“I want to write a column about control pants” I announced to the editor a few weeks ago. Silence. “Please, can I?” Silence. Then this: “Mia, what is wrong with you? Are you having some kind of early life crisis? First you write about grey hair and now control pants? What’s next? Walking frames? Incontinence pads?”
Fortunately, I’d carefully prepared my argument before calling her. “No! You see, control pants aren’t old and daggy anymore!” I blurted. “That’s the whole point! Sophie Monk wears them and she’s young and hot and really, really thin! She hasn’t even got a baby or a muffin top! Everyone wears control pants now! They’re the new Wonderbra!”
Strained silence. Followed by a deep resigned sigh. “OK” she said wearily. And with that, I scurried off to K-Mart to embark upon my journey to the promised land of fat-sucking underwear.
I’m rarely late to a trend. I may no longer be the earliest adopter but I like to consider myself one of the sheep at the front-end of the flock. Still, the whole control pants movement managed to whoosh past me unfollowed until a few months ago. That’s when I went to a black-tie charity dinner and found myself table-hopping over to talk to some media colleagues I hadn’t seen in ages.
As we crouched around each others’ chairs admiring frocks, one girl discreetly lifted up her hem to reveal what looked like tight black bicycle shorts. “Spanx!” she announced triumphantly. “Spanx!” everyone nodded, pinging their own undergarments through their dresses. Out of five women aged 25-45, I was the only one Spanx-less. “It gives you such a smooth line under your clothes,” raved one. “You feel all tight and held-in” enthused another. “It’s like sausage casing for lumpy mince!” insisted a third. I took mental notes. And visual ones. It was true. Their silhouettes were impressive. Curves in the appropriate places. No lumps on these ladies.
It seems going-out undies have officially morphed from fancy-pants-g-strings into bicycle-short-sausage-casing. But how did control pants go from embarrassing to cool? When did the term “performance underwear” enter the lexicon?
Well, it started with Spanks. Yes, I know it sounds like the name of an S&M brothel – that’s the point. ‘Spanks’ sounds a bit naughty. A bit sexy. Flirty. Modern. More go-girl than ‘girdle’ or ‘step-ins’’ or “foundation garment”. Gwyneth and Oprah and Beyonce and Tyra and a hundred celebrities called Jennifer and Jessica all wear Spanks. I know this because I watched a Spanks infomercial on youtube one sad Friday night while researching this column. Yes I did.
Eva Longoria in Spanx