To many women, the word girdle conjures up images of a wincing Scarlett O'Hara being laced into a corset, or memories of hugging a comfy grandmother, only to shrink back from the feel of something like armor under her apron.
Well, ladies, girdles are back.
"Today we prefer to call them bodywear or body shapers," said Karen Bromley a spokeswoman for the Intimate Apparel Council, a trade group of lingerie manufacturers in the United States. "It's all part of retro fashion. It's the return of the girdle, in disguise."
Indeed, these girdles are being called anything but girdles: control slips, body shapers, body molders or thigh slimmers. Drab foundations departments are being transformed into stylish boutiques.
Their fashion-driven customers include women who have now borne children, or who have simply decided that the 80s mantra "feel the burn" isn't enough to ward off gravity in the 90s.
In the age of support groups, women are looking for a little support where they need it most.
In September, Josie Natori will premiere her foundation garments at Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and other department stores.
Her waist cinchers are made in foulard- and damask-inspired prints and textures. Her foundation garments, about $60 each, double as outerwear.
"The base fabric is the old-fashioned power girdle, but we trim it in metallic lace, gold filigree and rich red-and-black brocade, for example, with bras and bustiers to match," said Tobie Garfinkle, a spokeswoman for Josie Natori. "Our markets are the growing number of fashionable customers who are getting older and the young girls who look at it and see dance wear, to be worn to the clubs. Some of these bustier and girdle ensembles have all but replaced the little black dress."
At the Intimate Apparel Council, Bromley said it had been noticed that "as baby boomers are getting older and wider, there's been an increase in the sales of medium-control garments."
From 1988 to 1990, medium-control garment sales rose to 32.3 percent of all foundations sales from 26.4 percent, Bromley said, part of an overall 16 percent rise in lingerie sales. At the same time, sales of light-control garments fell to 44 percent of all foundations sales, from 48.4 percent.
"New lightweight, comfortable fabrications like lightweight tricots and warp-weave knits of nylon and Lycra have made the category inviting and sexy again," she added. "It's also part of the return to the 1950s, with waist-cinching looks that emphasize the bust. They've been designed to be pretty in some cases, like biker shorts and miniskirts so girls are wearing them out."
Lady Lynne makes a shiny black molded bustier with wide straps for extra support and lace-bordered midriff ($28) to pair with a combination panty and half slip ($30). Both are made of Antron nylon and Lycra spandex, and trimmed in lace. They are sold at Macy's.