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Advancements in Compression Technology Shift Shapewear Garments

Compression garments are all around us, from bandages and socks to shapewear and leggings. Without a lot of thought, the function of compression textiles seems self-explanatory: they compress.

But what really goes into making a compression garment one of the many versatile, powerful assistants in our everyday lives? How do researchers take “one” function and evolve it alongside trends, apply it to numerous requirements and sizes, and still ensure the most effective yet wearable results?

A brief history

In the late 1970s, the European medical hosiery industry was trying to find a reproducible way to measure medical compression hosiery in one piece without destroying it. Since then, the compression textiles sector of the medical industry has grown rapidly and continued expanding far beyond it.

No longer solely medical applications, demand for compression in sports, wellness and shapewear is booming and expected to perform better than ever, while also tending to more needs. Each application poses new challenges for measuring technology and methods, including the necessity for significantly larger sizes and circumferences. To continuously advance and improve, each feature must be thoroughly investigated while accounting for the unique requirements and wearability of each garment.

An object in motion

Of all the attributes a compression garment must have, one might come in close second to compression itself: its wearer must be able to move.

Walk, run, flex, breathe–whatever the motion, the compression garment must adapt without interfering with the comfort or compression effects. To ensure accurate results, realistic compression values require precise body measurements, proper fit, life-like motion simulation and measurement in various positions.

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To test compression values and behavior during use, researchers simulate movement with complex motion sequences using 4-D scanning (or 3-D scanning while performing the desired movement several times in succession). These results can be used to achieve the desired ranges of motion for the garment in the specific application.

Researchers then compare the materials’ ability to return to original state following the movement and stretching. After all, what good is a garment if you can only wear it through one session?

Feeling stiff?

Much like a stiff neck, a stiff garment is hardly comfortable.

The stiffness value for sport, shapewear and wellness textiles (which can be interpreted as a comparative value for the wear comfort of clothing) is determined by the pressure difference between two adjoining circumferences. The terms low and high stiffness relate to the force required to stretch textiles. The higher the force required, the greater the pressure exerted on the body when the circumference increases. A low stiffness value stands for a lower level of “resistance” during movement and therefore higher comfort, and vice versa.

Stiffness testing simulates movement by alternating strains on the textile both before and during testing. Researchers then take any signs of fatigue or changes in pressure behavior into account to ensure maximum functionality and comfort in garments.

Things are shaping up

Love it or hate it, shapewear is here to stay. It’s not only expected to do its job–shaping and smoothing–but also allow wearers to move (and breathe) comfortably. To ensure proper shaping effects for wearers of all body shapes and types, 3-D scanning is used to visualize real silhouettes and develop reliable size tables.

To analyze each garment’s influence on the body, subjects are scanned wearing both regular undergarments and shapewear. The two scans are then merged and compared, with special attention given to differences in circumference of key areas like the waist and hips, silhouette smoothing effects and body geometry alteration.

What’s ahead

With continuously advancing test systems, the realm of compression continues to grow. Research is continually adapting, taking “one” function and applying it to many different needs and sizes while evolving alongside the latest trends and demands. Now far from just a medical accessory, it has come to play a role in our daily lives, providing wearers benefits and options beyond what was previously thought possible. Whether keeping lymphoedema at bay or ensuring stellar yet comfortable races to the finish line, the future of compression is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever.


Florian is originally from Heilbronn in South Germany. After studying textile engineering, specializing in weaving technologies, at the University of Applied Sciences of Reutlingen, he joined Hohenstein Institute as a project manager in 1994.  In 2001, he was named head of Consumer Tests Department. Then in 2015, he became one of the CEOs of the Hohenstein Group.