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CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Struggling to hide the love handles or muffin top for that holiday party? Underwear makers are finding the desire for a snap svelte silhouette has created a booming line for women, and now men, in shapewear.
Shapewear, or undergarments that help slim and sculpt a figure by holding it in, has become the fastest growing category in intimate apparel for women, with lines available in most major stores, but it is also now taking off for men.
Bra and panty maker Maidenform Brands Inc. this month reported a quarterly profit nearly doubled from last year which CEO Maurice Reznik put down to innovation -- namely shapewear.
Reznik said Maidenform has the largest market share in shapewear and he is optimistic in the continued growth of the category as shoppers globally battle bulging waistlines.
"I'm bullish on shapewear," said Reznik.
Trend trackers have dated the rise of shapewear back to 2000 when influential U.S. TV talk show queen Oprah Winfrey declared her enthusiasm for a brand called Spanx.
U.S. market researcher NPD Group has estimated that the market has tripled in the past decades to be worth $750 million in annual sales at the end of 2008 despite some women complaining that the tight fitting garments can be hard to get on and off and can cause complications when it comes to using the bathroom.
But it is not just women using underwear to smooth out or reduce the bumps and lift sagging parts.
Men's shapewear is changing underwear for men, with vests, T-shirts and underwear used to slim down or even to enhance parts of their physique. Some even promise to help back problems.
Will Cleare, a father of two from Cambridge, England, was skeptical at first but tried a vest designed to give better posture and slim down his stomach for rugby. Now he's a convert.
"There's just no reason why you should feel embarrassed to wear it. You can either be open about wearing it or you can get people thinking 'Oh they've shaped up a bit', that's fine," Cleare told Reuters Television.
Australian-based company Equmen launched men's shapewear in January and is sold in Saks Fifth Avenue and online. The product 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 younger and fitter in a European suit.
"Using the latest high performance technologies and state-of-the-art designs, our garments are engineered to optimize and energize the body, from street to sport, work to weekend," says the company's mission statement.
British online retailer figleaves.com also launched a men's line this year and has reported higher than expected sales figures for men's shapewear. Initial buyers were mainly from the gay market but demand has spread to businessmen and sports figures, especially those struggling to exercise.
"Since May, it's come from nowhere really. It's about 10 percent of our men's underwear sales so it's doing really well for us," said Zoe Ellis from figleaves.com.
But some fashion experts remain uncertain about the men's shapewear market.
"The men's underwear market is very small so it could be a bit of a gimmick, a bit of a novelty," said Anna Santi, Drapers Fashion Journal Commissioning Editor and underwear expert.
"But at the same time, we've seen from a beauty point of view, we've seen a growth in men's grooming products so as a consumer product it could lend itself quite well to underwear."
Additional reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Miral Fahmy