Tips for dressing well after a mastectomy
Some of the wardrobe changes required after a mastectomy, such as buying a post-surgical bra, are obvious. Others might surprise you, like the way certain shapes, cuts, or necklines now look different on you. After years of working with women who’ve had mastectomies, here are a few style tips that I find helpful.
- Take your time
- Get the basics right – the right bra and breast form are important
- Highlight your best features
- Comfort – look for easy to wear, soft fabrics & loose arms
- Camouflage – different necklines, layering, scarves, draped items, and how to draw the eye/attention to where you would like it to go.
Take your time
The changes your body goes through with mastectomy surgery can be a shock. It will take time to get used to the way you look, and your new clothing needs. Right after the surgery, these changes can seem overwhelming. Just because you’ve had surgery, it doesn’t mean that you have to wear baggy tops forever. Take time to find out what now works for you. Often the key to regaining confidence is to stop focusing on “problem” areas. Women often develop a distorted body image (including many women who never had a mastectomy), believing some things are far more visible to others than what the reality is. So try lots of things on and see what works.
Wear the right breast form
If you decide to use a breast form, it is always worth taking the time to get the best one you can. Look for brands and materials which will provide the best quality and comfort. As well as choosing a good brand, pay attention to your preferences. Do you prefer an insert breast form (can be slipped into a pocket attached to your bra) or a contact/adhesive breast prosthesis (attached directly to your chest – some find it feels more natural)?
Your comfort is key. It’s never worth wearing uncomfortable breast forms. Aside from the discomfort, you can risk irritating your sensitive skin and creating posture problems later.
A professional fitter with years of experience is generally the best option. Contact me, Valerie, at Valerie’s Breast Care and I will help you pick out the best breast form, try different forms and measure you for a perfect fit.
Invest in good bras
Good post-surgical bras can make a big difference in your comfort level. Talk to me about coming to your house for an expert fitting – it makes an enormous difference and doing it in the comfort of your home helps. I recommend having these three essentials;
- Non-wired Soft Bra
If you’re feeling tender, this is a softer alternative to an underwire bra. You’re looking for a bra with slight padding for extra comfort.
- T-shirt Bra
Comfortable and slightly padded with moulded cups, these bras are smooth under your clothes – no visible lines.
- Front-Closure Bra
An essential straight after a mastectomy, it’s easier to fasten and to use if the range of motion in your arms is a challenge.
Keep your style in mind
While your comfort is important, your self-esteem and confidence should also be taken into account. Try to find ways to wear the looks you love best by adapting them to your new needs (with some of these tips). If you have a favourite style, try it on when you shop. Even if it takes time, you may be surprised at how many great new looks you can put together.
Highlight your favourite features
Most of us spend too much time thinking about the bits we want to hide, and not on the bits we want to highlight (and we all have a few good bits!). If you think you don’t have any, maybe bring a good friend who you trust to take a long hard look at you in clothes and give you an honest opinion. What you’re trying to do is create a focal point on your good bits – try using a belt to accentuate your tiny waist, wear patterned/coloured/textured trousers or a shorter skirt to draw attention to your long legs, or treat yourself to a pair of statement shoes.
Easy to wear items
At the earlier stages of recovery, look for clothing that is easy to put on and take off. Front closures clothes are the best. Buttons, ties, and zippers are all easiest at the front of a shirt, skirt, or dress. A wrap-around top or dress can be even easier. If you’re choosing a t-shirt, make sure it’s a wide neck. While many will choose high necklines to cover up, a small necked shirt might be difficult to pull off without raising your arms.
If you are still suffering pain or restricted movement after your surgery, large arm spaces are vital. This might mean choosing sleeveless tops and dresses, as these allow your arms to move without pulling the fabric at your chest. Loose, large sleeves are also an option (think boxy cuts or flowing bell sleeves).
Comfort is key when dressing after a mastectomy. Soft, breathable fabrics should take priority. Think cotton, jersey, modal, and bamboo. These fabrics might be more expensive than others but can be worth the investment. Also, the appearance of a softer fabric can also assist with styling (often more flattering) – softer fabrics often drape around the chest area without pushing the breast form. Jersey knits are great as long as they’re cut correctly they hang well and they’re easy to wear.
Choosing a neckline can be hard when selecting a post-mastectomy outfit. Many women will initially choose to cover up. You may still feel more comfortable with a high neck, but your choices do not have to be restricted. I would recommend trying a few options to see how they fall on your chest before deciding. Loose-fitting tops with modest necklines are an easy starting point. If you find a low neckline on an otherwise perfect item, you can still wear it. There are many ways to adapt your outfits such as adding extra buttons, holding open areas closed with a brooch, wear a cami or scarf with it.
Wearing a camisole underneath something a more revealing top is a great way to expand your wardrobe choices. Additional layers such as a vest, a cardigan, or a jacket, can all help camouflage your top half. As well as being an excellent option for those who feel self-conscious about their shape, you can have a lot of fun dressing with layers. Try playing with colours and textures, as well as interesting cuts. A vest could be worn over a blouse for trendy office wear. A cropped, structured jacket could be added to a flowing dress for a day out.
Scarves and throws
Scarves, throws, and wraps are a wonderful addition to any post-mastectomy outfit. They can be worn in a number of styles that hide the chest area. The soft, draped fabric can also feel pleasant if you are having an uncomfortable recovery day. If you are sticking with a more basic wardrobe with key pieces, having multiple scarves can allow you to change up your look effortlessly. Different colours, shapes, textures, and prints can be added to any outfit for a brand-new feel.
Draped and flowing
If you enjoy the coverage and comfort of a scarf, you might also enjoy a completely loose, flowing look. This might mean long-shift dresses, peasant blouses, tunics, and wraps. Many women may dress in this manner immediately following their surgery. However, you might decide to stick with the look afterward as well. Loose tops can be paired with more fitted pants and skirts, but you could also choose to wear an outfit of entirely loose items for a summery, bohemian look.
Enhance your waist
It can be easy to feel as though you have lost your shape, post-surgery. As well as playing up aspects of your figure such as hips or legs, try out some looks that enhance your waist. This has the added benefit of drawing attention downwards. Try wearing an A-line skirt, a pair of wide-legged, high-waisted trousers, a bright belt or a tie at your waist. Or pair a tighter bottom half item with a cropped, wide-cut top.
Shaped tops & dresses
Tucks or ruching at the waist on tops can add emphasis to your shape without drawing focus to your chest. Large ruffles, knots and drapes can be another camouflage option as they help to create a focal point. This can depend on where they lie on the garment, however, so make sure to try them on. Tops with limited or no darts around the bust will also camouflage. When shopping for tailored dresses, notice where the dart sits. This will give you an idea on how a dress or shirt will fit around the breast area before you have even tried it on.
Prints and patterns
A busy print will stop the lines of the underlying form showing through. Try wearing florals, botanicals, geometric prints, animal prints or multi-coloured prints. Embrace patterns to add and hide shape.
Say yes to statement pieces. Wearing statement earrings, rings, shorter necklaces, or fun shoes, can move attention and focus away from your bust area. Accessories can make a big difference in deciding which areas of your outfit get attention. Bold and daring accessories are often a great choice to make with a post-mastectomy outfit. Think striking jewelry. Statement shoes (and who doesn’t LOVE shoes) can liven up an outfit, allow you to express yourself, and bring attention to your lower half – maybe it’s time for some shoe shopping. Even wearing make-up can help draw attention to your cheeks, lips, and eyes.
I hope you found these tips useful, and you get back to enjoying shopping and clothes again.
I have heard great recommendations for the following shops from clients;
O’Donnells Boutique Limerick https://odonnellboutique.com
Amee’s Boutique Limerick https://www.ameeslimerick.com
Sinead’s Boutique Annacotty https://sineadsboutique.com/
If you have a story or advice related to this subject please feel free to share it in the comments below. Sad, happy, or just a little bit out there, all stories are welcome. There is no better way to learn than through real-life experience. If you would like to contact me, please call on 085 160 1783. My breast care service is open for consultations via phone, WhatsApp, and Video Calls.
About Valerie’s Breast Care:- The service is an award-winning provider of mastectomy bras, breast prostheses, and swimwear for women who have had breast cancer surgery. For women who have had a lumpectomy, mastectomy, or reconstruction that would like specialist lingerie. Complimentary home visits for the counties of Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, South Galway, and North Cork. Ask me about a mastectomy fitting at your local cancer support centre. Medical cards and Private Health Insurance accepted.
Awarded Best Mastectomy Products Provider 2020 by Irish Enterprise Awards.
Valerie Murphy, Valerie’s Breast Care
Mobile: 085 160 1783