I have had a binder for the past… three years. But I didn’t always have a piece of handy dandy clothing that made my chest flatter. In fact, my first experience was using a method that isn’t safe at all: the Ace bandage. So I want to provide some insight on the few things I have learned using a couple different techniques and styles of binders.
First off… what is a binder? A binder is a constricting piece of clothing that makes breast tissue flatter to mimic a mammary gland-less chest. They come in a variety of styles, from those that cover just the breast area, to the top half of the chest, to the full chest and abdomen. They are generally made of a constricting polyester fabric and are suggested to only be worn for 8 hours. Not like I have ever followed rules. (Oops…)
My first experiences, like mentioned above, was with the Ace bandage. This method is when you hold your breasts down and proceed to wrap the chest and surrounding tissue as smoothly as possible. This might a cheap way to do it, but it also isn’t very safe. Ace bandages are meant to constrict wounds! Or injured joints! I first bound using this technique for a theater production where everyone was gender bent in high school. I looked down and was excited! But running around, serving guests, singing and dancing, put a lot of added pressure on the bandaging. This left me with a few small bruises, a little light headed, and with a little back pain. One of the main reasons this method isn’t safe is because the bandage continues to constrict the entire time isn’t being used. So, while moving and singing and such, my bandage was limiting my lung capacity more and more, and the not so secure connections actually poked through and cut my skin. While this was my first experience, it wasn’t horrible or medically damaging. It can be though, so if you are considering binding for the long term. If so, I’d suggest getting an actual binder. Will cost more, but will be worth it because it will last longer and limit the amount of weird lumps created by un-even wrapping.
This isn’t a form of binding, but I want to make a note that after that theater production, I really enjoyed the constricting yet freeing feeling. So when I got into Steampunk after graduating high school, I found a corset that instead of plumping up my chest, flattened it. While it wouldn’t work for everyday wear, a discreet corest might work for someone for a while. Just be aware of the type of boning your getting. Plastic boning can warp with extended use.
After high school, and when I found out about binding from my partner, I used a sports bra one size too small for a while. I had looked online at binders and saw that they leave people with some arm pit flab, and thought a smaller sports bra would provide me with the same support. Wrong! It hurt to breathe, worse than the ace bandage, because it was digging in on my rib cage, specifically in the spaces between my ribs because of the elastic band on the bottom. The shoulder straps would dig into my shoulders a lot causing upper back pain. And I couldn’t even get it off on my own after wearing them for a couple hours. While it might have provided me with some “support” in the chest department, it wasn’t flat, just less roundly defining. I gave it up when I couldn’t put it on or off on my own, and when my shoulders would still be red a couple hours after taking it off. The pain was not worth the pay off in the end with this method. While it didn’t constrict my breathing as much as the ace bandage, I learned that the pressure has to be diffused over the whole upper torso, just just put on certain parts of it like with bras.
Then came the ACTUAL binders. (Yay!) I didn’t choose my first one. My partner purchased it after seeing me struggle with the sports bra, and noticed I wasn’t purchasing push ups or underwires.
There are multiple styles, like I mentioned above. So I am going to briefly go over the two I own and the pro’s and cons.
Oh and one thing to remember when wearing a binder, lift and separate the breasts as much as possible without it hurting so the majority of the tissues in the pectoral region. Helps you look more buff, and gives a more “natural” appearance based off of where there is more tissue.
In an effort to get one more discreet, my partner got a binder that clasped on the side. It provides just slightly more coverage than a sport bra, but with the versatility of making it as light or loose as needed for the day. Binders, when purchased from an online retailer, come smaller than expected. So follow the sizing guidelines provided and make sure to look at any reviews available. They will normally help you determine based off of measurements which size would be best to purchase.
The side clasp one provided me with the ability to make the bottom tighter than the top, spreading out the pressure, and keeping the front and back sleek. Over time the elasticity of it has worn down. Like a bra, binders do need to be changed often, and you need to look into buying new ones once you start noticing wear or a lack of stretchy-holding-you-back-togetherness. (I’m getting tired while writing so I apologize if that didn’t make sense). It was hard to put on my own, but I eventually was able to do it without a mirror, and in a bathroom stall on days where I brought it with me to school.
Pros: similar coverage to a sports bra, less pressure on the shoulders, ability to adjust size
Cons: side boob would catch on the side clasps which could lead to it digging in, when not put on right it could easily unclip and based off of clip placement could be hard to quickly fix.
I have actually gotten this one more recently (within the past two months). Even going through the process of waiting for top surgery, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I needed a new binder, and wanted to try something different. So, my front clasp binder came from a different seller, and this one has overall more fabric than the side clasp one. My front clasp product covers most of my torso, and has a mesh like back with adjustable shoulder straps. I felt like I was going from a single speed bike to a motorcycle!
The breathe ability with the mesh back was amazing and the shoulder straps helped with almost eliminating any shoulder pain but still provided enough pressure to keep things tight.
The coverage is a lot more with this one, with adjustable front clasps from 2 inches below the collar bone till the end of my floating ribs. I can’t wear just a plain tank top, but my chest looks almost as flat as a cis-mans. And I’m not flat chested. My main concern was the clips coming apart and poking through my shirt. But every time I have worn it, I haven’t had that problem. You can see a few bending fabric bits that aren’t normally there, but overall it makes my chest flatter, lowers the shoulder pain almost till it’s pretty much gone, and I can wear it in warmer weather. I also don’t have as much side boob, because the coverage is greater and the tissue is more evenly distributed.
Pros: A real flat chest look, breathable back means less sweat lines!, even more adjustments means better compatibility
Cons: a little more expensive (about $20-25), bottom edge of the clasps can dig into my stomach (I’m a little overweight), and I have to use the same size all the way down the binder, as I can’t seem to adjust it tighter as I get to the bottom of my ribcage because it pops out easier.
So that is the skinny on binders, according to moi. If you want to get one but don’t know where to start, research binder exchanges in your area or online. Had I known about those resources I wouldn’t have done the corset or sports bra stages as long as I had. People are willing to help donate binders that don’t fit them anymore, or provide discounts or free binders to certain populations. Just ask your local LGBTQ community members and they can point you in the right direction.
For me, a binder has become an essential part of my wardrobe because it helps me have less body dysphoria associated with attention to my chest. It got so bad I couldn’t wear any v-neck shirts or cute frilly shirts with lace down the front. But with a binder I can wear those or button ups AND be more comfortable in my own skin. Just make sure you take your time with slowly acclimating your body to binding, as it can cause long term damage if you do it wrong. And treat your body right. Take breaks if needed. Don’t wear them if you are doing a high intensity work out or have a very active job. Cream in those rough spots or sore areas. Take a bath if you need, chest side down so things don’t float up, so your muscles can relax after wearing your binder for a couple hours. It might be dysphoria triggering, and even if you don’t take care of yourself often afterwards, it’s part of you. Taking care of yourself mentally AND physically is important.
You are beautiful lovelies.