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When Miss Scarlett directs Mammy to pull her corset strings tighter in Gone with the Wind, she is essentially using a foundation garment, the corset, to achieve the smallest waist in the county. Foundation garments of many types are used to change one’s shape so that clothing worn over them show off the figure to its best advantage. They can range from the highly restrictive corset to simple brassieres, girdles or support garments like the popular Spanx®.
Foundation garments, which may be alternately called shapewear, have undergone many changes throughout the centuries, but they all provide a body foundation, upon which clothing is built. They’re by no means miracle workers. If you wear a size 14, a girdle will not have you wearing a size 2 no matter how much you might like it to achieve that affect. But some foundation garments can pull in the waist slightly, make the thigh or buttocks appear lifted or smoother, and of course lift the breasts, making them appear supported, and smaller or bigger.
Some typical foundation garments you might find today include the following:
Some foundation garments are uncomfortable, while others, when properly fitting are enjoyed by women as a means to hide a few of what they consider to be figure flaws. As a whole, trends in foundation garments has moved away from the highly restrictive garments like all in ones, toward much more minimal garments like Spanx® or control top underwear because they are lighter and more comfortable to wear.
On the other hand, building support into women’s bras can still prove fairly restrictive, and the current “look” many women want to achieve is a gravity defying one. Bras like the Wonderbra® were celebrated for providing cleavage where very little existed. For women with large breasts, achieving appropriate support may only be had through underwire, which depending on the bra, may be uncomfortable.
In all cases, foundation garments tend to move the female toward the figure form she considers ideal. In each generation, there exist people who want nothing to do with ideal form. From the 1920s flappers who eschewed restrictive foundation garments, the bra burners of the 1970s, and the modern young woman who may laugh at corsets, deciding on what the “ideal” form actually is, is a matter of opinion. Some women prefer to be seen in a more natural light, and prefer no underwear or foundation garments of any type and others use the minimum undergarments. Still others wouldn’t feel properly dressed without an ironclad all in one supporting their form.
Just FYI, flappers did not always pass on foundation garments, they just chose to shape the body in a different way. For some women it took a lot of careful, painful, and restrictive corsetry to minimize the hips and breasts as called for by the flapper ideal.
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