotch-controlled celebrities: tycoon Richard Branson, actors Jason Biggs and Steve Carrell. And just like that, in much the same way that liposuction, fake tanning, guy-liner, “feelings” and therapy have been gender-fluidified and un-shamed, shapewear has also undergone a very modern de-stigmatising. Buoyed up by sales in the men’s market, the global shapewear market could be worth $6.4bn by 2024. The Spanx brand founder, American Sara Blakely, is now a billionaire.
My own Spanx journey involved shoehorning myself in to the white, toddler-sized Ultra Sculp Seamless Tank T-shirt – my girlfriend laughing uncontrollably while trying to shove my creaking limbs into a garment the size of a chorizo sausage – and the unforgiving and frankly, homoerotic, Cotton Power Boxer Briefs. I looked like a hernia patient at an expensive Swiss clinic.
But while a tightening sensation in the chest is normally not a welcome sign for a man in his 50s, incredibly, the Spanx did flatten my tummy, slim down my side-flubber and encourage more upright deportment. A look in the mirror confirmed the real-life PhotoShopping effect. Suddenly, I was Superman. Well, OK. Maybe Mr Incredible.
I called my friend Teo van den Broeke, style and grooming director at GQ magazine. Teo sometimes wears Spanx with tailoring, “because I am self conscious of that annoying bit of paunch that always manages to bulge out where shirting meets trouser fastening.” But there are Spanxing rules, Teo warns: always buy a size or two smaller “if you want to see the best results.” Only wear them under suits and for special occasions. And never ever be tempted to wriggle them on if you are hoping for the evening to end with an intimate encounter. “There is nothing less sexy and more undignified,” he says wisely, (perhaps speaking from experience) “than a man having to be prised out of a tight T-shirt by someone he has just met.”