"We've become accustomed to accelerated improvements in technology, but it's amazing to see this kind of radical innovation applied to the once humble undershirt. It's a technological breakthrough that provides men with the means to re-structure and enhance both their inner perceptions and their outer representations of themselves in the physical world."Semiotics Cultural Theorist
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Squeeze play: How our writer liked the man girdle
The first time I tried on the Equmen Core Precision Undershirt, it was National Doughnut Day.
I'd received the assignment - to wear one of the new, figure-flattering undergarments for men a few times and write a review - about 10:30 that morning, and on my lunch break I sneaked away to get a first impression in the privacy of my house. I was a little nervous because some of the women editors I work with thought it would be "funny" for their male colleague to spend a day in a form-fitting man girdle.
They described the contortions they'd gone through squeezing into the female equivalent, Spanx, and the sweaty discomfort that often would follow as it rode its way up various parts of the body over the course of a day. I heard, too, indignation that Spanx marketing seems focused on sexappeal, while Equmen touts its ability to improve posture and circulation, energize and support muscles and control body temperature.
Still, I thought I was prepared, physically and mentally, as I pulled the polyester, nylon and spandex tank-top from its white-and-blue box. My trial version was the ribbed and sleeveless style called the "singlet," which looks like the undershirts my grandfather used to wear but today are often referred to as "wife-beaters." The shirt looked a bit small, but the accompanying booklet assured me that it worked "by conforming directly to the contours of your body."
I had nothing to fear.
'Was I stuck?'
I decided to approach the Equmen like a regular T-shirt. But I got it just a fraction of the way on when it snapped my arms against the sides of my head and held them there in a vise grip. I felt something approaching panic. Was I stuck? Could I suffocate? What would my girlfriend think, walking in on me like that?
(Oddly, part of me still was thinking about the doughnuts a colleague had brought into the break room earlier. I hadn't seen the message until too late, and my disappointment lingered.)
Focus quickly returned, and with some vigorous wriggling - I don't remember whether I stamped my feet or not, but I think I did - I managed to ensausage myself. Out of breath, I pulled and snapped and straightened until I got the shirt adjusted to a reasonable level of comfort. And, yes, it did call to mind some of the maneuvering I've seen in women. As if that wasn't enough turnabout for fair play, I then had to face the mirror.
Straight, not narrow
Equmen ads feature buff 20-something models, sometimes posed with a vintage Cadillac, and feminine hands tugging at their Core Precision Undershirts in apparent haste to get them off. In my reflection, I saw something … different.
After I repeated this exercise that night, my girlfriend's comment was, "They're not going to photograph you, are they?"
The next morning, I resolved to give the Equmen a full day. Things started off on a rough note when I found that I hadn't quite mastered the art of getting the shirt on and I had to ask for help.
But I quickly grew accustomed to the corsetlike pressure around my upper body, and I have to admit that I felt upbeat and full of self-confidence as I walked out to the car. I can't say that I ever forgot what I was wearing, but as the day wore on there was no discomfort, just a slight tickle whenever I walked down stairs.
Alas, there were no questions from co-workers about whether I'd lost weight or been working out. But so what? I was in fine spirits, and the Equmen undershirt helped me stand a bit straighter, important for someone who spends as much time as I do sitting in front of a computer.
I wore the shirt again several days later, for an assignment outside the office, in the steamy Houston heat. Did the little pockets of air actually keep me cooler? Well, I think so. My experience wearing the Equmen at an outdoor festival shortly afterward seemed to confirm that I was experiencing more than just the power of suggestion.
Overall, and somewhat to my surprise, I found the experience a positive one. But there was one shock left: sticker shock.
The singlet retails for $89 ($99 for "extra high compression"). The short-sleeve V-neck sells for $99 and $109, and the long-sleeve shirt can cost as much as $119. They're available at Saks Fifth Avenue and www.equmen.com.
And so, as much as I came to like the Equmen, chances are that I'll remain a Hanes multipack kind of guy.