So, you get dressed in the morning, put on your expensive mastectomy bra and your best silicone forms, expecting to look and feel great all day, and after a few hours your chest and underarm hurt, you're cranky, and without noticing it, your weaker arm is starting to draw up like a chicken wing. You may even notice that by the end of the day, one arm seems swelled slightly larger than the other! What's going on?
Here's the story... bras were invented to keep breasts nicely compressed into a neat package, and the band designed to stay in place because our breasts were ATTACHED to our bodies so the bra band COULD NOT ride up beyond a certain point.
Here's where the logic of mastectomy bra designers sort of eludes me. While I realize that women who have had one breast removed DO still have a certain amount of control over where that bra band stays because of the other 'real' breast, how does anyone expect a bra band to stay in place on a flat chest with NOTHING grown to the body? After all, most of us wear breast forms that sit INSIDE the bra cup, inside a pocket, it's not glued to our body, right?
We (many of us anyway) actually now measure a little smaller around up above the area where the bra band sits, so of course it's going to 'walk' upwards, even if you wear the widest bra bands available. Our body is now shaped a little like a cone or triangle, instead of an hourglass.
Once we wrap our minds around that, we can see that if you put an elastic belt on the middle of a flexible cone shape and wiggle the cone around, the belt will slowly ride up to the smaller end of the cone. Get it? This is what's called the 'AHA' moment! Sit there quietly for a few seconds, make a mental picture, try not to curse out loud as this sinks in. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger.
So...why are we sold a bra that can't possibly stay in place? Because it's a lot more cost effective for mastectomy bra makers to make one bra (to fit women with one, or both, breasts removed) than to have to sell bras for the left mastectomy, right mastectomy, and double mastectomy, each in a range of band and cup sizes.
I can understand the reasoning somewhat, maybe, and the cost effectiveness of what they do, but that doesn't make my bra band feel any better, does it for you?
Now that you know the 'why' of the problem, let's look at the solutions to the problem.
There are actually TWO solutions that I use now, and my favorite one for summer is the 'Bra Band Suspenders'. It's simple in theory... just sew a suspender clip to either end of a 3 inch piece of elastic and clip one to your bra band, usually just under the armpit side of the cup, but wherever you feel it riding up the most. Make one for either side of your bra to keep it in balance. You can bend, twist, stretch, and your bra will stay in place MUCH better! Here's a photo of how a pair should look when you finish:
I looked all over,in stores and on the web, usually spending around $5 or more for a package with just two clips ($10 for four, so I could make a pair!) and finding that most of the rectangular ones readily available wouldn't hold on. Finally, I found these round ones online that gripped well, but the original ones I found were too wide at the ring and I found wide elastic annoying. Eventually, after much testing, I found that round ones that are about 7/8th's inch wide and have a ring for the elastic that's 3/4" wide, worked just right.
Bra strap elastic that's plush on one side, kept them feeling good, so look for that if you can find it. Regular elastic pinches and itches, I don't recommend it unless you can't find anything else. Flesh color elastic is the best, because it doesn't show through your clothes like white or black elastic can. The silver color ends haven't been a problem for me, but if you worry they might show when wearing very thin light color fabrics, you may want to use a beige fingernail polish to paint the surface. So far, I've not had them show through anything so I've left mine plain.
When you sew your elastic onto the clips, be sure to put the plush side to the back, so it'll be next to your skin, and fold the ends of the elastic over to sew on the same side as the round smooth covers. That may seem wrong to you, but you don't want the ends rubbing on your skin and no one will see them anyway. Your comfort comes first! Be sure to use a little 'Fray Check' (it's a clear glue sold at fabric stores) on the ends of the elastic after you stitch it down, so that it won't fray. Plush elastic tends to eventually fray a bit if you don't... not much, but you should still do this step to prevent it happening.
Here's another solution that I've used for several years successfully, and it has the added benefit of slimming your waistline a bit as well as holding down your bra band. :^)
This is very simple to do and takes very little time or skill. You're going to add a 'tube top shape' onto the bottom of your bra that will extend down over your tummy and will hold on snugly, not allowing your bra band to ride up anymore! This will end up looking like one of those body-shaper things, but DO NOT EVER WEAR those after mastectomy, they are positively NOT made for mastectomy use. They are made to squish breast fat into shape and now all it would do is squish your breast forms firmly into your scars, VERY painful, and potentially dangerous if it impedes the flow of lymphatic fluid, not worth the risk. (That's my warning, I'll get off my soapbox now.)
Above, you'll see the adaptation we're going to make to your bra. In this case, it's the 'Almost U' mastectomy bra with the ultra wide elastic band. (It's the most comfortable bra I've ever found, and yet it STILL rides up into the scars!) I've used this same 'fix' with several different styles and brands, and so far it's worked equally well with all. If you don't think you can do this project as I've described it below, you might try getting a waistline shaper in a larger size than you'd normally get, and stitching it to the bottom of your bra, or sew on snaps or hooks. If you're ready to give this a try by making your own, it's more comfortable, so let's get started.
Go to your local fabric
shop and ask to see the swimsuit fabric. It comes in a range of colors
and is made of something called 'Lycra' or 'Spandex'. You probably
won't find it at Walmart in the fabric section, you'll have to go to a
place like Hancock's or JoAnn's or any other larger fabric store, or you
can order it online.
Optimally, you probably should look for a
color as close to your skin color as you can, but get whatever you like
since it's not going to be seen. I often use beige or white, same as my
bra colors. Be sure to get actual swimsuit fabric, not swimsuit
lining, which also comes in beige but is a little too thin for this purpose.
fabric is pretty expensive, so just get 1/3 yard (that's 12 inches, for
those of you who don't know, lol...) The fabric comes off the bolt in
widths of up to 60 inches, so you don't need to care about how wide it
is at this point, the 12 inches should be enough to go from the bottom
of your bra band down to below your waist. Swimsuit fabric stretches a
LOT, so don't worry, it'll still stretch down and cover your abdomen
when you put it on, even if you're very tall, like me. While you're at the fabric store,
get a spool of a similar color Dual Duty Polyester thread.
PLEASE NOTE: In my photos below, I wanted my 'tube' to not only keep the bra band from riding up, I also wanted it to act as a waistline-shaper, so I cut TWO 12" sections from the 60" wide fabric. The fabric yardage was folded in half on the table here, so after I cut it, I unfolded the two sections and lay one over the other, and pinned them together all around the long edges. From here on, you're going to pretend the two layers are ONE layer. Just ignore all those pins on the long edges of the first few photos if you're using only one layer of fabric. Since this was photographed, I'm now almost always using a double layer ONLY on the front of my tube, as it doesn't feel constrictive, but it does still control my tummy somewhat. :^)
If you're thin and shapely (and I am SO jealous of you!), or for normal daily wear, just use one layer because all you need is for it to hold your bra band down. However, if you've got a muffin top, you'll positively revel in how good your shapeliest jeans suddenly look without that
muffin top hanging over. :^) Just thought I'd mention it. I'd also like to mention that using two layers isn't as comfortable as one layer. Not nearly. Most of the time when I wear this sort of 'fix', it's with one layer, or a double layer sewn onto only the front half of the tube. I reserve just a couple of bras with the two layers of stretch fabric for those days when my fat middle is just TOO bothersome!
You are simply going to match the
cut edge of your swimsuit fabric to the bottom of your bra, to see how
much you need, adding about 1/2 inch for a 1/4" seam allowance, and cut
away the excess fabric. For example, if the loop of your closed bra
band measures 40", your swimsuit fabric will be cut to about 12" x 40
1/2", if the loop measures 36", your rectangle will be 12" x 36 1/2",
etc... Don't worry if you forget to leave a seam allowance, the fabric
is SO stretchy that it won't matter much and you can adjust it as you
sew. (Just remember, use the measurement of the loop of your bra band,
not your actual body measurement here, because your bra band is made much smaller than
your body and it stretches.)
Fold over your fabric so that the two short ends meet, then re-pin the short ends together. Remember, here it's shown with me using two layers pinned together to make it more of a body-shaper, so in the photo at the right, I'm putting the short ends on top of each other and ABOUT to pin them together. If you're using only one layer, there won't already be pins in it before this point.
Sew the short ends of the fabric
rectangle together, so that you now have a tube. I recommend setting a
sewing machine at a stitch length of 12 stitches per inch and the widest zig-zag stitch. Set your machine to a 3-step stretch stitch as seen in the photo below. If your machine uses cams, the design on it will look like the photo, or you may have a dial to set it to this stitch. This lets your seam stretch with the fabric
without breaking the threads.
Stitch the short ends of the tube together. You may encounter crawling fabric, so lift your presser foot occasionally and you might also just barely stretch the seam as you sew. I like to use a walking foot, but am using a basic zig-zag one here because most people have something similar to this one.
Trim the seam. Stretch fabric crawls no matter how well you have it pinned, and you'll want to neaten it up.
Open up the tube, lay the seam over to one side, and stitch down it again to make it lie flat.
This is how it'll look on the outside of the tube. Neat, huh?
You will hem your tube now. If using one layer, just fold it up and stitch around it. If using two layers like I am here, first stitch the two layers together, then trim the edge, then turn it up and stitch it down by sewing over the previously stitched area.
Here's how your hem will look on the outside.
Now we'll do the top edge that will later join your bra. Same as before, if using one layer, just fold the edge like a little half-inch hem and stitch around it. If using two layers, stitch them together first, trim the edge, and THEN fold it up and stitch around it.
Now we're going to match your tube to the bottom of your bra band Overlap it, and stitch around it from the outside of your bra. Note: It helps if you have marked off your tube into fourths by putting a pin into the seam of the tube, then one directly across on the other side of the tube, then one halfway between them on either side.
Do the same with your bra band, marking center back, center front, and halfway between each at the sides. This just makes sure the tube and bra band are matching up evenly, without stretching either one out of shape when you're sewing. You're only going to barely lay the bra band over the tube, just covering the folded over 'upper hem' area of the tube with the bottom edge of the bra band, as seen at left.
I prefer to hook the back of the bra at the center loops and stitch the tube closed across it. It's very thick, so I put a plastic Jean-A-Ma-Jig under the back of the presser foot to level it so that it'll sew easier. If you don't have one, push a piece or two of cardboard back there. If you want to leave your hooked area adjustable, just don't sew the tube to it under the hook area.
There you have it, a finished bra-tube that will keep your bra band OUT of your scars.
Bet you think I've
missed something here, right? Here's another 'AHA' moment for you.
:^) I'm smiling as I write this, because it was a real 'find' for me.
Did you know that from seam to seam across the back of your bra, it's
generally always so elastic that your bra band can stretch enough that
you can step into the 'neck' of your closed bra and pull your bra up by
the straps all the way up over your hips and slide your arms right in?
It's like you're putting on a girdle, that just happens to have arm loops. WAY easier and FASTER than putting your bra on backwards with your bra
cups weighted down with your silicone breast forms, hooking it together, then having your breast forms around on
your hips as you struggle and pull to get the bra turned around your
body, then fight it to get it into place.
Once you try this a time or two, you
will NEVER want to put on an open bra gain! My hips are WAY bigger
than my bra band size, (I mean WAAAY bigger, ahem...) and I still have bras that
I've used for over 3 years, without the stretch being lost one bit from
this. It's ever so much more graceful to put on OR take off your bra
this way. No, I am NOT kidding. Go on, go rip off your clothes and try
it right now, even before you make your tube, you'll see. :^) No, really, go on... I won't laugh...
you may ask, "Why has no one ever mentioned this to me before?" Not a
clue. It just seems to be such a foreign thing to people who haven't
done it, that even some bra fitters I've mentioned it to have just stood and
looked at me blankly. You can almost SEE their minds calculating their
bra band size and hip size and saying 'NO WAY!', but if you SEW with
bra-band-type elastics, you already know, some will stretch twice it's
length or more, so think about it... add 50% to your bra band size since
only the back half may stretch. (As an easy math example, if your bra band is
40", you'd add another 20", which makes 60" when stretched to the fullest...
figure this out using your own with your measurements... is the number
you get bigger than your hip size? Alright then, I didn't think so! It generally works
out the same way, no matter how large or small you are. There ya go,
Here's a little tip though...if you have any problem doing this, just put your undies on first,
before your bra. Seems obvious maybe...they just help the elastic glide
over your hips faster. Then, pull them down a bit and pull your
'bra-tube' down over your tummy. The 'dull' side of the fabric will
grab on to your skin and stay there when you pull your undies back up
over the bottom of it. I've never had the bra-tube ride up, but then I usually wear
slacks or jeans. If you wear a dress all day, bending and twisting to
reach for things, your mileage may vary.
There, wasn't that easier than you thought? :^)