A frustrated reader e-mailed me this request:
Between visible panty lines and those funny back fat folds that my bra creates, I feel like my underwear often ruins my look. I’m not willing (or frankly able) to wear spanx all the time. I’m not comfortable in a thong. I often wear high-cut panties to match the waist on my pants and skirts even though on their own they look like granny panties. Cotton undies are good for health reasons, but I’ll do microfiber if the fabric on my pants or skirts is thin. How to balance comfort in one’s undergarments with a desire to keep a sleek line in clothing? I’m not terribly concerned that the undies look sexy on their own. I just want them to create a sleek line under my clothes without pinching me or compressing me too much.
Undergarments exist in tremendous variety, but most are designed to cover, support, or both. Panties, slips, and camis cover our parts and help create smoother lines. Bras and shapewear support and re-shape parts of our bodies that are naturally soft.
Personally, I believe that undergarments designed to COVER should never pull, pinch, or subdivide the body in any way: If your slip digs into your midsection, size up, move the seam to a less fleshy part of your abdomen, or choose a style that has a wider, stretchier waistband. (I just bought one with a lace waistband and it is a revelation!) If your panties dig into your buns, try a different size, style, or material. It’s easy to get stuck in a panty rut – find a style that’s comfy and just buy in bulk – but if you wear close-fitting clothing or fret about panty lines, bear in mind that different styles will work better with different skirts and pants. The main thing to remember is that base layers meant to provide coverage shouldn’t mess with your body, they should work with it easily and seamlessly.
Support undergarments, on the other hand, are eternally problematic. Even champion athletes who are covered entirely in hard muscle generally get dented a little by bras and shapewear. Why? Because garments designed to support soft body parts need to be stiff and tight in order to do their jobs, and stiff, tight garments dig. They just do. If you want to support your breasts in front, you likely need a fairly snug fit around your ribcage. And snug means subdivision. On nearly all bodies.
I’ve heard some experts say that if your bra subdivides your flesh in back it’s the wrong size or style. That may well be true, I suppose, and if ALL of your bras dig, it might be time to get a bra fitting. Especially since our bodies shift all the time, and getting fitted once per year is always best practice. However, I feel that the backlash against “back fat” has gotten a little ridiculous. In recent months, I’ve seen at least a half dozen products designed specifically to combat “back fat,” which fuels the now-widespread belief that this it is some horrendous stylistic faux pas to be combated at any cost to your pocketbook and comfort.
Should you do everything in your power to present a sleek, smooth silhouette at all times? Sure, if that’s important to you. Should you seek out undergarments that make this as easy as possible? Yes. Should you have a DEFCON-1-level meltdown if you catch a glimpse of some “back fat” as you pass an obliging mirror? No, no, NO, NOOOO. Additionally, no. Life is too short to waste your energy on such matters, and no one else will care about these things nearly as much as you will.
Since procuring a set of undergarments that works for every outfit, every bloat level, and every occasion is a long, difficult, and costly process, here are some ways you can dress around imperfect undergarments:
- Blazers: Nearly all blazers are crafted from thick, stiff, structured fabrics that will trump any squeezy bra. If you live in a warm clime, opt for lined linen or tropical weight wool.
- Dusters and long cardigans: Since panty lines are typically in the rear, an outer layer that goes past your bum can mask some pinching.
- Shawls and wraps: Learn to swathe yourself in drapey, loose layers right around your bra area and no one will see if your bra is digging in a bit.
- Slips: Not only do these layers prevent skirts from sticking to tights, they work wonders in the concealment department. A clingy jersey dress won’t cling to your butt nearly as much if you’re wearing a slip. If your midsection is getting pinched, you can also try hiking your slip up and tucking it into your bra band. It will create a slippery layer between bod and clothing, so long as the outer layer doesn’t fit too snugly.
- Cut and fit: Some garments are designed to cling and reveal, and for those, undergarments must fit impeccably. But nobody can even IMAGINE how your butt looks when you’re wearing a full, pleated, circle skirt. Nobody will examine your “back fat” levels if you’re wearing a cropped jacket. Even if you prefer a more tailored look overall, make sure your wardrobe has enough variety in it to encompass some looser, less fitted items.
As you can see, most of these options involve layering … which means they won’t work as well in the dead of summer. And they really are no substitute for accumulating a set of undergarments that works with, not against, the natural lines of your figure. But if you’re in a hurry, or it’s laundry day, or something comes up and you end up in imperfect undies, try one of these solutions out.
In terms of comfort, that’s a balancing act. Undergarments that support and sleek you down CAN be comfy, but generally aren’t. So you’ll just have to prioritize as you dress. If you want to wear a fitted ensemble and will be driven crazy by lumps, you may have to resign yourself to shapewear and a less-than-comfy day. If you want some middle ground, try a combination of fitted items and a few of the tricks listed above. If comfort is the priority, screw the confining undergarments and focus on bodily happiness. Undergarments should never be implements of torture, but the styles that support and shape are unlikely to feel like PJs. So some days will be comfier than others.
Image courtesy Helga Weber
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