A Post Breast Surgery Boutique: A Source of Stylish and Comfortable Clothing

IWoman in pink bra
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Why Visit a Boutique? 

Before you have a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, a bilateral mastectomy or reconstruction surgery, make an appointment to visit a Breast Surgery Boutique, which may also be called a Mastectomy Boutique. A boutique environment, staffed many times by survivors who can relate to what you are going through, is such a comfort at a time when most of us need all the comforting we can get.

This kind of boutique is filled with attractive clothing that doesn’t look medical, just feminine. It's a place where you have many choices; you don't just have to settle for what's needed following breast surgery. If you don’t know of one in your area, ask your surgeon’s nurse for a referral to a few that are a reasonable commute by car.

Boutiques, as opposed to surgical supply stores and lingerie stores that have set aside an area of mastectomy products, have private fitting rooms where a woman can feel more comfortable being measured and trying on bras and different prostheses.

Ask if a Board Certified Mastectomy Fitter is on staff, at all times, before you make an appointment. You want a Certified Mastectomy Fitter because she has participated in an extensive education program and completed over 250 hours of supervised training before being eligible to sit for an exam qualifying her to be certified as a fitter by nationally recognized boards such as:

Her expertise ensures that you will be properly fitted for a prosthesis that meets your needs, is comfortable, and helps you feel confident about your personal appearance.   

It is important that you go to a boutique, at least for an initial fitting. Buying a mastectomy bra and  selecting one or more styles of prostheses is not like buying a bra. You cannot be sure of a good fit unless you are fitted. Buying mail order from a catalog or online, initially, can be a disappointing experience. A measured fit is necessary because the breast prosthesis is worn after a mastectomy to restore balance and symmetry with the remaining breast. In the case of a bi-lateral mastectomy, a set of 2 prostheses will be fitted to re-create the previous size. Breast prostheses are important not only visually, but medically as well, which is why they are covered by most insurance plans. Over time, not replacing the missing weight can cause back and neck pain due to a change in posture.

When  a woman has a mastectomy, she needs to be fitted for a wire-free bra and a prosthesis that won’t ride up on her, is in balance with her remaining breast, and makes her breasts equal looking under her clothing.

When a woman has a bilateral mastectomy, her fitting may be somewhat easier than a mastectomy fitting. A fitting following a bilateral mastectomy is about selecting and fitting a matching set of left and right prostheses that are a cup size most comfortable for the woman, the right weight, won’t ride up, flattering and natural looking, and in keeping with her overall shape.

Your First Visit 

On your first visit to a boutique, you need to purchase a camisole for support and to secure your surgical drain(s) if you are having a mastectomy or reconstruction surgery. You will also need to wear a camisole if you are having lymph node dissection as a part of your lumpectomy surgery. You will have a drain from the incision under the arm closest to the lumpectomy site, and need to secure the drain. Camisoles sell for about $55. The camisole is usually worn home from the hospital following surgery.

When your surgeon feels you are sufficiently healed, you can return to the same boutique and a certified fitter to be fitted for a partial or a full lightweight silicone breast prosthesis to wear for  breast symmetry if:

  • You find that following radiation after your lumpectomy, the treated breast may be smaller than your other breast. Often this is not the issue until years later, when your untreated breast naturally ages and the treated breast does not. All that is usually needed is a partial, very light silicone prosthesis,which is often referred to as a Shaper, that can be worn in a pocketed bra or inside a regular bra that holds it securely in place so you look balanced in your clothing.
  • You are not having reconstruction following a mastectomy or a bilateral mastectomy and choose to wear a prosthesis(es) when wearing lingerie, swimsuits, sleepwear, formal wear, and everyday clothing for work and casual wear.
  • You are having a form of breast reconstruction using implants, which can take a few months to complete. A soft silicone prosthesis, often referred to as an Enhancer, allows you to look the same in both breasts as reconstruction is in progress.

The Latest Fashinos in Post Breast Surgery Clothing

Recently, I visited a boutique called Underneath it All in New York City and met with Kate, a certified mastectomy fitter and breast cancer survivor. My first experience with this boutique was before my bilateral mastectomy 7 years ago. The first thing Kate fitted me for was a soft white camisole with 2 pouches to hold the drains that would hang from my incision areas for one to two weeks following my surgery. The camisole, which was designed for a woman to step into rather that put her arms up and put it on over her head, also had 2 pockets for soft, white, lightweight, cotton prostheses, which I wore, for some shape under my clothing, as I healed.  

During my visit Kate showed me the latest fashions in post breast surgery clothing. 

Prostheses

A woman can choose from a variety  of full-size light silicone prostheses in different styles, skin tones, and weights, including hollow ones that are perfect for warm weather and swimsuits.

Full size, hollow prostheses, which are not only perfect for swimwear, are light enough to be comfortable for women with sensitive skin.

I was pleased to see a line of partial prostheses by Amoena, a leading manufacturer of women’s prostheses for over 40 years. These partial forms can be used in in mastectomy bras, in swimsuits, and formal occasion wear.

Shapers, shells, and push-up products can accommodate any area of the breast that needs fullness. Some of these prostheses can even be attached to the body using a specially formulated skin adhesive or inserted in place under a bra.

While you may need new bras every year following your surgery, if there are no body changes, you can plan on getting a new prosthesis (es) every two years

One prosthesis, depending on the style, material and other design features, can range in price from about $100 to a few hundred dollars.

Bras

There are soft bras for women who prefer wearing a bra during the several weeks of radiation following a lumpectomy. While many women do go without a bra, others choose to wear a soft bra so their breasts don’t dangle and make them uncomfortable.

Mastectomy bras come in a variety of styles, colors and designs. They no longer look surgical. Once on, you cannot tell by looking at them that they have pockets holding one or more prostheses securely in place. Bras range in price based on style, and start at about $35.

Camisoles 

Pocketed fashion camisoles come in a variety of seasonal colors, or may be accented with lace. They are a welcome addition to a woman’s wardrobe. They can range in price but usually start at about $50.

Sleepwear

For a woman who has had a mastectomy, there’s pocketed sleepwear that can accommodate a soft cotton prosthesis or a lighter weight silicone prosthesis giving a balanced look in a nightgown. Women with a bilateral mastectomy can also use this sleepwear.

Pajamas or a nightgown can range in price from about $60 to over $100 based on style and fabric.

Swimwear

Modern swimsuit styles are feminine looking and incorporate prostheses pockets that are undetectable. A woman has many choices when selecting swimwear. She has the option to choose a high-front bathing suit that will provide complete coverage for any surgical scars; or a suit that closely incorporates currently popular swimwear styles, including two-piece suits. One of the most popular styles is the Tankini, which is a tank top worn over a separate bottom. Its popularity is due, in part, to the convenience of not having to remove the pocketed top of the suit when using the ladies room. Suits vary quite a bit in price, depending on features, fabric, and style of the suit.

Hats

Most boutiques carry a large number of  dress and casual wear seasonal hats that offer complete head coverage for a woman receiving chemotherapy. The hats look and feel like today’s popular styles in fabrics that are especially comfortable when the scalp is sensitive from treatment.

Sports hats are in large supply, as well as sleep caps. Turbans and caps, in an assortment of colors, are popular for lounging  at home. Scarfs for all lengths are stocked for the woman who prefers to style them to her outfits for a different look.

These head coverings give a woman going through treatment alternatives to wearing a wig each day.

Wigs

Wigs are a staple in most boutiques. A woman can try on wigs in privacy for style, fit, and color preference and, when she decides to purchase a specific wig, it can be ordered for her if it is not in stock at the boutique. She can book an appointment, when she receives her wig, to meet with a stylist who can trim and shape her wig for her.

Boutiques usually carry synthetic wigs, which are easier to care for and less costly than human hair wigs. Wigs range in price from under $100 to a few hundred dollars depending on the quality of the wig and the style such as a hand-tied wig, or a wig with a monofilament top that gives the appearance of a natural scalp that allows for a part.

Other Products

In addition to clothing lines, a boutique often stocks products that a woman may need during treatment and beyond, such as:

  • Wig care products including shampoo,comb, brush, and wig stand
  • An eyebrow kit to create eyebrows until her brows grow back after completing chemotherapy
  • Scar cream to reduce the appearance of surgical and reconstruction scars

Insurance Coverage for Post-Mastectomy Products

Before you shop for post breast surgery clothing, check with your insurance company as to what they cover initially, annually, and what providers are part of their plan. Since coverage can vary make sure you know what your deductible and copay will be. Select a shop that specializes in post breast surgery clothing and products and is an in-network provider under your plan.

If you are covered by Medicaid or Medicare, you need to find out what you are covered for beyond a prosthesis(es) and bras initially and annually.

Resources for a Woman Who Doesn’t Have Insurance Coverage

Underneath It All and other boutiques maintain breast banks of recycled and cleaned, breast prostheses. A woman who needs a prosthesis can come to Underneath it All and, if she commits to buying a bra at the regular price of $35, she will be fitted and given a prosthesis at no cost.

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