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Undergarment Makers Market Unhidden Shapewear

Shapewear makers are offering more alternatives to the popular body-hugging undergarments hoping women will want to wear them on the outside as well.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Why hide something that's making you look better?

That's what undergarment manufacturers wonder about consumers who have taken a shine to sleek shapewear that smooths out imperfections under their clothes.

Women don't seem to be keeping their Spanx a secret, after all. They talk about it like a badge of honor, sometimes boasting they have two tummy tuckers on to squeeze into a particularly tight dress.

The popularity of body-conscious dresses, such as the revival of Herve Leger's bandage dresses on red carpets, gave shapewear -- or what grandmothers might even call a more comfortable girdle -- an entree into the hip marketplace populated by 20- and 30-somethings.

Shapewear makers now want to take that to the next level and see women wear their undergarments on the outside as well.

"Yes, it is pretty enough and opaque enough to be worn as a dress. But it is also shapewear that is sexy and when you take off your dress -- you have sexy lingerie on as well," says Susan Han, an account executive for Dreamwear Inc.

At the recent Lingerie Americas trade show in New York, the stretchy bondage-type underthings that women use to hide bulges are being repackaged as alternatives to the bodysuits and spandex pencil miniskirts available at trend-driven retailers such as American Apparel and Topshop.

Like other shapewear companies, Dreamwear is marketing its more opaque pieces as solo options. Both for fall and next spring, the company will offer nude and black bodysuits in microfiber and lace, and one with tuxedo details that's chic enough to peek out under a blazer.

The brand Cass Wear will be selling its slimming tank top in metallic shades of black and cream for the holiday season. The top, which can support up to a C-cup size without a bra, was remade with the shimmer fabric because the Wilmington, Del.-based company wanted to jazz it up.

It's part of the brand's push to market more of its shapers as solo items, including its spandex sleeve dresses that will also come in purple in addition to the nude color that Cass advises women to wear under wrap dresses.

Brie Schorah, the brand's operations manager, advises that if you want to experiment with shapewear as clothes, it's best to go with a shade other than flesh colors to avoid stares. "I think nude is still a bit too naked to wear out," she says.

More textures will also be available this fall, with brands adding specially made lace or patterned mesh that stretch and shape like Spandex.

Dr. Rey's Shapewear, a line sold by the Home Shopping Network and at Sears, encourages customers to show off their slimming dresses and lace corsets, which spokeswoman Carrie Wick describes as "very Dolce & Gabbana." The brand will roll out a strapless red mesh contour bodysuit this fall so women can wear it with jeans and not worry about unsightly waistband bulges, Wick says.

MMK Brands is offering even more bang for the buck with its reversible scallop-trimmed shapewear. Tanks, slip dresses and slip skirts in its Bonded For Life line are made in a fabric that claims to help reduce the appearance of cellulite, eliminate odors and wick away sweat. Among shapewear, they're also available in the most colors, including brown and red.

Spanx is also working on offering more alternatives to its wildly popular undergarments by experimenting with fabrics not usually associated with shapewear, says spokeswoman Maggie Adams.

Spanx creator Sara Blakely's less expensive line of shapers, Assets by Sara Blakely, will have patterned firming tights that include twisted cable-knit, argyle and grosgrain, for those who'd rather reveal their secrets to a better body one leg at a time.