What Is a Girdle and How Do You Wear It?

The word "girdle" has been around for over a millennium, but the style has evolved greatly over the years. What was invented for men around A.D. 800 has since been transformed for the female body in the form of girdle underwear, full-body girdles, and women's shapewear underwear.

The History of Girdles

The first girdles were not at all like modern-day women's shapewear. For starters, they weren't even designed for ladies! The first girdles were built for men and were referred to as a "ceinture," meaning "belt" in French. These were belts, quite literally, that was meant to help support a man's back and protect his lower abdomen during battle.

How Girdles Made Their Way Into Women's Clothing

So how did the girdle become an important part of women's clothing? It all started with the corset.

The corset, designed to slim the waist and improve a woman's posture, began its reign in the 16th century. It became so popular that, by the Victorian era, it was practically a requirement for any respectable lady. Of course, the corset had its share of problems. It was known to cause health issues like fainting and broken ribs when worn extremely tight.

Companies began producing what we now know as girdles for women to create a more comfortable alternative to the corset. These updated undergarments were designed to do everything the corset did — slim the waist and improve posture — without all the dangerous side effects.

A little more than a century ago, an entire industry was born from the invention of a short hip-confiner that was intended to be worn over corsets. This invention quickly became an essential element of the modern woman's wardrobe and was donned by famous actresses and starlets such as Marilyn Monroe and Mae West.

What was once a simple undergarment has now morphed into an entire industry. Companies like Leonisa offer body-shaping garments that promise to give women the hourglass shape they desire no matter what activity they're involved in, including swimming.

While the girdle has undergone many changes over the years, its purpose has remained largely the same: to slim the waist and hips while providing support to the lower back and buttocks. Today, girdles come in various shapes, sizes, and styles to suit the needs of any woman looking to achieve a particular look.

What Is a Girdle

What Is a Girdle?

A girdle is an undergarment worn to shape and control the body. It is typically made of elasticized fabric and/or leather, and sometimes includes metal boning or other stiffening elements. Though it has been traditionally considered a women's garment, men have also begun wearing shapewear in recent years.

What Are the Benefits of Girdles?

Shapewear from Leonisa offers several benefits, both practical and aesthetic. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that they can help slim and shape the body, creating a more flattering silhouette. They can also help improve posture and relieve back pain by supporting the lower back and abdominal muscles. Additionally, girdles can help prevent or minimize cellulite's appearance by temporarily smoothing out dimpled skin.

The Types of Girdles and Girdle Underwear

Shapewear comes in various shapes, sizes, lengths, colors, and fabrics, each designed to serve a specific purpose. Although these pieces were referred to as girdles long ago, we now call them body shapers and panties. Below are a few of the more popular styles of body shapers and panties that we offer.

The Classic Girdle

A waist cincher or trainer is the modern version of the classic girdle. It is a short, tight-fitting undergarment that covers the waist and hips and is designed to sculpt your waist. It typically has a zipper or hook-and-eye closure in the front.

The Girdle Underwear

Girdle underwear, or shaper panties, is a type of shapewear that encompasses the lower torso. Some cover the bottom and hips, while others go from the waist to the thighs. It is typically made of stretchy fabric, such as Lycra or spandex, and may include built-in pads or other shaping elements. For the smoothest line, you should not wear regular underwear when wearing shaper panties.

The Full Body Girdle

A bodysuit is a type of full-body girdle that covers the entire torso. It may or may not have shoulder straps. Some versions stop at the bottom, while others may go down to the knees or lower.

Like shaper panties, the full-body girdle is typically made of polyamide and elastane and may include other shaping elements like pads.

Other Types of Shapewear

Shapewear is a catch-all term that refers to any type of garment designed to shape or slim the body. In addition to the more traditional categories, we offer shapewear to suit almost any need. We offer tummy-control swimsuits, compression leggings, and arm shapers. We also carry shapewear designed for post-surgery and maternity and post-partum periods.

How Do You Wear a Girdle?

The most traditional form of shapewear is worn over the hips and waist, as it provides the most shaping and control. For this type, wear regular women’s panties and then put the girdle around you to cover your stomach and hips.

For shapewear panties and bodysuits, you will typically not wear regular underwear. You put the shapewear underwear on first and then put on your clothing. With bodysuits, you don't need to wear a bra as the bodysuit provides shaping and support for the bust.

How to Choose the Right Girdle or Girdle Underwear

When choosing a body shaper or shaper panty, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, always consider what type of shaping you're looking for. If you want to slim your entire lower body, choose a bodysuit of longer shapewear panties. If you're just looking to slim your waistline, a waist cincher or trainer that sits at your natural waistline will do the trick.

Next, consider the amount of support you want. We offer shapewear in a variety of fabrics to provide varying amounts of control. Our compression levels range from super comfy to extra firm.

Something else you should consider is the style. What type of clothing will you be wearing? If you need something to go under clingy dresses, then a bodysuit is probably your best bet. Shoulder styles include strapless, spaghetti straps, or wide straps.

Finally, don't forget to consider the size. Our girdles and girdle underwear are available in a range of sizes, so you can choose a size that will fit snugly but not too tightly. You should be able to breathe easily and move freely in your girdle or girdle underwear.

Caring for Your Girdle or Girdle Underwear

Proper care is essential for prolonging the life of your body shaper or shaper panty. Always follow the care instructions that come with your garment.

When washing your body shaper or shaper panty, always use a mild detergent. Avoid using bleach or fabric softener, as these can damage the material. If your girdle is made of polyamide and/or elastane, wash it in cold water to avoid damaging the material.

Troubleshooting Tips If You Have Problems With Your Girdle

If you are new to shapewear, putting them on correctly may not come naturally to you. That’s okay! Try these troubleshooting tips if you're having trouble putting on your girdle or underwear.

First, make sure that you're putting it on the right way. If you're having trouble pulling it up over your hips, try putting it on backward and then flipping it around once it is in place. Another trick is spraying your girdle or underwear with a silicone lubricant. This will help the garment slide on more easily.

If that doesn’t work, you may need to consider if you have the wrong size. Before purchasing a girdle, measure yourself and consult the size guidelines for each garment. On the Leonisa site, there are size charts on our product pages to ensure you are purchasing the right size. 

The Bottom Line

Girdles shouldn't be feared. Shapewear can help slim and control the body for a little boost of confidence and can also be remarkably comfortable. There are so many different types and styles of girdles available, so it's important to choose the one that best suits your needs. Modern shapewear can be comfortably worn under clothing for all-day shaping and support while giving you an extra boost of confidence.

If you're not sure where to start, we offer a virtual personal shopper service. Check out all we have to offer to help you look and feel great in any outfit you choose.

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