What are binders?
Binders are a type of chestwear used by transmasc people to flatten their chests.
They're typically used to reduce dysphoria when top surgery isn't an option, or by genderfluid/non-binary people.
They're also often used by cosplayers and crossdressers, as well as athletes, and there's some medical uses for them too!
Where can I get binders?
UnderWorks and g2cb are the two main places where you can buy binders. Both are online stores (though Underworks has a few locations in the US, Canada, and the UK, and can be found in some department store clothing sections).
Make sure you check their sizing guides before you buy a binder! Wearing smaller sizes than you fit in can lead to really bad damage to your ribs, as well as infections and difficulty breathing, while too large a size won't actually bind anything. Both stores offer sizing replacements, but it's usually just less work to check before you buy.
How do I bind safely?
Choose an Air-Permeable Binder
It's important to let your skin breathe to prevent skin breakdown and infection. Use a commercial binder (like the ones in slide 3) can help with this, as they're made of materials that are body safe.
Stay cool and hydrated
Sweat and moisture can both damage your binder and promote the growth of mould and bacteria. On top of that, the fact that you're wearing another layer of clothing means that there's a risk of overheating, so stay hydrated.
Just like with all compression clothing, binders can potentially pose a risk to your ability to breathe, as well as lead to infections and other nasty stuff. Avoid wearing them for more than 8 hours at a time, and try to have days where you don't wear them at all.
Don't sleep in your binder
As tempting as it can be to wear a binder 24/7, the fact that binders constrict your chest means that wearing them to sleep can cause breathing issues. They can also make other chronic breathing conditions like asthma worse.
Avoid intensive exercise
As binders are 1. constrictive and 2. an extra layer of clothing, doing intensive exercise while wearing one can be extremely risky (dehydration and overheating are EXTREMELY common issues). If you'd like to work out, go for a run, or do anything that's physically strenuous, take off your binder beforehand.
Also, sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria. If you sweat heavily, wash your binder more frequently.
Be aware of side effects and risks
If you notice yourself having trouble breathing, or in increase in sensitivity/soreness around your chest, take the hint and remove your binder. A good idea is to have a friend check up on you at regular intervals to see if you're having issues with your binder.
What are the warning signs that I should take off my binder?
If you experience any of the following:
- Rib pain
- Swelling or redness
- Chest/stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Extremely high/low pulse
Take off your binder IMMEDIATELY. If the area hurts when you touch it, GO TO A HOSPITAL, because it's possible that you've fractured a rib.
How do I clean my Binder?
Most binders aren't supposed to be machine-washed, but if you want to machine wash them, use the "delicates" cycle and make sure to dry them out in the sun as soon as possible.
Because of the fact that they're designed to be compressive, binders are best hand-washed with mild detergents and cold water. It's also best not to let them soak for a long period of time, as this can reduce their lifespan.
Advice for when you're not out to family/household members
You can wash your binder while you're in the shower (or using the sink in your bathroom).
Mild dish soaps will also work to clean it, but other than that, the strategy is the same: cold water, hand wash. Alternatively, get some detergent powder in a zip-lock bag to use.
You can dry it with a towel, or hang it in the back of your closet to dry as well, just make sure you've squeezed out as much water and soap as possible.
You may want to set up a schedule for when you wear your binder, or how you rotate/wash them if you have multiple. This is what my schedule looks like:
As you can see, I don't wear my binder when I sleep, and I don't wear it all of Sunday. Why? Because on Sundays, I do intensive exercise, which is a bad idea when your breathing is restricted. As such, I have 1 day where I don't wear it at all (basically a recovery day), and then 3 different binders so I don't have excessive amounts of sweat or grime (seeing as I'm travelling through all of Sydney nearly every day, there's a LOT of grime buildup too). Obviously this needs to be modified to fit your specific case (how much you travel, how many binders you have, when you exercise, when you sleep, etc.), but it can be used as a rough guide.
Before Top Surgery
If you're getting top surgery in the next 3-4 months, it's best to bind as little as possible to reduce the risks of the surgeries. The compression causes massive deformation which can make it more complicated to remove parts of the breast tissue. Speak with your doctor about this if possible :)
Alternatives to commercial binders
If you aren't able to get a proper binder, the best alternative is to layer sports bras on top of your chest (usually 2 or 3 but it depends on the person). DEFINITELY don't use bandages or saran wrap or anything that isn't breathable or you WILL get injured.
If you're using the sports bra method, try to get "compression sports bras" which don't have cups or padding, allowing them to actually compress your chest.
Hopefully this helps you with binding! Feel free to share this with any of your friends who you think this might help (you can also access this post at www.pks.ai/binders).