Guy girdles explore the healthy side of male vanity

Because sometimes guys need a little help sucking it all in, Saks has started carrying a new body shaper made especially for men.

Tight fitting and built to target specific problem areas such as bellies, the Equmen undershirt ($89-$119, not only trims a few inches from the midsection of most guys and supports core muscles, it also forces them to stand up straight.

"It's the Wonderbra for men," said Dave Marshall, 49, of Troy, Mich., who bought one of the shirts the other day. He said lower back problems made him seek out a more supportive undershirt. "It's that," he added, "and vanity. I hope my wife likes it."

Vanity and modern American masculinity make for strange bedfellows. The two comprise an odd coupling locked in a vicious tug of war. Grooming is good, but the appearance of vanity bad.

As metrosexuality becomes a norm instead of an anomaly, and men's bathroom counters welcome stashes of moisturizer with SPF, vanity marches ever forward.

Women are already fully invested, so the growth and potential lies in the other half of the population.

Companies are looking to make inroads in one category with crossover potential - the guy girdle. Of course, marketing gurus are putting a new hip, manly spin on the product that's always been more of a punch line than a viable men's closet staple.

The newest lines of men's shapewear are billed as "powerful layers of powernet binding your chest" (Underworks); "high-performance technologies ... engineered to optimize and energize the body" (Equmen); "a classic men's undershirt injected with steroids" (Rip't Fusion).

The shaping garments look a lot like regular T-shirts, but they require a bit more wiggling to slip into.

"The challenge was to introduce something that wouldn't be intimidating or too much of a stretch for a guy to purchase," explained Michael Flint of Equmen, an Australian-based company.

He said that by focusing on the sports compression technology benefits, Equmen hopes to appeal to the rational male who also might be interested in minimizing his love handles. The undershirt is designed to appeal to males with means who might appreciate a product that could improve their golf swing, as well as their chances of appearing a bit younger and more fit in a European cut suit.

Tom Julian, a trend expert and author of "Nordstrom Guide to Men's Style," said that the Under Armour-style T-shirts offer the guy who can pinch more than an inch an opportunity to slip into clothing that's got cleaner lines and a slimmer silhouette. But he said you can't necessarily use that as the selling point for the average guy, who balks at the word "shapewear."

By focusing on the athletic performance aspects and physiological attributes, guys get to preach function, but enjoy the fashion. For those stuck in dated clothing ruts, it could make the difference between a dowdy pair of pleated trousers or a modern flat-front pant.

"With the Rip'T (pronounced "ripped," a slang for washboard abs) tee, we say fashion meets function," creator Heather Thomson said. She markets her product as the solution to get rid of that stubborn five pounds.

"The midsection is just the most unforgiving part of the body," said Thomson, who gained acclaim from her Oprah-approved line of women's shapewear Yummie Tummie. Her new men's line is available via the Web site,

"This is meant to appeal to the modern guy because for the first time, shapewear is not uncomfortable, not tortuous. It feels like a hug," Thomson said.

She said she hopes her new line of men's products succeed by appealing to a man's desire to feel more confident wearing a two-button suit or in a T-shirt and jeans.

"Why shouldn't guys enjoy the secret styling weapons that women have been using for years?" Thomson said. "I think they are ready, more than ready."

- From Wire Reports