With just one Instagram video and a catchy little tune, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom pretty much blew the lid off what goes on under all the designer gowns during awards season. “I can’t breathe,” she gasps after busting out some sweet moves while squeezed into a flesh-toned corset and Spanx biker shorts combo. (But hey, the breakout star looked amazing in her off-the-shoulder, body-skimming Christian Siriano gown at the Golden Globes. No pain, no gain, right?) “[Shapewear] is their armor on the red carpet,” says celebrity stylist Tara Swennen, whose celebrity clients include Kristen Stewart, Emily Ratajkowski, and Modern Family’s Julie Bowen. “It makes them feel locked and loaded. It makes them feel solid. They’re jiggle-proof and wardrobe-malfunction-proof. It gives them an air of confidence.” And despite all the personal training and access to the latest solid-food-free cleanse, famous people sometimes do feel that need for extra support. “All these celebrities are in shape. They do work out. But a lot of times, they need something extra,” says Judy Len, who styles Ariana Grande, Jamie Chung, and Nicole Scherzinger.
“You don’t have to get surgery or go under the knife. You can just do this one-time tuck for the dress, and then you’re fine the next day,” she adds. “Kind of like, ‘I have to spend $10,000 on lipo or I can just spend a couple hundred dollars on Spanx.’” Never mind the question of whether anyone — celebrities included — has to do anything in the first place, but shapewear has been commonplace on the red carpet as long as there have been cameras. The inability to draw a full breath is sometimes a hazard of the trade when it comes to an industry in which wardrobe selection is a strategic business negotiation and a spot on the best-dressed list can carry as much weight as a positive review from the most discerning film critic. And picking the right undergarments to enhance a client’s red carpet look is seen as just as critical. Stylists have their own processes to pick the right undies, keeping both the red carpet dress and the goals of the client in mind. They maintain a well-stocked undergarment trove in their studios to find the most complementary pieces: slips, thongs, high-waist tummy-tucking boy shorts, full bodysuits, corsets, waist-cinchers, and strapless bra variations from brands like Spanx, Commando, Wolford, Cosabella, and Maidenform. “Essentially there’s a different type of shapewear solution for every type of figure and every element that you want to essentially smooth out,” says Swennen, who’s a big fan of the new silicone technology in shapewear that prevents that uncomfortable sausage-casing rolling. Len keeps her supply closet stocked with the versatile Victoria’s Secret Invisible Push Up Bra, a backless silicone push-up contraption that adheres onto the boobs for that “busty” effect. Case in point: Jamie Chung, whom Len is styling for awards season, wore a pair under a cleavage-baring ’30s-inspired dress by Vivienne Westwood to a pre-Golden Globes party. “She wanted that lift — because she’s like me, we’re not busty girls — and honestly, I don’t even know where those boobs came from,” Len says. “I was like, ‘Wow, Jamie, you got some boobs!’ That’s what she wanted. You’re able to achieve those with specific undergarments, which is very important.”
Of course, if you don’t have any manufacturer-made inserts, there’s the Kim Kardashian–approved DIY method of using gaffer’s tape to lift up boobs. Per her app, Mrs. West explains she’s experimented with “everything from duct tape to packing tape to masking tape” — and oh god, can you imagine the removal process? — but landed on gaffer’s tape to do the heavy lifting, so to speak. She does caution to make sure you don’t have oil or lotion on the chest area beforehand. Len confirms that taping is a common trick of the trade, especially for photo shoots, since it’s easy to find more gaffer’s tape from the crew. But “with red carpet appearances, I worry that if the girl sweats, it won’t stay on as long,” she says. And yes, Len confirms that it probably would hurt like a mother when it’s time to take the tape off.
Stylists also have their own preferred system for fitting the right undergarment with the shortlisted dress or dresses. Swennen will start with Spanx and construct from there. Amy Schumer’s stylist (and Zoolander 2 costume designer), Leesa Evans, works from the ground up. “I always start with seeing how the dress looks without any undergarments, because we want to know that [the look is] almost there and feels comfortable without having to do anything too extreme to make it wearable,” she explains. In certain situations, though, stylists have to tap into their creativity and resourcefulness — not to mention sewing skills — to find the perfect combination of shapewear and undies for a dress. “Sometimes, if we don’t have exactly the right thing, we end up building it. It’s like a Frankenstein situation,” says Swennen, who recalled sewing a pair of Spanx shorts to a low-back bra to refine and correspond with a backless dress. Or “we might end up just being a little bit MacGyver-y and safety-pin it last-minute,” she adds. Len recalled a similar situation, which required sewing a high-waisted Spanx short to a strapless bra — while the client was already encased in the pieces. “In order to take [the undergarments] off, you have to cut it off,” Lee admitted. “She can’t go pee.”
While that case takes serious dedication from the celebrity (and a restraint in quaffing free-flowing champagne), other seemingly risqué situations don’t actually take that much commitment. Namely, wearing the sheer illusion dress, or, as we like to call it, the Naked Dress. Spoiler: Celebrities aren’t really that naked underneath — Rihanna at the CFDA Awards notwithstanding — because most likely, the stylist has stealthily augmented the dress with some sort of flesh-toned lining. “For instance, J.Lo’s not naked underneath, I guarantee you,” says Len. “They’re great on choosing the exact fabric color that goes underneath.” Then she pauses. “Maybe she is, who knows. She’s amazing.” But for Len’s less adventurous clients, the secret to trick-of-the-eye nudity is matching the underwear or sewn-in lining to the wearer’s exact skin tone. “[The lining] can cover your nipples and certain areas, but since it’s the color of your skin, it’s the illusion of you wearing nothing underneath,” she explains. Evans also looks to high-tech, ultra-thin, raw-edge slips and bodysuits “that are like a second skin.” The same strategy works for adding coverage to a skin-baring and wardrobe-malfunction-risking cutout dress. “If the cutout is in a specific place where you can wear an undergarment and it just looks like your skin, you can get away with it,” Swennen says. “But otherwise, to be honest, it’s really a free-for-all in there. You gotta just go as is.” But, of course, #notallcelebrities. “Amy [Schumer] would prefer at all times to go without shapewear because she’s very much a person who likes comfort, but she also will agree that sometimes shapewear just does exactly what I said,” Evans says. “It gives you great posture and it makes you feel good, and anything that does that — how can that be wrong?” Although, there’s only so much one can suffer for their craft. “I’ve had women do a ditch [midway into the] night,” laughs Swennen. “All of a sudden, ‘Where’s my Spanx?’ ‘Oh, it’s in the bin. I’m sorry, I threw it out at the Academy Awards. I couldn’t deal with it.’”