Chest Binders 101
What are these anyway?
Chest binders are undergarments meant to flatten the chest. Many folks of many genders wear them for many reasons.
Trans men, of course; nonbinary/genderqueer folks who don't consider themselves strictly men or women; gender-fluid folks who can be one gender one day, and another the next; trans women who aren't "out" yet; cis men and women; pretty much anyone who has a chest they want to reduce the size of.
Gender dysphoria; to "pass" as a man in their day-to-day lives; breast reduction and back pain relief; for dancing; for archery; for other sports; because traditional bras are really uncomfortable; for sensory reasons; post-surgical recovery; costuming; or just for the aesthetic of it.
Wait, but that includes me! Could I wear a binder?
Sure you could! We’re not the Binder Gatekeepers, we’re just a couple of queer nerds who think spandex is cool and that squishing underwear should be more accessible.
What are they made of?
The inner layers are a strong but soft "power net", typically an 85/15 lycra/nylon blend. The outer layer is a 70/30 lycra/nylon blend of printed spandex. If the difference between your bust and underbust measurement is greater than 5", your binder will also come with a strong, stiff insert across the front of 8" wide knit elastic.
Are they safe?
In general, yes. If it hurts when you put it on, then no, and you should take it off right away. We recommend not binding for longer than you have to - the conventional wisdom dictates an eight-hour maximum, but this number will vary widely from person to person. Also, it is never a good idea to wear your binder to bed.
In addition, many potential individual issues may hinder breathing and make binding variably unsafe, including but not limited to: asthma, scoliosis, chronic chest pain, fibromyalgia, and preexisting chest injuries or respiratory illnesses. We blog extensively about binding with various conditions, and making binders which are helpful for people with some of these conditions, under the tag Binding Safety. Please do peruse this link if you have any concerns!
Do they work?
Can't I just bind with Ace bandages?
For your sake, please don't. Ace bandages get tighter as the day wears on. They will slowly constrict around your chest like a very flat snake and eventually crack your ribs. Then you will not be able to bind at all without stabbing pains. If you persist in this course, you will eventually puncture a lung with the jagged end of rib. Please, please, do not do this. We know you saw it in that one zine / webcomic / comic book / music video. We have seen them all too. Each time, it made us cry a little and die inside. And that's why we make binders.
With duct tape?
No. It's inelastic, so breathing with it is even more likely to bruise or crack a rib. It's not designed for skin contact and will irritate the hell out of your skin. When something goes wrong and you're in severe pain, it will take far too long to peel off.
But that one celebrity did it!
Briefly. And if she bruised a rib in the pursuit of pop art, well, she has better healthcare than most of us.
This one is more complicated, and we urge you to do your research if you're thinking of binding this way. Some people swear by it. Others report severe troubles. We at Shapeshifters suspect that the tight elastic in sports bra straps, edging, and underbust bands is not meant to actually compress your chest, and so the 'two tight sports bras, one worn backwards' method will probably have a similar effect as Ace bandaging, if milder and over a longer span of time. Meanwhile, the actual fabric of most sports bras tends to have a lot of give, so even if a single sports bra binds at first, it will probably wear out earlier than the nylon/spandex mesh we use.