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Voices

Me and my mirdle

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / June 11, 2009
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In my favorite episode of "Laverne & Shirley," washboard-flat Shirley Feeney purchases a prosthetic behind with an incredible name - the Hubba Hubba Hiney - to add some curves. The Bettie Page-sized plastic behind looked ridiculous under Shirley's silk jammies and was completely unnecessary because Shirley's tap dancing beau already appreciated her for the persnickety, Boo Boo Kitty-loving, beanpole that she was. Cut the laugh track and cue the credits.

Giggle at poor Shirley, but the truth is, America is having a major Hubba Hubba Hiney moment. We are so disgruntled about our appearance - and apparently so lazy about the gym - that we've created a whole new market which we diplomatically call shapewear. Shapewear is everything from slimming underpinnings such as Spanx to curve enhancers like Booty Pads (I promise I didn't make that one up).

"I have clothes that I wouldn't wear without Spanx," Newton resident Lisa Silver told me at 28 Degrees in the South End. It's amazing how open women are about discussing their undergarments after a few cocktails. "You wouldn't want to see me without Spanx holding down these muffin tops."

Girdles have been around since Greek mythology, and padded and lifting bras have been de rigueur since Jane Russell turned heads as Calamity Jane in "The Paleface." But it was only nine years ago that Spanx entered our collective consciousness. Spanx creator Sara Blakely cut the feet off of her pantyhose to wear open-toed shoes with a pair of pants, and the phenomenon was born.

"As women we all feel a little self conscious at times," Blakely told me. "I am all for anything that gives us a little extra boost of confidence, because when you have that confidence, you feel better on the inside."

It was only a matter of time before shapewear took on men's wear. A new phenomenon we'll call the mirdle (short for man girdle) is now starting to take off. For the past few years, underwear companies such as Aussie Bum and 2(X)ist have been producing undergarments designed to slim, lift, or enhance. Last year, Saks Fifth Avenue began carrying the 2(X)ist Spandex briefs and tops that keep love handles under control. In July, they'll start carrying another mirdle product, the Wondershirt.

The trick with men, however, is that you can't call a girdle a girdle. You have to stress that it has other benefits, like it will help with posture (I know so many men who are concerned about their posture) or a sore back. At least that's what the Wondershirt folks are doing. Cofounder Corie Chung fesses up that she knows the product will sound more desirable to men if the shirt is marketed as sportswear rather than shapewear.

Andrew Christian, a contestant on Bravo's "The Fashion Show," went into business last year selling men's underwear with the name Flashback, which is essentially a series of straps to lift the rear and make it look more firm. His underwear and bathing suits with derriere enhancing benefits were such a hit that he created another version with "show it technology." This underwear is the dude equivalent of the Wonder Bra, and because this is a family paper, I can say no more.

Like any good reporter, I needed to research the topic. I slipped a pair of silicon Booty Pads into my trousers, and sent my friend Patrick into hysterics. I wore the Andrew Christian Flashback manties to work, and waited for the compliments to pour in. There were none. And in a move that I'm sure will put me in the running for a Pulitzer for investigative journalism, I slipped on Jackpot padded underwear and a Shaping Vest - heck, it's a mirdle - from a company called Love My Bubbles, and took a walk down Newbury Street. I didn't get any reaction, but people were probably thinking: "It's sad that skinny guy is wearing bulky adult diapers."

Shapewear wasn't my cup of tea, but I couldn't help but wonder, what happens at the critical moment when you disrobe for the first time after meeting someone and the false advertising of shapewear is finally revealed. Spanx is now selling lingerie to continue the charade. Christian has another solution.

"You turn off the lights quickly," he jokes.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.