I have always had a large bust, but I am about to undergo a bilateral mastectomy. I do not intend to undergo any reconstruction. I want to try to make the best of this transition and embrace the fashion options a flat chest offers woman that were never available to me. I am looking for casual ideas that will make me feel good about my new silhouette. What do you suggest? — Laurie, Cape Cod, Mass.
First, I am sorry for your diagnosis and admire your strength in framing the experience as an opportunity to experiment with a different sense of self; that what is happening to you is not simply about a loss. It is true that there is a certain kind of liberty in a flat chest, and clothes can help make that real.
As the author of the blog Flatter Fashion, a British site run by a woman who also opted to forgo reconstruction after a double mastectomy, wrote in her original post a few years ago: “Your chest does not define your identity. Loss of your breast form does not mean you have to lose your personal style.” It just may mean you redefine it — and try looks that previously were not accessible to you.
This is also the conclusion of Leave Me Breastless, a site started by an Australian woman named Genevieve Esgate. (Both blogs are great places to go for inspiration.) Ms. Esgate suggests avoiding tight stretchy fabrics as they can chaff against scars, as well as shirts with gaping sides that can expose scars and make you feel self-conscious. She recommends looking for off-the-shoulder necklines and ruffles — styles that may have been too fussy when you had to deal with complicated undergarments but that now you can enjoy with impunity.
A good friend in Paris, who is one of the most stylish women I know and who also had a curvy figure and underwent a mastectomy a few years ago, said: “The good thing about having less or no breast is that clothes fall well on your body and it looks more elegant. The idea is to enjoy wearing everything you couldn’t wear when you had breasts.”
She said she had become a proponent of men’s wear dressing, whether it was a blouson shirt tucked in to create a waist or a sheer top over a cotton vest, like this swiss-dot version from Shein. She also began channeling women like Jane Birkin and Charlotte Rampling, with their throwaway chic.
And my French friend — like a fashion editor I know who for years wore a uniform of jeans or black trousers with a button-up shirt — started shopping in the boys’ department at classic retailers like Brooks Brothers, putting her own twist of casual insouciance on tradition. (Note: Boys shirts are less expensive than men’s and often fit women.)
To that end, she also suggested tossing a cool velvet blazer on top, like this relaxed silvery version from Garnet Hill or this teal boyfriend style from Coldwater Creek. Luxurious fabrics feel good against the skin, and layering creates a sense of depth no matter what is going on under your clothes. Add your most comfortable jeans or leggings for an even greater sense of ease.
You may have a new body with a new shape, but sometimes old clothes, like old friends, are just the hug you need.