We've all been there...  You buy the same style of top that you had purchased dozens of time before, don't even bother to go try it on, and never even think about your body's post mastectomy changes until you try it on at home.  Then, "What was I thinking???"

Don't worry, we all do it.  Our brains are so hard-wired with the old body image we've grown slowly into over a lifetime, that it's really hard to change it overnight.  It sometimes takes years for your mind to get used to your body's new reality. 

Maybe you have felt so NORMAL for awhile that you really do forget one day while shopping.  Maybe you've worn those mastectomy breast forms so many times that they FEEL real to you, that you forget that even with them on, you really don't have the SAME body you did before. 

Perhaps you can't wear the currently fashionable low neckline, or even a collar that opens too far down, leaving the missing upper chest tissue obvious in the opening. There is no 'cleavage' possible when you're wearing breast forms that are tightly encased inside a mastectomy bra cup.

That happened to me recently, and it brought it all back for me again.  I remembered vividly the day I had finally realized that my clothing style was no longer appropriate for me. 

Of course, I should have had a clue.  Before I'd even had the surgery, I can remember asking a nurse at the women's center what my body would be like after the surgery, drawing on her experience with other patients who'd had bilateral mastectomies.  I asked her if my chest would simply be flat, like a man's chest.  I really had no idea, no one to compare myself with at the time, who'd had bilateral mastectomies. 

She drew a long breath, and I could have sworn she was suppressing tears as she nodded in a sort of 'more or less' answer.

As I looked down at the purple knit tank top I was wearing that day, my very favorite top, the first tank top I'd ever felt I looked good in, I naively asked, "Can I still wear this top after the surgery?"  It was then that she paused our walk down together down the hall, turned to me, and hugged me, hard.  She said, "You are going to be alright, things WILL be different, but you are strong enough to deal with it."

I hung onto those words many times as the months and years went by, but I often wished there were an owner's manual for my 'new body'.  Why hadn't someone written an instruction sheet, a brochure, a BOOK on fashion after mastectomy, for cryin' out loud!  It was SO HARD to have to learn things one at a time, and be embarrassed at times, because I made mistakes over and over while trying to find out what worked and what didn't, and why. 

My first lesson was the day my husband gently said to me, "Honey, that red floral print shirt you wear so often, you might want to rethink that.  Today when you leaned over to lift a box, I noticed something."  I wasn't really sure of what he was trying to say, until I leaned forward in front of the bathroom mirror, and clearly saw my navel through my neckline, BEHIND my bra, where my cleavage used to be.  AHEM!  Could they not MENTION that this will happen?  When I leaned forward, so did my heavy silicone breast forms, and the weight of them pulled my bra band completely away from my body.  Scars, flat chest, everything, was quite visible through my shirt collar.

"Well damn...." I thought to myself, and then I cried.

What do we DO about it?  ADJUST.  So what, we can't wear exactly what we used to wear.  Grieve for it, and then move forward.  I'm not saying I don't still very occasionally feel tears in my eyes... as I'm walking in the lingerie section while shopping, or in the changing room while trying on clothes that aren't going to work, but there are so many things that are WORSE than that to live with.

I often think of that brave woman we've all seen on tv back several years ago, who had the first face transplant to repair severe damage.  If I told her my piddly problem of not being able to wear a particular style blouse neckline, she'd probably want to slap me into next week and say 'GET OVER IT', and she'd be justified in thinking that.  If she can get used to a new face, surely I can bear up under wearing a more modest neckline, pffth...

Anyway, think of that as we do our next step, because you CAN handle it.  Find a large mirror, something full length if you have it, and try your clothes on, one top or dress at a time, while wearing the heaviest mastectomy forms you own and the bra that you wear most often.  Lean forward as if to pick up a pen you've dropped in front of you, then tilt your head back to look up at the mirror.  If you can see BEHIND your 'breasts' in the mirror, you just MIGHT be wearing an article of clothing that can be taken to the nearest consignment shop or donated to a thrift shop.

Go down the row in your closet, try on EVERYTHING... tank tops, exercise garments, Sunday best, swimsuits, t-shirts, evening wear, whatever.  Don't forget to clean out your bureau drawers as well'.  Be strong, and put it aside in the 'to go' pile if you see that it's going to embarrass you.

Sure, you can try and remember to pin the top closed, or use the extra button at the top, or wear it over a dickey, but unless it's such a favorite item that you REALLY want to have to deal with it every single time, you need to break up with some of your clothes.  Send 'em packing if they're bad for your self esteem. 

Besides, you love to shop, right?  Next day that you feel particularly empowered, go look for new clothes with your new-found knowledge of WHAT you will and will not feel comfortable in.  The job of clothing is to enhance YOU, and if it's not doing it's job, it's not your fault.  Look for other clothes that will make you feel good!

If you can't afford to replace things all at once with new, don't worry, our society is finally past the stigma of shopping thrift stores.  I was at a Goodwill store recently and in the parking lot was an Audi, Volvo, Cadillac, etc... right in front of the door.   The new 'in' thing is to get the best bargain, not to spend the most.  Cool.... one more good reason to bargain shop, as if I needed one, right? :^)

While you're trying on clothes, be sure to take notes of what you NOW look best in, as everyone is different, and you'll find things you might not have naturally picked out before.  (I'd not worn boat-neck type tops before surgery, but love them now!) What's best on me, may not be to your liking, nor the other way around. 

What looks best on anyone is something they feel so good in that they aren't aware of what they're wearing after the first five minutes.   Stand tall, bend over, twist around, look closely in the mirror, and don't buy anything you have to 'make do' with or adjust constantly.

My next suggestions are more of 'substitutions'.  If you like a deep opening at the neck because it has a thinning effect overall, substitute a long chunky necklace over a shorter neckline, or a long skinny scarf with the knot tied low, the effect is almost the same.  A vest with a low neckline over a top with a higher one, works great.  Look for clothing with 'V' shaped construction lines, or designs in the print, simulating a lower neckline.

In a pinch, sometimes a lacy camisole can show under a deeper neckline, and cover up quite nicely, as can those little 'as seen on tv' bits of fabric worn at the neckline...they attach at the bra straps to cover cleavage at the office, and they cover a lack of cleavage exactly the same. 

Now, do you have a good idea of what changes to think about?  Change isn't always a bad thing, so go have fun, be creative.  Don't think of it as having limitations, think of it as an opportunity to clean out your closet and update your style.  (OK, and maybe a good reason to take a break to go shopping, alright?)

Do you have some things in your closet with low necklines that you just CAN'T give up?  If nothing else, bring out your loveliest long silky scarves and tuck them down your neckline, overlapping & pinning them at the base of your bra with a tiny safety pin.  You'd be AMAZED at how many different looks you can achieve with colorful scarves, and it will buy you some time while you decide what to give up and what to replace.

By the way, don't dispose of all of your very low-cut tops if you really love them.  They make quite nice cardigans!  (See the instructions below.)

Here's before and after photos of a deep neckline on one top that I could no longer wear.  With just a few minutes to snip it down the center, sew on a couple strips of seam binding, then flip over and stitch down the edges, it was easily made into a cardigan!  (Don't worry if you can't sew, you can use fabric glue and accomplish the same thing.)

Look at some of your discarded clothing after cleaning your closet, and see if some of your tops can be used in this way.  You may find that now you prefer a layered look anyway, (many of us find it's more comfortable on days when we're a bit more self-conscious about how we look) and this will expand your wardrobe.  I was surprised to find that I liked the cardigan even more than I'd liked the top as it was before.
  Don't be afraid, grab your scissors and become your own designer!  It's lots easier and less expensive than sewing items from the beginning, it's 'almost instant' gratification!