Period films Jane Eyre and Anonymous, each Oscar-nominated this year in the best costume design category, made audiences gasp at the restrictive relics -- bustles, skirt cages, lace-up whale bone corsets -- once worn by women to achieve the desired silhouette of their time.
Cut to 2012, and not much has changed. Indeed, every Hollywood stylist will tell you that illusory, shape-making undergarments are still alive and kicking under every deceptively sleek Oscar gown.
Stylists used to cut up pantyhose, wad up cotton balls, even use gaffer's tape to make sure stars looked good in their gowns. Now the lingerie market is literally awash in silicone breast boosters (known in the biz as "chicken cutlets"), nipple covers, double-stick tape, tummy and thigh-thinning panties, even padded rear pants for girls who desire a Pippa Middleton-at-the-Royal-Wedding rump. Prefer a Beyonce bum? You can get that too.
Of course, not all shaping is under the gown. Couture designers such as Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Oscar de la Renta, and Valentino all make dresses with built-in waist-cinching corsets and bust padding.
"Elie Saab’s gowns have a drawstring corset inside and Roland Mouret uses a power mesh slip that sucks in the girl," says stylist Cristina Ehrlich, who works with Penelope Cruz and Tina Fey.
But all the top stylists do their own body shaping as well. Stylist and E! Fashion Police star George Kotsiopoulos, who has worked with Freida Pinto and is styling Albert Nobbs Oscar nominee Janet McTeer, has an obsession with hourglass shapes on his ladies. He loves the magic of Maidenform’s Waist Nippers. "If your client doesn’t have a perfect shape, it’s your job to fix it. Size doesn’t really matter. It's all about proportion."
Jessica Paster, who styles Emily Blunt and Dakota Fanning, says, "I love Spanx and Mother Tuckers (a compression tank that hides tummies and muffin tops). Her newest skinny tool? "Ardyss makes the most amazing girdles."
Erhlich says 99 percent of her clients want the security of Spanx on a red carpet so they look good from all angles. "Don’t take my Spanx away! Even my girls in their '20s with rocking bodies love them." Her new faves are Kathleen Kirkwood’s super-light Sonic Slimmers, also sold on QVC. "You don’t want to be wearing a Chanel gown and feel like you have a scuba suit underneath."
The Help star Octavia Spencer knows that feeling all too well. She wore two pairs of Spanx underneath her David Meister gown to the Screen Actors Guild Awards and had to cut her post-SAG-win partying short to go home and wiggle out of them. Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy was smarter. She told Spencer that she took off her Spanx in the Shrine ladies room right after the awards were over.
At last night's Costume Designer Guild Awards, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with McCarthy's personal stylist, Cameron Silver, who told us, "She's putting them back on for the Oscars." He also admitted that he was also wearing Spanx (yes, they make them for men too).