What post mastectomy clothing should I add to my wardrobe?
After chest surgery many women ask themselves:
- What are the best types of clothing to wear after surgery?
- Am I going to undergo reconstruction or stay flat?
- If I stay flat, will I wear a prosthetic or not?
- After surgery how will I manage drains?
- Will I get nipple tattoos?
- How will I deal with my new body at work? At formal events? At the pool?
Knowing what to wear after a mastectomy presents a unique set of challenges for women already weary from surgery and cancer treatments. Each body is different and everybody will have a different set of wants and needs when it comes to finding the right post mastectomy clothing.
The importance of comfort
“For me it was all about comfort. Everything had to be soft for the whole year after surgery. Nothing too clingy or that needed to be pulled over my head. No scratchy fabrics. My mother sewed linings behind zippers on the hoodies I bought to hold the drains. And my best friend was a special pillow I had to put between me and the car seatbelt.”
– Catherine, double mastectomy
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Considerations when preparing a mastectomy shopping list:
What post mastectomy clothing will I need right after surgery?
“Right after surgery I was very limited in my ability to move so I couldn’t put a bra on even if I wanted to and getting dressed at all was kind of challenging. I went to simple, slide-it-over-head kind of clothes. As soon as I was healed enough, I didn’t wear bras at all.”
Remember, you are going to be sore after a mastectomy. You are going to have limited range of motion. You are going to have scars and increased sensitivity at the surgery sites. If you have implants you will have to deal with lack of sensitivity and breasts that sit very differently on your body.
“After the surgery for about 6 weeks I had these tubes and ports that filled up with fluid. So they had to be drained and I needed special shirts and camisoles with little specialty places, stitches and holes for the drains. And also, a pouch to wear around my neck so I had somewhere to put the drains in the shower.”
–Jocelyn, double mastectomy 2011
There will be drains, bandages and swelling. The hospital will give you a compression bra after your procedure, but after that, you will probably need a few different things to round out your wardrobe.
These are some post-surgery essentials for breast cancer patients:
- Shirts that can accommodate drains and tubes
- A shower shirt to help you seal off places that need to be healed
- A pillow for tenderness under the arm or to protect you from seatbelts and chafing
- A pain reducing bra
- Something soft and loose-fitting to wear around the house that doesn’t have to be pulled over your head
What is the most comfortable post mastectomy clothing?
Most women crave comfort after a life changing surgery like a mastectomy. Long after surgery, pain can linger. Soothing tender areas on your body gentle, forgiving fabrics can be helpful. .
“My surgery was 30 years ago and still my scars are terribly itchy and also the bra digs into the scar tissue, which gets abraded, red & raw. Even though I wear a looser bra — it still hurts. I have basically given up on the bra — even though my other boob really needs it. Also, my underarm hurts a lot because they took the lymph nodes. So most of my shirts are made from flowy soft material and I wear them pretty loose.”
–Cathy, mastectomy 1991
Sensitivity around surgery and radiation sites mean you will want to avoid:
- Unlined zippers
- Tight clothes
- Abrasive fabrics
A decreased range of motion in your arms means you might want to look for:
- Tops that you don’t have to pull over your head
- Bras with front closures
- Tops with forgiving arm sockets that don’t ride up into sensitive surgery areas
- Loose and comfortable loungewear
What can I do to look and feel like myself after a mastectomy?
Top of mind after a mastectomy is whether you will have breast reconstruction, wear a prosthetic breast, or choose to go flat. For some women, the choice is clear, while others take time to experiment with prosthetics, nipple tattoos, and padded clothing before reconstruction. One thing is for sure, it takes some getting used to.
“The first time I looked in the mirror after my mastectomy I just broke down and cried. My whole body looked different. Suddenly my stomach and butt looked bigger because my chest area was smaller. And I found out the hard way that reconstruction doesn’t always work at first – it takes several operations. I didn’t construct nipples, but my first implants were wrong, had to be redone – then they encapsulated, had to try to remove scar tissue…didn’t work & there was still a “ledge” in my left boob, that you could see in clothes so I had to have them redone by a specialist in fixing botched jobs. So each time I had to adjust and learn to hide what I didn’t like and feature what I did. My boobs do look good now. And I am very thankful for that.”
– Anna Lisa, mastectomy 2004
Some women find going flat very liberating. Losing the bra, wearing soft clothes, choosing a different silhouette.
“I had a double mastectomy and soon after my last radiation, I put on a nice Calvin Klein suit for a job interview. I also didn’t have much hair so I wore this wig from the hospital for the interview. The suit had darts where my breasts once were which now made it look too loose. I took a padded bra and went to the interview; but the problem was that the bra wouldn’t stay in place! It was moving around, up and down and all sideways and I got so hot under that wig. As soon as I got home, I took off the wig, took the bra off, and threw them both out. I had my suits tailored and cut to my new body. They actually look very sleek and natty now! When I showed up for work 3 weeks later (Yes, I got the job!) my new boss sort of looked at me strangely, so I explained I was much more comfortable like this. He said ‘We didn’t hire you for how you dress or why, we hired you for your talent.’ And nothing was ever said again.”
– Laura, double mastectomy
Some tips to look and feel better after a mastectomy:
- Makeup, fashion and accessories can help you feel more beautiful in your new body
- Experimenting with temporary nipple tattoos and prosthetics is a good way to figure out what feels best to you
- Experimenting with bras will help you find the right one
- Trying out different wardrobe silhouettes to compliment your new shape can reveal unexpected new fashion choices
- Post mastectomy bathing suits designed for different kinds of breast surgery can help you feel comfortable at the pool
- Flowy dresses and shirts enhance a feminine silhouette without irritating sensitive skin
- Meditation and mindful practices can help you growing into your new beautiful self
Above all, remember that it is a process, and it takes time to adjust. The good news is you have already shown the strength to come this far– so take a moment to celebrate yourself, pat yourself on the back for all you have done, and take comfort from the millions of women who have been through this experience and found new ways to express their beauty, inside and out.
The 10 best post-mastectomy items to add to your wardrobe:
- A Lacey Mastectomy Bra
There is no need to look like an old battle-axe after a mastectomy anymore. A plush, lacey bra specifically designed without underwire with removable pads is great for anyone with a double or single reconstruction. Underwire free bras are gentler on radiation areas and are much more forgiving when one breast is larger than the other. You can still look and feel good.
- An Ultra-Soft Post-Surgery Robe.
After surgery use a multi-functional robe that accommodate r post-surgery drainage tubes. We chose this one for its ease of use, softness and because it was made by a cancer patient for cancer patients.
- A Pain Reducing Post-Mastectomy Bra
For some people regular bra straps can pull and cause pain so this one has a front closure and razor back straps to alleviate pressure and stop lateral pulling. It is helpful for single or double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, FLAP reconstruction, lumpectomy and other breast surgeries including reduction. This is a wonderful everyday bra that can be worn for years after treatment or surgery. Built-in pockets can fit breast form inserts to give you a balanced look after a unilateral mastectomy.
“Inside Out” Post-Surgery Tank Top
“I basically live in tank tops now. I put them under flowy shirts and sweaters both to protect my sensitive skin and to give myself coverage at all times.”
– Melissa, double mastectomy
After surgery, shield incision sites with soft and smooth fabrics that prevent irritation. We chose this one because the seams are constructed on the outside of the garment minimizing discomfort and it is easy to step into.. IThe shelf bra adds support and there are pockets that accommodate expanders, breast forms, prosthetics, modesty pads or even ice packs. The deep armholes help avoid contact with incisions and pain points making this garment a lovely solution during treatments or post-mastectomy.
- A Makeup Kit to put Your Best Face Forward
Breast and ovarian cancer support site Sharsheret has a FREE “Best Face Forward” makeup kit designed for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It includes make-up products for all skin tones, easy-to-follow make-up application instructions, and tips for those facing hair loss and changes in skin tone. Sephora sponsors these kits as part of the Sephora Stands initiative which complement the “Face of Cancer Classes for Confidence” video tutorials and free in-store classes.
- A Waterproof Shower Shirt
Keep dressings and sutures as dry as possible to speed up the healing process. A waterproofshower shirt will seal everything off and allow you to take a refreshing shower while you recover from surgery. This one was created by a former cancer patient and is patented for its ability to protect chest surgery patients during showers.
- Knitted Knockers
Knitted Knockers are special handmade breast prostheses for women who have undergone breast surgery or a mastectomy. Traditional breast prosthetics are expensive, heavy, sweaty and uncomfortable. They typically and can’t be worn for weeks after surgery and require special bras or camisoles with pockets to wear . Knitted Knockers on the other hand are lightweight, soft, comfortable, and beautiful. When placed in a regular bra, they take the shape and feel of a real breast. They are knitted by an army of volunteers across the world who provide them free of charge to anyone who requests one.
- A Breast Surgery Moon Pillow
Most women need some sort of cushion after breast surgery to take the pressure off sensitive breast areas when sleeping, sitting or driving. This one has a firm filling making it extra effective at relieving pressure. They are made by women at a correctional institution as part of a jobs training program.
- Temporary Nipple Tattoos
After women undergo reconstruction after a mastectomy, there is the option of nipple reconstruction as well. Temporary tattoos can help you decide what you might want the new nipples to look like before any surgery or permanent tattooing takes place. And for women who choose not to reconstruct nipples, these temporary tattoos can be used on a daily basis to help feel whole again. Among a few brands we tested these were the most realistic options.
“I haven’t undergone nipple reconstruction and I was surprised at the variety of options—and how oddly healing it can be to have the illusion of nipples again.”
– Lisa Lefebvre, Mend Together Founder/Patient
- Antioxidant Miracle Oil
A nurturing oil for the skin on surgery and radiation sites helps rejuvenate your skin under your clothes and has the added bonus of creating a healthy glow, when packed with antioxidants and vitamins like the one we picked out here.
10. A one-stop Post Mastectomy Gift Box
Kick-start a post mastectomy toolkit with our Mend Together Post-Mastectomy Gift Box which includes most of these items and is thoughtfully curated to help with healing.
Words from Our Founder
“First I had a lumpectomy, and then I had a mastectomy. And post-mastectomy, you have all these drains and plastic tubes in the surgical areas to empty the excess fluid into these round flat containers, which can get heavy. So it is really important to have bras, robes, and loungewear that support the tubes and the containers so they don’t pull on incision sites. I basically had to DIY it with something like an ace bandage inside my clothes to support the weight. It was so awkward and weird. I could have used a robe or special clothes with pockets for these things.
The other thing is you can’t get those surgical sites wet for a long time, yet you are desperate to bathe. I had to buy a nozzle to stick on my bathtub to take a bath but sometimes I just wanted to shower. They hadn’t yet invented the shower shirt when I got sick, so I wasn’t really able to take a shower.
One of the hardest things for me was feeling a loss of confidence in my own femininity. Right or wrong, our breasts are often tied to what defines us as a woman and it is also very demoralizing the first time you see a typical post-surgery bra. An ugly, clunky thing. The one I got had a little pink rose on it — which infuriated me! Like that was in some way supposed to compensate for the loss of my breasts? And you can’t really wear traditional bras with underwire or padding if you are flat or have some kind of reconstruction.
Luckily there are new companies like the one lingerie designer Dana Donofree started after her own mastectomy to create better options. We have come a long way since I had my mastectomy, and I am glad there are people out there finding solutions to these types of challenges for women needing attractive, functional clothing after a mastectomy.”
– Lisa Lefebvre, Mend Together Founder/2x cancer “endure-er”
Mend Together offers those with a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones a way to reach out and get the support they need. The registry offers gifts tailored by surgery (including mastectomy), type of treatment, diagnosis, symptoms, and other considerations, so a fellow “endure-er” can add the gifts that they believe will be most helpful to them for others to browse. Help your loved one start a Gift & Donation Registry today.
Kate Rigg is a cancer advocate and graduate from the Juilliard School in New York with an honors degree in creative writing from the University of Melbourne.
Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.