NEW YORK (AP) -- When it comes to lingerie shopping, Andrea Pass, like many other baby boomers, shudders at the idea of a girdle.
''I love my mom, but I don't wear my mom's undergarments,'' the 41-year-old from Fair Lawn, N.J., said. ''Being comfortable is more important than sucking in my gut.''
Pass and her peers are part of a new target market for fashion companies and retailers which are coming up with lingerie that hides unbecoming bulges but is still comfortable and stylish.
The garments, which come in such ''breathable'' fabrics as DuPont's Tactel nylon and Lycra spandex blends, go way beyond basic briefs, and include leg slimmers that resemble footless pantyhose, body-hugging camisoles that smooth out that extra flab on the back and stomach and even control top thongs.
That's drastically different from those rigid girdles and long-line bras of the 1950s and '60s.
Over the past two to three years, department stores such as Parisian and Saks Fifth Avenue have focused on this new category that the apparel industry calls shapewear and aggressively advertises as fashion in catalogs and newspapers.
''Nobody says the g-word anymore,'' said Pam Simpson, divisional vice president of intimate apparel at Parisian, which has downplayed traditional undergarments in favor of the new sleek styles. The retailer has done well with such brands as Spanx, Bodyslimmers by Nancy Ganz and Wacoal. As for those control top thongs, Simpson reports they are very popular and have no age limit in their appeal.
Meanwhile, Sara Lee Corp., a leading maker of underwear and hosiery under labels such as Hanes and Bali, launched a retail concept called Inner Self, aimed at making boomers feel good about shopping for undergarments.
The stores, which currently number four but are expected to total 10 by June, are billed as sanctuaries, featuring soothing background music and waterfalls. Customers, who range from 30 to 55 years old, also get complimentary hand massages while they shop.
And while Inner Self might be seen as an alternative to Victoria's Secret, even the seller of sexy lingerie is seeing the need to appeal to boomers. The company has expanded its Body by Victoria line, form-fitting undergarments that offer various options for bulge control.
Marshal Cohen, president of NPD Group, Inc., a marketing research firm, estimated that the shapewear category, which also includes certain ultra control-top hosiery, has added 5 percent to 8 percent to total U.S. sales of intimate lingerie, an $8 billion business.
During the 12 months ended November 2002, overall sales of intimate apparel were down 3 percent, while shapewear alone was up about 3 percent, according to NPD.
Still, Cohen and others said a big problem is that stores still don't know how to market the merchandise and educate the consumer about the benefits of these new garments.
''I think companies can do more to leapfrog the industry from where it is now,'' said Candace Corlett, a principle at WSL Strategic Ltd., a retail consultancy. ''They can do more to make a stronger fashion statement about body contouring.''
She praised lingerie designer Nancy Ganz, whose line called Bodyslimmers was one of the first in the late 1990s to ''take the concept of the corset and make it 21st century.''
Pass said she hasn't tried much of the new lingerie because many retailers' customer service is so poor; she wants to know more about which garments would be best for her, but tends to feel ignored.
''If the sales help made you feel more welcomed and helped me, I would be open to trying more'' of the shapewear, she said.
Sue Nevded, general manager and director of Sara Lee's Inner Self believes the new concept, which first opened two year ago, fills a void in the industry.
''Consumers are not getting that service level they need in the market,'' she said. ''Boomers are looking for body sculpting, but we also want to help women celebrate their body,'' she said.
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