• Image about Sara Blakely
Illustration by Douglas Jones

Thanks to a new line of toning undergarments, guys, too, are getting into shape(wear). Our writer gave them a try and lived — just barely — to tell about it.

So this is how it ends: strangled by Spanx. This is what I’m thinking as I ram through the door of my closet and stumble into a long hallway. I’m alone in the house and barely dressed. A Spanx for Men Zoned Performance Undershirt has adhered to the top of my head. I’m holding part of the shirt with both hands, just inches in front of my neck. The shirt is 92 percent nylon, 8 percent spandex/elastane and as tight as Saran Wrap. As I twist my way down the hall, I’m unable to summon enough strength to pull it down over my shoulders. I’m certain the thing is about to snap my windpipe.

Of course a man would get himself into such a predicament. The Zoned Performance Undershirt came with an instruction card outlining a simple process for putting it on. I ignored these instructions, because what man needs an instruction card on how to put on a T-shirt?

These types of clothing complications are nothing new for women. If my woman’s studies class in college taught me one thing (and I’m sure it must have), it was this: For centuries, women have stockpiled an arsenal of underattire designed to squish them into shape. Now, men can join women in this long struggle, thanks to Spanx. The 10-year-old Atlanta-based company, which has something of a cult following among women who love its stretchy shapewear, introduced its first line of men’s products last year. Some of the offerings, like the Cotton Compression Undershirts, are slightly tighter and slicker than your average tee. Others, like the Zoned Performance line of shirts, look like clothes made for little kids. Or teddy bears.

“It has become much more mainstream and acceptable for men to care about how they look.”
The teddy bear shirt is the one that’s about to kill me. I contemplate escape. Could I dislocate my shoulder and free myself like Mel Gibson got out of that straitjacket in Lethal Weapon 2? Probably not. But that’s starting to sound like a good idea, which means I must be about to pass out from oxygen deprivation. I decide to try a strength move. I bend at the knees, let out a scream and, like a Bulgarian weightlifter in the clean-and-jerk, muscle the shirt the rest of the way over my head and down my shoulders. A couple of deep breaths and a few more wriggles later, and I have the shirt pulled all the way down to my waist. I check my reflection in the mirror. Shocking. My flab has been flattened, my love handles lessened. I pull on a pair of jeans. They slide back down. I have to buckle my belt one notch tighter to hold them in the proper place. This is a midriff miracle.

OK, so maybe you don’t consider gaining one belt notch a miracle. And, to be sure, no one at Spanx is promising supernatural results from their men’s line, which includes boxer briefs and briefs as well as several kinds of undershirts. “The shirts make about a three- to five-pound difference in appearance,” Spanx founder Sara Blakely tells me.

Still, that’s a lot for me. I do not consider myself fat, but I’m nowhere near svelte. I cook, you see. Quite well. And I love wine. Far too much. So I am constantly battling with those three, five or nine extra pounds — all of which seem to collect right at my waistline.

While I do dress to conceal my perceived flaws, I had never considered shapewear a viable option. But since it launched last spring, Spanx for Men has been a sales phenomenon, far surpassing the company’s expectations. For instance, the Cotton Compression Undershirt, which retails for around $55, quickly sold out nationwide at high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Following the product’s launch, there was a six-week waiting list on Spanx’s website.

But surely it’s women who are buying these as gifts (and a little payback) for their men, right? Wrong. Blakely says men are buying the products for themselves, even though the name on the box is Spanx, the very same brand that’s a favorite of the fictional Liz Lemon and the real-life Oprah Winfrey.

“We spent a year thinking of other names for these products,” Blakely says. “But in the end, we decided that ‘Spanx’ stands for ‘shaping’ in the marketplace. And we’ve found that men don’t mind at all.’ ”