Hold Me Up, Hold Me In: Supportive Lingerie

Support undergarments that look invisible.

By Kim Johnson Gross

The Importance of the Right Foundation

Say what you will about midlife memory loss, there’s no forgetting the angst of puberty. Hormones raged, breasts sprouted (or failed to), and wearing a bra was proof you were becoming a woman. Some of my friends were terrified by their early womanhood; I lived in fear that I would never catch up. I remember searching for an AA bra, a training bra with an adult label that I hoped would allow me to pass. I sometimes resorted to an A cup in a too-small back size, in hopes that whatever little I had would somehow end up in the cups. In college, women my age were burning their bras, so I gleefully ditched mine. But I had to get back in harness once I entered the workforce.

Then I had kids. Suddenly, panties created all sorts of bulges. Out went bikinis, and in came control-top pantyhose. Fast-forward a decade or two: The raging hormones are back, and like many of my friends, I’m uncertain about my changing body again. But I found salvation — and so can you — at a store with a well-stocked lingerie department.

My friend Gail and I recently spent a morning at our local Neiman Marcus in the company of two fit experts, Mimi and Enza, who helped us navigate a vast collection of underpinnings for our imperfect bodies. I began with the NuBra, a paste-on, push-up solution for backless dresses. Made from silicone, it’s meant to feel real to the touch. Trust me: It doesn’t. Then I discovered Sassynips by Sassybax — daisy-shaped nude pasties that mask nipple erection. I like to go braless, but my wantonness needs to be camouflaged in certain situations. These were made for me.

Next up were body shapers. Gail wanted to elongate her midriff and support her breasts without padding; I hoped for an alternative to liposuction that would minimize the roll at my waist whenever I wore pants or a skirt, i.e., daily. Mimi and Enza rounded up a variety of contraptions for us to wriggle into. Gail tried on several form-fitting support camisoles with built-in underwires that gave lift without bulging at the sides. Her favorite, by Hanro, has a silicone grip at the hem to keep it from creeping up. She thought about getting it in black so she could wear it as outerwear, but she balked at the price ($85). She did a quick cost-benefit analysis and decided not to buy it but has since reconsidered. Even at that price, it beats a tummy tuck.

I was amazed by the miraculous way an extremely high-waisted panty from Spanx smoothed out my middle; I bought it and the nipple cover-ups so I could do a test run. I chose a day when I would be close to home in case something went awry. After pulling and pasting on my new purchases, I ventured out in the shapeliest, trimmest state I’ve achieved in years — and immediately forgot what I was wearing because they were so comfortable. My boyfriend found the whole thing erotic. My mother thought I had lost weight. My youngest daughter failed to notice I was braless.

The Best Undergarments by Outfit

It’s true: You can look thinner with the right underwear. But what flattering lingerie really buys is the chance to think about dressing in an entirely new way — new shapes, colors, and styles that suit the bodies we have now.

As for me, my time in the lingerie trenches yielded an unexpected bonus. After all these years, it turns out I’m now a 36B. You can’t imagine how womanly that makes me feel.

What to wear when there’s no margin for a bulge or a jiggle

Unitards that resemble a newborn’s onesie have zero sex appeal, but they make all the difference under a sweater dress like TSE’s dreamy gray cashmere cowl-neck ($745). Lipo in a Box (bottom right, $84) sucks you in and up with 25 percent Lycra, an underwire bra and legs that firm but don’t bind. For less structure, try a Spanx control slip ($72), which not only shapes you but also discourages cling.

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