What to Wear After a Mastectomy, According to a Breast Cancer Survivor

Getting dressed post-surgery comes with unexpected challenges.

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You can anticipate some obvious ways your life may change after breast surgery. You know your appearance may be a little different, or that it will take some recovery time before the pain subsides. What you might not anticipate, however, is that getting dressed after a mastectomy may come with some challenges.

“There were many things that I wasn’t really expecting following my mastectomy surgery, like restricted range of motion and [less] strength to grab and pull things,” says Dana Donofree, breast cancer survivor and founder of AnaOno, which specializes in clothing for women with breast cancer. “That really leaves dressing a little bit difficult.”

Donofree, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27, began designing lingerie out of necessity when she realized there were no garments available at the the time that were both pretty and comfortable. Her company, AnaOno, continues this mission of providing garments for women who have had breast reconstruction, breast surgery, and mastectomy.

Here are the things Donofree wishes she knew about getting dressed after a mastectomy.

1. Experiment with scarves, hats, or headwraps.

Washing your hair after a mastectomy can be really challenging. Pulling your hair back using scarves or hats can keep hair out of your face and from soaking up the oils on your skin. This can help lengthen the amount of time you can go without washing your hair.

“Maybe as a treat, set up a hair appointment after [your surgery],” suggests Donofree. “Get your hair washed by a stylist.”

2. Find a bra that fastens in the front.

Immediately following the surgery, the hospital will provide you with a post-surgical bra. “Once your doctor gives you the OK to get out of your surgical bra, part of what you’re really going to want is a bra that fastens in the front,” says Donofree.

Bras that fasten in the front are easier to put on and take off than a traditional bra that fastens in the back or goes over the head. Sports bras may seem comfy and casual, but they’re not ideal after a surgery.

3. Conceal but protect your surgical drains.

“One of the biggest challenges following your mastectomy [is] going to be the drains,” says Donofree. Surgical drains are connected to temporary tubes that collect fluid from the surgical site, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“Find something that can keep them in place,” says Donofree. “You don’t want them tugging or pulling, but you also don’t want them out for the public to see.” A loose cardigan or wrap sweater can hide the surgical drains without causing too much friction.

You can tie the drains around your neck using string, conceal them in a camisole with pockets, or use a fanny pack or specialty belt to secure the drains around your waist.

4. Dress in clothes you can step into or wrap around you.

Just like with the bra that fastens in the front, you want to find garments that work with your limited range of motion. Avoid clothes that are zipped in the back or require you to pull them over your head. Wrap dresses, for example, can easily be tied around the front of your waist.

5. Embrace loose-fitting clothes with natural fabrics.

“Some things might fit you a little bit differently,” says Donofree. “You might want something looser [if] you have some swelling or you have to hide your drains following surgery.” Clothes with loose or dropped sleeves can prevent friction against the ribcage or armpits.

Fabric matters, too. “Look for natural fabrics. Those materials give you a lot of extra room,” says Donofree.

6. Embellish with ruffles and prints.

If you’re self-conscious about how your chest looks now, you can still add volume with your clothes. “Even if you decide [to] go flat, look for movement in your blouses,” says Donofree. She suggests tops that have ruffles, prints, sheer fabric, pleats, or other embellishments.

7. Avoid tight pants.

Just like sports bras may be a no-go after a mastectomy, so are your yoga pants. Opt out of tight-fitting bottoms and try looser pants with an elastic band. This makes them easier to pull up and down easily.

8. Get shoes you can slip into.

“I would recommend not wearing your flip-flops,” says Donofree. There are a number of reasons to avoid flip-flops, but after breast surgery, it’s especially important. “You’re on pain meds [and] you’re tired.”

Comfy sneakers are great for the feet, but it will be challenging to tie them yourself. If that’s a concern for you, try slip-on shoes (ideally ones with plenty of support).

“Just a few minor adjustments like this can really make a difference in your recovery,” Donofree says. “The easier your recovery, the more time you get to focus on healing.”

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