The Spanx phenomenon

Anyone who pays any attention to the women’s fashion industry will know the name “Spanx“. It was coined by serendipitous entrepreneur Sara Blakely, when she founded her company in 2000. Sara Blakely started with a bachelors degree in communications and subsequently went into product sales (photo copiers and fax machines). She was doing well for several years, when she noticed that the market lacked a particular women’s garment. She couldn’t stand having panty lines show up on her clothing, which was easily remedied by wearing pantyhose. But in the warmer months, she didn’t want her sandal clad feet to show she was wearing hosiery.  She couldn’t find any footless support pantyhose anywhere in the stores. In a moment of clever problem solving, she simply cut the feet off a pair of  pantyhose, a few inches above the ankle. Low and behold, this worked like a charm. To make them last, Sara would sew a small hem at the bottom with elastic, to prevent runs and help keep them from riding up. Appearance conscious friends learned about her little secret and began asking her to make some for them.  She did this for a while and then it eventually dawned on her that she should make her own commercial product.  She eventually got a patent for her idea and went full bore into the effort to create a commercial product.  The year was 1998.  She faced a lot of hurdles, especially with finding a manufacturer, but was determined to surmount them and on her own as much as possible (read the full story here). Somehow she got the idea to send a bunch of prototypes as a gift basket to Oprah, who actually received and tried them on, was totally thrilled with their effect, and invited Sara onto her talk show. From there, Sara’s business took off like a rocket. She quit her day job and went into this endeavor full steam ahead and has made many millions in sales.  She still owns 100% of her business!  Impressive, to say the least.

Sara Blakely with Spanx
The sweet smile of success

What’s rather remarkable about Spanx is that their hosiery product offering is very generous in sizing. Most women weighing more than 250lbs would be very hard up to find any support tights that fit well. Most hosiery companies make plus sizes that seek to simply accommodate girth without providing support, and concentrate on height less than 5’10”. Sara Blakely set out to target those women, producing an impressive array of larger sizes in her Spanx line. Here’s a copy of the Spanx hosiery size chart:

Spanx Hosiery Size Chart

Notice how 6’0″ remains supported throughout the range above size B, and how the largest size targets weight between 290-325lbs (rather than a more “catch all” of 260-330lbs as seen in most 7X sizes).

Spanx are not inexpensive in most major department stores. Occasionally you can find them on discount through various other channels (at one point TJMaxx offered them at terrific prices, but now the brand isn’t offered at many locations). Rather than offering a few lower priced styles within the Spanx brand, Sara started “Assets”. This brand seems to echo many of the Spanx offerings, but with different packaging, lower prices, and a different size chart. Usually you do not see these two brands offered together in the same store. There does appear to be a material quality difference between Assets and Spanx, as I would hope so for the price difference (for instance, on the Spanx website a pair of “high waisted” Assets is $18, while the Spanx branded equivalent is $38).

Spanx Assets Hosiery Size Chart

Both lines offer a number of styles for legwear: In-Power, Tight-End Tights (including high waisted), Patterned Tight-End Tights, Uptown Tight-End Tights (other patterns), Sheer Fashion, Look-at-me Leggings, Classic Spanx, All-the-way Sheers, and Mama Spanx.

Amidst all the product offerings for women, there is also a “Spanx for Men” section with product categories for undershirts and underwear. No, there isn’t a category for tights! The underwear looks to be designed very well, and if the support is anything like what is offered in Spanx tights, it should be quite good. Unfortunately, there is a “size gap” for underwear, with medium supporting 34-36″ and large supporting 38-40″. My waist is 37″ and suspect the medium will be too tight and the large too loose.

Based on my size, I decided to give Spanx tights a try in size “E”. I went with the style “Two Timing Tight-End” tights, which offers “two colors in one”. The second color is “inside”, so you turn the tights inside out to switch it (the clothing tag is looped over the top to work either way). I figured these may be a little thicker than the mono color “Tight-End” style, but the additional color is achieved by a clever replacement of thread color, so that it shows only on one side.

Spanx Reversible Package
“Two Timing” has been renamed to “Reversible”

The pair I got came in a diamond lattice pattern, which wasn’t visible on the packaging. I understand that there are other versions offered without any pattern. Basically you can opt for black/brown or black/gray. I thought that at one point black/navy was offered, but it’s not on their website any longer. Other styles offered are the “Tight-End” tights in a range of 10 colors, and “high waisted” tights in a range of 4 colors.

Spanx Color Range (seven)
(presently there are 10 colors offered, with just 7 shown here)

Spanx fabric is made of 85% nylon and 15% Lycra, from what I’ve mostly seen. There is ample stretch in all directions. The tights smoothed on well and remained mostly opaque throughout. The waistband is super soft and wide (1 3/8″). There is a definite demarcation between the leg and panty, and the panty material appears a little more opaque. It is also very tall, and at first I thought these were the “high waisted” style! There is a multiple ellipse pattern in the center, telegraphing the support tension being provided. The total fit seems very good, perhaps a little more generous in the calf and foot than I’d like, but I can’t complain as my height is very well supported. I’d even venture to say that someone a little taller could fit in these (maybe 6’2″). My proportions hit on the lower end of size “E”, so that’s probably why the leg is a little more generous in girth. I prefer a more snug fit, but size “D” fell too short on the chart and I didn’t want to chance it.

Spanx Reversible "Two Timing" Black/Charcoal
Solid color Reversible Spanx tights, in black/charcoal

The opacity at the ankles is super, so you could wear these under trousers and show a convincing appearance of wearing socks. The material is breathable, thus wearing throughout a day of work at the office is no problem. If you have a little extra weight above the waist, the waistband will tend to roll down when you sit in a chair. To help combat this, you can fold the waistband over (outward or inward).

The Diamond Lattice pattern in the Spanx I received has a peculiar effect with the reversible tights, which is probably why they have been discontinued (the pattern is presently offered only in the non-reversible style).  The line pattern is raised on the black side, but lies flat on the brown and gray side.  The raised lines tend to be snag prone.  Fortunately they don’t appear to trigger any runs.  The smoother side is better to have facing outward, so I never reverse them with the black side facing outward.  In any case, I find the lighter background with dark diamond lattice design a more pleasing look.

The material seems to be durable enough to last many wearings. However, I did notice that after being worn a few times under jeans, a pilling effect became noticeable across the panty area. Also, despite the generous fit, I started seeing a slight separation occurring along the gusset. The good thing is that the material appears to be very run resistant. On one pair that I think was defective, a hole appeared at the gusset seam rather early, but did not spread. I let it be for a while, then later on put Aleene’s Stop Fraying to help keep it from possibly spreading. But again, this premature fault was due to a manufacturing defect. I’d say overall the quality is quite good.

Spanx Two-Timing Reversible Tights
It doesn’t look like it shown here, but the waist is taller on the ones I have, the waistband resting a few inches above the navel.  It could be due to a styling change when the “Two Timing” name was dropped.

The “high waisted” tights look appealing and quite generous for the taller person, but the waistband design is different from the other styles. It has a more defined elastic with firm edge that almost looks like the kind used on Danskin tights from the 1980’s. It is thinner, so perhaps there is less chance for them rolling over. I prefer the softer wider band from the regular Tight-End style.

For wearing covertly, I would put them on underneath dress slacks/trousers, but not under jeans. Again, the rougher denim material seems to encourage pilling in the panty. Also, be careful of shoes that have hard or sharp edges, as they are never kind to the finer yarns in tights.  I wore mine without socks and ended up with some pilling spots on the inner ankle area, from one particular pair of shoes.  From what I can see, most women’s shoes are designed for all contact points to be very smooth.  Men’s shoe designers typically don’t seem to share this concern.  😉

2 thoughts on “The Spanx phenomenon

  1. I’m a guy who wears tights often, since I live in Minneapolis, and work outside I find them totally awesome for comfort and warmth. So much better than long underwear and way comfier without the bulk. You should make a line for men, it will sell for sure. Many guys do wear tights in cold weather

  2. Spanx tights, especially the high waisted, are near perfect for men already. They
    fit over the typical male pot belly, they stay up, give generous support, and are
    super comfortable. Mens tights are usually weak in the gusset and form runs.

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