A chest binder is a garment similar to a tank top or sports bra, containing non-stretchy, flat pieces that shape your chest into a flatter silhouette. Chest binders are safe when worn correctly. For some people, the mental health benefits of seeing and feeling this flat shape of their chest are immense.
In this post, I’ll review different approaches to binding, discuss how to bind during athletic activity (as I have for years), and give my opinion on the concerns around teens wearing binders.
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How Does a Chest Binder Work?
A chest binder is an undergarment that has a combination of stretchy and non-stretchy fabric in different sections. When you wear a binder, if it fits properly and is reasonable quality, it will make your chest appear flatter and possibly smaller. It obviously doesn’t make your body smaller, so, flattening not shrinking is the main effect.
People of all genders sometimes wear binders or compression garments. Transmasculine people may wear a binder to create a flatter silhouette without top surgery. Transfeminine people may wear a binder (although less commonly) if their body is growing and changing, for privacy until they are ready to come out. Staying in “boymode” while visiting family or for a job would be a potential reason to wear a binder. Cis women sometimes wear binders for a masculine or butch aesthetic, or for cosplay. Cis men sometimes wear binders, or “compression shirts.” People who want their chest to appear flat only some of the time may use binders (or padded bras) to change their appearance.
How Dangerous is Binding My Chest Like in Movies and Books?
I grew up reading Tamora Pierce’s Alana series and watching Mulan. In these fantasy books and movies, girls who want to be a boy simply cut their hair and wrap cloth bandages around their chest. I love Tamora Pierce as an author, but I really doubt she has ever wrapped her chest tightly with a long strip of fabric then proceeded to train with a sword for hours. This trope is not realistic, or safe.
Wrapping anything tightly all the way around your torso is dangerous, because it does not allow space for your ribs to expand for you to breathe. You’ll hurt your ribs, your lungs, not get enough oxygen in your lungs, or all of the above. Anything designed as a binder has stretchy and non-stretchy sections. The stretchy sections allow your chest to expand so you can breathe.
Many trans men lived as men historically before we had the technology for gender affirming hormones, or binders with stretchy fabric. My guess is it’s possible to use fabric to loosely wrap or pad the shape of one’s body, and combined with non-stretchy outer garments, that would create a flatter shape. With modern garments, this could look like wearing a denim jacket over an oversized hoodie, for example, or a jacket with vest underneath.
You don’t need a binder to create a flat shape of your chest, but never use non-stretchy fabric, tape, plastic wrap, or anything else to wrap all the way around your torso. Don’t do it. That’s dangerous, for real.
Can I Use Tape to Bind?
Yes, but only in a specific, safe way. Tape should never go all the way around your torso. For binding, use pieces of tape starting with covering your nipple extending to under your armpit. The pieces of tape should be about as long as the distance between your nipple and your armpit. The chest tissue should be pulled to the side and then taped over to get the flat shape. I recommend covering your nipple with a small piece of tissue first (or a band-aid) so it doesn’t stick to the piece of tape.
KT tape or TransTape work well for binding. I have seen drag kings using duct tape, which will likely irritate your skin and be hard to remove.
Tape can be a great option if you want to feel bare-chested outdoors or if it’s too hot in the summer to be comfortable in a binder. If you’ve taped correctly, it shouldn’t restrict the motion of your chest or your breathing at all. You can leave the tape on for up to a day or two, in my experience. If you have an extended day of travel or work, tape is a safer option than trying to wear a binder longer than eight hours. But the longer you leave the tape on, the harder it may be to get off your skin.
I’m an Athlete. Can I Train in a Chest Binder?
I do sometimes! I practice the martial art of aikido, which includes twisting movements, falling on the mat, rolling, and can be aerobic with fast practice. My favorite binder for aikido is one I’ve had for a few years, so it’s stretched out and looser. If I bought a new binder for exercise, I would go up at least 1, maybe 2 sizes.
At least for me, I know the binder is too tight and not working for exercise when my back starts to ache, with a pinch near the shoulder blade. I usually bring a sports bra with me so I can change into it in an emergency or after class. My larger sized binder seems quite safe and comfortable over the couple of years I’ve been wearing it. I’ve certainly injured myself more by not warming up, sleeping wrong, or spacing out, than I ever have wearing a binder.
I’ve gone swimming and to the beach in a binder and found it worked well. I’d recommend wearing a larger or stretched out size for this (because it is going to be hard to get off when wet). The binder material doesn’t stand up well to chlorine, so I switched to wearing a regular inexpensive sports bra for swimming to help my budget.
It’s a special combination to wear a binder and an N95 mask while exercising. Be prepared for your lungs to complain. I’ve done this both for dancing and aikido. I felt I was doing the right thing to alleviate my gender dysphoria and protect myself from COVID and other germs.
My Teenager (or Myself as a Teen) Wants to Wear a Binder. Is it Safe?
First of all, wearing a quality binder is so much safer than dangerous binding alternatives. So if you or your teen is going to bind anyway, please, please use the garment that’s designed for this.
Teens can feel gender dysphoria acutely. This is not good for their mental health or long term emotional stability (trust me!). So if a binder will help your teen feel better about their body and the way people perceive them, that’s worth a lot towards health and happiness.
A few practical considerations: for someone whose bone strength is still developing and body is growing, I would recommend going up at least 1-2 sizes from what the size chart suggests. This is what I recommend for exercise for adults also. You will likely find it binds enough, although not maximally. A binder of a slightly larger size will primarily press on the flesh, not the bones. Pair this with gender-affirming clothes and you should look quite masculine.
By the time a teen has gotten past the main growth spurt of puberty (if they are not on hormone blockers), wearing a binder same as an adult should not be a problem. But I am not a medical professional and this is not medical advice.
Don’t wear the binder for more than eight hours at a time, and don’t wear it to sleep. Take it easy and take breaks. Stretch by raising your arms above your head, then cross your arms in front and swing them towards your back. Take a big breath in and expand your chest. Try to do this every couple hours at least.
Favorite Chest Binder Recommendations
This is the most frequently recommended binder company I’ve seen recently. They are in the UK and can ship to the USA. The comfort and shaping of these binders is supposed to be very effective. I haven’t tried a Spectrum binder yet but perhaps it will be my next binder purchase.
gc2b is a trans-owned business that manufactures and sells binders in half-tank and tank styles. Their color options include 5 different skin tones from dark to light and several colors. They offer sizes from a 32 inch chest to a 52 inch chest. All the binders I currently wear are from gc2b and I’ve been happy with their fit and quality. I have heard some feedback recently that the binders may have changed since I last ordered. I wear a size large (which is a size up from my measurements on their chart).
Trans Guy Supply
Trans Guy Supply is a trans-owned online store that sells binders, tape, and other gear targeted towards transmasculine folks. For a gender-affirming shopping experience, check them out!
Underworks products are available on Amazon, and look more like products for cisgender people than some of the other brands. They offer a chest binder top from sizes 28 inch chest to 55 inch chest, as well as a compression undershirt.
Be careful to pick out a large enough size. The first time I ordered an Underworks binder, I sized down a bit and when the top arrived, I literally couldn’t pull it over my shoulders to try it on. Don’t worry, the slightly larger size of a binder is going to compress your chest sufficiently, most likely.
Shapeshifters, a four person company based out of Vermont, makes custom binders specific to your measurements. They offer a wide variety of very cool fabrics from holographic to lace to ocean creature-inspired prints. As most of their products are custom made for you, this is a more expensive option than the previously listed brands. I’ve heard very good things about the quality and comfort of their binders.
For Them is a relatively new queer-owned company making binders. You tell them your custom measurements and body shape and they make a binder to fit. I have not tried their product personally yet or heard many reviews.
Honorary Mention: Sports Bras
When I’m not wearing a binder, I’m wearing one of these. Anecdotally, these sports bras are very popular among transmasculine, transfeminine, and nonbinary people. The inexpensive cost and basic shape make this a solid undergarment.
TransTape is a trans-owned business providing improved KT tape type products specifically designed for binding. They offer 4 skin colors from dark to light and 3 widths of tape. They also sell oil to help remove the tape and other products. Note that I saw some products on Amazon called “Trans Tape” but they did not look like they were high quality and made by a trans-owned company.
KT tape is not specific to trans binding. Athletes use it to help support joints if they have an injury. So you can buy KT tape without it looking like a trans-specific product, especially if you are not out to people in your household. The disadvantage of generic KT tape vs. Trans Tape is it is only available in a light skin color and bright colors.
Whether or not you decide to try a binder or KT tape, you are valid and I am sure you look great! Some people find binders very uncomfortable and some people have disabilities preventing them from wearing binders. Some transmasculine people simply have no interest in wearing a binder. These garments are strongly optional. But I hope I’ve outlined some options that are helpful in case you want to give one a try.
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