Shapewear has come a long way since it's early whale bone beginnings. Here, Sophie Monk, center, and fellow models show modern styles from Hollywood Fashion Shapes. Photo: Don Arnold/WireImage.com


Yeah, yeah, we often hear exclamations like "What did we do before Google?" Or "How did we survive before Starbucks?" But the question that escapes our lips each time we get dressed up for a special occasion is "How did we live before Spanx?"

Well, it turns out shapewear has been sucking in, pushing up and slimming down women for centuries. Apparently, vanity is timeless.

"There is actually evidence of shapewear dating all the way back to 3000 B.C., if you can believe it," says stylist expert Bridgette Raes, author of "Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want." "Archaeological evidence shows women wearing waist tightening garments that appear to be ribbed. Around the 14th century, women started to wear a stiffened linen undergarment that laced in the front and the back. By the 15th century, these 'stays' became quite commonplace."

Raes tells StyleList the original corsets were put together using two pieces of linen with a pasted middle to provide stiffening -- a far cry from the styles you'll find at Victoria's Secret or Frederick's of Hollywood today. During the 16th century, she says, corset makers turned to whalebone to provide more rigidity and stiffening than the original paste corsets.

"It is believed that the modern day girdle was invented in 1910 by Paul Poiret to be worn with the clothing he was designing at that time," she says. "His revolutionary designs put less emphasis on the waist and more on the hips and derriere. This girdle became a staple for the 20th century. The way Poiret understood a woman's body, and how it should interact with clothing and the girdle, were defining reasons why the corset, which had previously determined the shape of women's clothing, went out of fashion."

Raes says war time later played a huge part in the history of shapewear.

"During war time -- a time of austerity and doing your part for the war efforts -- many women let their appearance slide to a more comfortable style," she says. "After the war, in an effort to attract a partner, women's fashion reflected that desire. Girdles, corsets and corselets became essential. Suddenly, women started wearing girdles again."

And shapewear manufacturers started going after the teen market as well, she adds.

"There were a variety of girdles produced for the young woman," Raes says. "The teen girdle was the panty girdle and had the maximum coverage, in more than one sense. It was a tight-fitting cross between a girdle that held the tummy in and one that protected the wearer from advances."

Now, everyone inhale and exhale deeply with a sigh of relief at how far modern shapewear has come.

Speaking of which, here's how to wear summer shapewear.