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Go on, skip the gym, but don't think 'high-performance' undergarments fight flab Add to ...

My brother once explained his occasional preference for briefs over boxers this way: Some days, you want to be held.

Equmen, a new line of "high-performance," "body-optimizing" undergarments that are essentially Spanx for men, ups the grip factor and by doing so promises to help men walk taller and appear slimmer. Some days, given the options, you just might want to be squeezed.

For the guys out there who just raised a concerned eyebrow, let's be clear about one thing: Of Equmen's Precision Underwear and Core Precision Undershirt, it's only the latter that will make you feel as if you've been forced into a child's scuba suit. (The Equmen gear for south of the border promises its own, shall we say, unique improvements, but we'll get to that in a minute.)

First, the obvious question needs to be asked: Just who is this latest version of shapewear geared to?

"The main customer," says Michael Flint, a Vancouver native who is head of sales and operations at the Australian company, "is a 36-to-50-year-old guy who is starting to maybe slow down a little bit on his physical activity … going to the gym two days a week instead of four or five. He's got kids and an active family life."

The Precision Underwear ranges in price from $49 for briefs to $65 for trunks, while the Core Precision Undershirts sell for $89 for a high-compression singlet to $119 for an extra-strong compression long-sleeved garment.

Putting on an Equmen shirt is not easy. The tank top I tried was so tight that I needed my wife's help to squeeze it on. It was like trying to cram into children's clothing. And once on, it provides the feeling of being packed in shrink wrap. But that's the point, since it's meant to pack in your belly. "We'll take an inch and a half to three inches off your waist," Flint claims.

The irony, of course, is that this skip-the-gym garment is not dissimilar from body-skimming sportswear, something many men are already familiar with.

Equmen also promises that the clothing will improve posture and reduce back pain. "Your shoulders will be pulled back a little more square and that takes pressure off your lower back and your spine," Flint explains.

I certainly wasn't slouching much while wearing an Equmen top, but I have to say that I looked forward to getting home, peeling it off and getting back to my flabby, hunched-over self.

Still, adjusting men's posture and pressing in their bellies is a big selling point, Flint contends. "If I have to give a one-word description of the product and why guys are drawn to it, I would say confidence," he says.

This brings us to the Equmen gear worn south of the border.

As Flint coyly explains, "the underwear are not sold as a 'compression' pair of underwear; they're more of an 'enhancement' pair of underwear." The undergarments lift the butt and, according to Flint, make what's up front look bigger thanks to a specially designed pouch.

Given all the benefits of shapewear for men, it's no wonder that more such products are entering the marketplace. Several brands, including Calvin Klein and Tommy Johns, have got in on the action, while Yummie Tummie, well known for pressing the female form into shapelier silhouettes, recently launched a men's line. Even Spanx is reportedly considering a male version of its compression undergarments.

Although some have christened this new gear with the dubious term "mirdles" (girdles for men), Equmen prefers to seize on men's fondness for technical terminology. Hence it describes itself as made with "patented Helix-Mapping Technology." (In an apparent attempt to beef up the masculinity of its men's line, Yummie Tummie's compression shirts are called RIPT Fusion.) "It kind of gets guys' attention because it's technical," Flint says.

And men are apparently responding, based on Equmen's popularity at Holt Renfrew, the brand's exclusive retailer in Canada.

"Originally we were only going to [sell]it in two or three [stores] but it's done so well and the customer demand has been so high we've actually rolled it out to all [of them]" says Lanita Layton, vice-president and general merchandise manager of men's wear at Holt Renfrew. "I think it's something that people have been waiting for."

Flint says the garments could help remind men who are a little flabby around their middle of the need to get in better shape.

As for the man who wins a woman over thanks to the enhancements of the undergarments but then has to eventually peel out of them and let his belly burst forth, he needn't worry, Flint adds. "There's no doubt that the first impression is the one that counts."

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