Going Flat in Style

Enjoy our guest blog, written by: Katrin van Dam, Author.

Read on to learn some fabulous tips for dressing your flat body to flatter you and make you feel happy... 

My goal in writing my book, “Flat and Happy,” was to provide a comprehensive resource for mastectomy patients, helping them navigate all the decisions they would face before and after surgery, and throughout their recovery. And while many of those decisions are medical in nature, the question of how to dress a newly flat body can create a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. So I made sure to include a chapter about styles to “flatter the flattie.” If you need to make some changes to your wardrobe and you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few excerpts from Chapter 15: Dressing the New You.

When you’re first getting started, you may have to try on dozens of tops to find only one or two that make you happy. Don’t get discouraged. This is a process, and it’s going to take some time for you to find what you like. At first, it may be tempting to fall back on what has always worked for you. After all, you’ve had a lifetime to develop a sense of style and a set of ideas about what is flattering on your body, so you may have to unlearn some habits. Try not to pass judgment or assume a style is for someone else before you try it on. Instead, evaluate each garment purely on the basis of whether it flatters your new figure.

If you’re anxious about the cost of replacing your wardrobe, remember that pricey boutiques aren’t your only option. Your local discount store or thrift shop is a great place to try on a range of styles in your size even if they don’t initially appeal to you. This is a perfect, low-pressure way to start developing a sense of what works on your body now. 

Part of finding your new style is deciding whether you want to embrace your flatness or camouflage it. A tight t-shirt or form-fitting sweater can look adorable on a flat torso, and you may discover that owning your flatness feels remarkably empowering (plus, it’s about a million times easier to read a tee-shirt’s message on a flat chest than one with boobs). But if you’d rather fly under the radar, a flattering cut, eye-catching pattern or strategic embellishment can do a lot to camouflage a flat chest. Just as women who wear prostheses may choose different types or sizes depending on their plans for the day, you can opt for whichever choice suits your mood on a given day.

As you shop for clothes to flatter your new form, there are some basic things to look for and others to avoid. For instance, anything that has darts or other structural elements designed to accommodate a bust tends to look a bit sad and deflated on a flat chest. On the other hand, styles that provide some fullness or extra cloth over the chest can be very flattering. Having lived your life with breasts, you are probably already aware of certain styles that only seem to work on small-breasted women. These are the looks to explore now. Be prepared: once you start down this path you may also find yourself checking out a 10-year-old girl’s outfit and thinking, “I could totally rock that!” Or you may wonder whether it’s okay to try on a cute top that you spotted in the Juniors section (the answer, of course, is Go for it!)

Here are some things to pay attention to:

Cut. If your goal is to camouflage, your first consideration should be the way a garment is cut. Look for tops that skim or float away from the body instead of clinging, as well as details like asymmetrical necklines and closures that help distract the eye. Button-down shirts, which sometimes gap on larger-chested women, work great on flatties, both because they’re flattering and because they’re easy to get in and out of after surgery. You can even buy a great men’s shirt and have a tailor nip it in at the waist, if you like. Halter tops, spaghetti straps, sun dresses and low-backed or off-the-shoulder styles are all good bets as well.   

MaterialThe type of fabric makes a big difference in how a top hangs on you. Unless you have a perfectly smooth incision line (and almost no one does), you’ll want to avoid fabrics that cling and emphasize lumps and bumps. Note that these are not always the same thing - a shirt can be form-fitting but made of a fabric that camouflages surface details, or it can be loose but made of a fabric that emphasizes every bulge. I find that cotton and natural fabrics are generally more forgiving than synthetic ones, and that fabrics with a bit of texture camouflage better than smooth ones.


Colour & Pattern. Busy, all-over patterns like paisley or animal prints, bold graphics and color blocking are all good bets for flatties because they distract the eye. Generally, solid colors are riskier, as they tend to reveal the structure underneath more clearly. The one solid color that is a good bet is black. Because it conceals shadows, a black top is more effective at masking any bumpy or concave areas than a lighter-colored one. 


Embellishment. Look for details that break up the flat plane of your chest. If you enjoy “feminine” touches like ruffles, flounces, ruching, smocking and gathers, you’re in luck as they do a great job of adding volume and dimension to a flat chest and distracting the eye. A scarf-neck top or “pussy bow” (If you can get past the horrible name!) also work well. Or if you gravitate toward more gender-neutral styles, details like the placket on a Henley shirt or patch pockets will have a similar effect. 

Layering. A great cardigan or jacket breaks up the lines and conceals flatness, plus it has an additional advantage for women who are experiencing hot flashes (as many women who are undergoing treatment for cancer do). Dressing in layers that can be easily removed will allow for quick temperature regulation. Unfortunately, layering is really only a solution in cool weather (or in office spaces with excessive air conditioning). 

Accessories. Don’t underestimate the power of accessorizing. A colorful scarf can liven up a plain top, draw the eye upward to your face and provide cover for a flat chest. You can find literally thousands of ways to knot, twist and drape scarves online, but if you’re not feeling that energetic, you can always just throw one end over your shoulder, let the other hang down and call it a day. A striking necklace will also give people something else to focus on. Again, you don’t have to spend a lot. Find a fun piece of costume jewelry at a second-hand shop or your local off-price retailer. Or treat yourself to a signature statement piece that makes you feel happy and vibrant.

One final thought: these are guidelines for navigating fairly conventional notions of “flattering fashion.” But the truth is, there is no rule about how to dress that shouldn’t be broken for a piece of clothing that makes you feel amazing. If you love the way something makes you feel, your enjoyment and confidence will be what people notice about you, not whether the neckline is a little skewed, or the cut or color exposes some asymmetry. 

You can see more from Kat on her Instagram page here and her website katrinvandam

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