What is a chest binder and how does it work? (2023)

People don’t get to choose the bodies they're born with, but options abound to help them feel more comfortable in their own skin. Chest binders, or articles of clothing that gently compress breast tissue to reduce its appearance, are essential garments for those whose chest area is more prominent than they wish. They allow folks with chest dysphoria—i.e., discomfort and distress from unwanted breast development—to do something about it without opting for more permanent measures like surgery.

Whether you or someone in your life is interested in buying a binder, we’ve got you covered.

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What is a binder?

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (1)

To achieve their compressive purpose, most binders are made of some kind of spandex blend in the main construction as well as a cotton panel for comfort. Binders are typically worn beneath other clothing, but can also be worn on their own or as a swim top, provided the material is water-friendly.

“[Binders] often look similar to a tank top or undershirt that can be tucked into your pants (described as a ‘full-length binder’) or end close to the bottom of the ribs (‘half-length binder’),” says Noah Glick, trans health program patient advocate at Fenway Health in Boston, Massachusetts. Binders may be designed to be pulled overhead, stepped into, or they could have zippers, clasps, velcro, or hooks that keep the garment snug once it’s secured in place. Most cost between $35 to $55, and you can also get single-use binding tape that costs less that $20 a roll, if you only bind on occasion.

Some people find that a compression shirt or sports bra provides adequate constriction to feel at home in their body. But binders, sports bras, and compression shirts are not interchangeable. “Binders are specifically designed to create the feeling and appearance of a flat chest,” says Glick. "[Sports bras] are designed to support a person’s chest and back during athletic activity.”

(Video) How to use a binder safely

Binders are more than just a simple means of compression, too. They can be a form of gender expression—an easy way for trans men, gender-nonconforming folks, and any individuals who are self-conscious about their chests to feel more confident. Binders can be used as an alternative to getting top surgery (a surgical procedure to remove breast tissue), which can be prohibitively expensive and difficult for trans people to get approved. Binders can also be used by people who don't identify as a trans man, transmasculine, or non-binary. They may also be used by non-binary and gender non-conforming people, those who have undergone significant weight loss to smooth skin under clothing, or by anyone who simply wants the appearance of a flatter chest.

Finally, no matter your reason for getting a binder, it's good to be realistic about the outcome. Unless you have a very small chest to start with, binders won’t make all of your breast tissue disappear. They will, however, help redistribute your breasts more evenly so your chest appears flatter.

How to safely wear a binder

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (2)

Binders should not be worn for longer than 8 to 12 hours at a time or while sleeping. “It’s important to take small breaks here and there,” says Glick. “It can also be helpful to take deep breaths and stretch your back, arms, and chest during a binder break to help loosen up those muscles.”

You should avoid wearing a binder if you aren’t feeling well, especially if it’s an upper respiratory illness like a cold. If possible, don't wear it while you exercise, either. “Binders compress the chest [more than sports bras] and may make it more difficult to take heavier breaths when working out,” Glick says. If you must wear one while exercising, Glick says to “pay extra close attention to your body and go slowly—ensure that you can still take deep, full breaths, and have full mobility of your arms.” If your binder doesn’t allow this, compression shirts and sports bras are good alternatives for exercise.

Those with certain illnesses or disabilities might need to be more careful than others, too. Glick advises that people with medical conditions "including but not limited to" asthma, lupus, fibromyalgia, and scoliosis "might consider talking to an affirming medical provider about some other options or try a product like TransTape instead of a binder,” says Glick. If you have loose joints or are susceptible to dislocations (especially in your shoulders), do not get a binder that goes over your head—instead, look for binders that have zippers, clasps, Velcro, or similar methods of opening and closing.

Most importantly, if you experience persistent issues when you wear a binder—such as chest pain, shoulder pain, shortness of breath, back pain, overheating, tenderness, itching, or body acne—talk to your doctor and take a break from binding until they approve continued wear. Binders should feel like you’re secure and compressed, but not like you can’t move or like you’re suffocating in it. If you continue to suffer, it could cause lasting damage to the respiratory or musculoskeletal systems, which could negatively affect long-term health and or results if you're hoping to get top surgery one day.

How to pick the right size binder

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (3)

To find the right size, you’ll need a measuring tape. All companies that sell binders should have their own size chart and measurement guidelines on their website (if they don’t, that’s a red flag). Options vary across brands, but most binders come in sizes ranging from XS to 5XL. Some brands offer custom-sized binders, too. If you’re one size at one company, you can't just assume you’ll be the same at another, so always take new measurements before purchasing.

In addition to being too small and causing the aforementioned discomfort or ailments, binders can be too large, too. Reasons you should size down: If you notice you're readjusting your binder regularly, or that the shoulder straps feel loose, or there are gaps around the armpits, or it fits more like a tank top, or it just does not bind well.

How to care for your binder

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (4)

Most binders are worn daily, so they take in a lot of sweat. Every binder requires different care, so it’s best to check the manufacturer’s instructions. Because the most important attribute in a binder is for it to retain its elasticity, it's best if they're washed after every use with a mild detergent and cold water, and air-dried. The heat of a dryer can warp or even melt elastic fibers. If you feel you must use machines, place your binder in a garment bag, wash on the cold, delicate setting, and put in the dryer on the lowest setting for no more than 15 minutes.

When it's time to get a new binder, you'll probably already know: It will have lost its shape, begun to fray, have developed bubbles or gaps, or otherwise just not work as it once did. This can occur from anywhere between six months to several years, depending on how often the binder is used and how it is cared for.

(Video) Non-Binary People Try Popular Chest Binders

What if you don’t want to wear a binder but want the same effects?

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (5)

First and foremost, don’t use any at-home DIY methods you can find online, as those are more likely to cause long-term damage. “Ace bandages and duct tape should be avoided whenever possible,” says Glick. "Ace bandages are designed to constrict and can be dangerous to wear. Duct tape, and any tape that isn’t medical grade, should also be avoided as this can damage the skin.”

If you want to try binding with tape, try TransTape or KT tape. Both use medical-grade adhesives that are safe for skin. KT tape is an accessible option in particular, as it can be found at many grocery stores and pharmacies.

To use it, you first need to cover your nipples with some fabric scraps or even a folded up piece of paper towel, as you never want to tape directly over them. Then, you can maneuver the tape in such a way that your breasts are taped down by your armpits. There’s a learning curve to figure out how to get the optimal shape and amount of flatness you desire, but practicing makes perfect. This method has been said to work best for people with smaller chests, but it’s a relatively low-stakes way to test out binding. No matter your chest size, it can’t hurt to try—but if it does, take it off (carefully) and don’t do it again.

You can also minimize the appearance of breasts without any binding. Glick recommends layering shirts, especially ones that are structured and made of heavier material. “Start with a tight-fitting shirt or sports bra as a bottom layer and add successive layers over it with each layer looser than the one underneath,” they say. “Shirts with patterns as the top layer can also help hide the appearance of a chest. Some people also find unbuttoned or unzipped shirts or jackets to be helpful in creating the appearance of a flatter chest.” Just remember to be mindful of the temperature and stay hydrated if it's hot out and you're layered up.

Where to buy a binder

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get yourself a binder. We’ve picked out some of the best places to buy binders online. Just remember to measure before buying, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the company’s customer service if you have any questions about fit or sizing.

1. GC2B

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (6)

GC2B is a trans-owned company based out of Maryland. Founder Marli Washington created the first binders that were designed and patented specifically for gender-affirming chest binding. For this, GC2B is known in the LGBTQ community as the place to buy a binder.

The brand’s binders vary in material. Its original tank and half binders are 80% nylon and 20% spandex. The inner binding panel, made of 80% cotton and 20% polyester, is designed for comfortable compression without sweat retention or breath restriction. Meanwhile, the racerback binder is 80% nylon and 20% spandex, with an added elastic in the shoulder straps of 65% nylon and 35% polyester.

GC2B’s original binders are appropriate for swimming as well as daily wear. The binders come in 11 colors and sizes XS to 5XL, ensuring there’s an option for just about everybody.

Shop GC2B binders starting at $32

2. Flavnt Streetwear

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (7)

Co-owners Courtney and Chris Rhodes founded Flavnt Streetwear, a queer clothing brand, with the belief that everyone should be able to own clothes that make them feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. An important part of its offerings: its Bareskin binders.

(Video) Chest Binder TikToks because my binder is coming in the mail ☺️

These garments come in seven flesh-toned and neutral colors and are made of 82% nylon and 18% spandex, with a 100% cotton non-stretch inner liner for compression and fast drying. Ranging in sizes from XXS to XXL, these binders are also water-friendly and suitable for swimming. Each binder is hand-sewn and a percentage of every purchase is donated to a charitable cause, typically a trans person’s surgery costs, and that partnership changes once the fundraising need is met. The brand has a whole page on binder safety, tips and tricks, and sizing, so check that out before purchasing.

Shop Flavnt binders starting at $49.99

3. Shapeshifters

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (8)

Shapeshifters’ binders are unlike many other retailers in that they're custom-made (albeit more expensive than some ready-made options). The website provides a guide on how to measure yourself properly, then you send in your chest, under-chest, stomach, hip, and length measurements to receive a bespoke binder. You can also get extra add-ons for an additional fee, such as making it a racerback, adding zippers, and more. The binders’ base layers are made of a proprietary material called Powernet, a nylon/lycra blend mesh that's “very breathable," according to Eli K. Coughlin-Galbraith, co-owner of Shapeshifters. The outer layer is made out of 100% spandex.

But with an original design, you may worry about returns. Luckily, if you receive your binder and experience fit issues, Shapeshifters offers one free refitting within 45 days of purchase. The brand’s website also provides educational material about binding and has a whole page devoted to binder tips and tricks.

Shop Shapeshifters binders starting at $50

4. Origami Customs

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (9)

Origami Customs binders are made with “an interior compression mesh layer, and most have an external Lycra layer which allows you to choose a broader range of colours and prints,” according to founder Rae Hill—and all of its binders are swim safe. With sizes ranging from XXS to 5XL and custom sizing also offered with almost every item, Origami Customs is accommodating to literally every body.

Not only does Origami Customs sell binders of all varieties (including strapless options), it also sells other gender-affirming apparel, including bra inserts, compression gaffs, and packing bottoms.

Shop Origami Customs binders starting at $37


What is a chest binder and how does it work? (10)

This retailer has a plethora of binder varieties to choose among. You’ve got your strapless compression top, your zip front binders, your standard full length binder, your standard half length binder, tank tops with built in binders. You can even go swimming in some of these. Sizes range from XXS to 4XL, and thousands of reviewers rave over these binders' effectiveness, style, and comfort.

Shop GenderBender binders starting at $44

(Video) Chest Binding

6. GenderGear

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (11)

This trans-owned Canadian co-op prides itself on providing affordable, accessible goods for gender-nonconforming individuals. It sells an entire spectrum of products—including children’s educational books—but we love GenderGear for one specific product: its new and pre-loved binders, available in sizes XS to 3X. You can buy a new product for $41 or a gently used binder for just $5.

On the flip side, if you have binders in good condition that you no longer use, you can donate them to GenderGear’s binder recycling program. For each donation, the brand also purchases a new binder to donate and provides donors with a $10 gift card to the GenderGear store.

Shop GenderGear binders starting at $5

7. Target

What is a chest binder and how does it work? (12)

Yes, really, the behemoth big-box store sells binders now. Although Target has had some backlash in previous years about their Pride collections, this year, it seems to have done it right. Among quirky tees and unisex swimsuits, it teamed up with TomboyX to create a line of gender-affirming undergarments. Amongst this selection is the pullover compression top, also known as a binder, coming in sizes XS to 4XL. Made of nylon and spandex, this binder only costs $25—a much more affordable option than some of the others listed here.

Shop Target's TomboyX binders starting at $25

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.


What is the purpose of a chest binder? ›

Chest binding has become a popular practice to make a person's presenting gender and gender identity more compatible. Chest binding is a process of flattening your chest to make it more male-presenting. This is a common step in the female-to-male transition.

Do binders permanently flatten your chest? ›

These will not completely flatten the chest for many people, so those who still dislike the appearance of their breasts and prefer not to use a chest binder may consider a mastectomy, or "top surgery," to permanently flatten the chest.

What damage can a chest binder do? ›

That said, even a dedicated binder is not without risk, and binding improperly or for too long can lead to chest and back pain, rib bruising and fractures, shortness of breath, overheating, and skin damage.

Is wearing a binder painful? ›

A binder that fits properly shouldn't cause skin irritation, physical pain, or excess discomfort when worn appropriately. Wearing a binder that's too small can cause: discomfort and pain. breathing issues.

Why is my daughter binding her breasts? ›

Some adolescents begin to bind their breasts as they enter puberty. This is done usually for reasons of embarrassment (they do not want others to know they have started developing), or desire to be as they previously were (they do not want to have breasts yet).

Do you still wear a bra with a binder? ›

We don't recommend wearing anything underneath your binder, especially things that compress! Sports bras in particular compress already. Although I do hear you saying that your sports bra is old and might not compress anymore, taking it off is probably best.

How can I hide my breasts without a binder? ›

Here are some tips to dress well without wearing a chest binder.
  1. Use an undershirt and smart layering. Most folks find layering to be a comfortable way to hide or neutralize their chest without compression. ...
  2. Try a sports bra. ...
  3. Avoid wearing baggy clothing. ...
  4. Stick to darker colors and/or patterns. ...
  5. Think vertical.
18 Jan 2021

How tight should a binder feel? ›

The binder should feel snug, but you should be able to take a deep breath. Take that deep breath as you feel more like you! But, if it hurts or you cannot take a full deep breath in, then your binder is too small.

What happens if you wear a binder everyday? ›

You should avoid wearing your binder for more than eight hours a day, especially if you use it every day. Over time, wearing the garment for long hours can actually break down tissue and cause breathing problems, back pain and skin irritation.

Does chest binding reduce breast size? ›

Binding involves wrapping material tightly around the breasts to flatten them. It will not shrink breast tissue or prevent the breasts from growing, but binding can help the breasts look smaller and may make a person feel more comfortable.

What happens when you sleep with a chest binder on? ›

Binding for long hours every day over time breaks down tissue and can cause breathing problems, back pain, and skin irritation. Always take your binder off before you sleep. Give your body rest while you rest. Also, take it off before exercising.

How long can you safely wear a binder? ›

You should avoid wearing a binder for more than 8 hours. For people under 18, we recommend taking it off after 6 hours. If you have to wear it for longer than this, we suggest going to the bathroom or another private space and removing your binder for 5 – 10 minutes to stretch out your muscles and chest.

Is it hard to breath in a binder? ›

Difficulty breathing

Because binding your chest can restrict the expansion of your rib cage, wearing a binder of any form can make it difficult to breathe properly. It's more common with binders that are too tight or with elastic bandages, duct tape, and plastic wrap.

How long should you wear a binder when you first get it? ›

As much as we want it to be, wearing a binder shouldn't be a 0-100 process. Start with a couple hours each day so you can work your way up to wearing it comfortably for longer periods of time. You should cap out at no more than 8 to 10 hours a day with wear time, favoring the 8 hour mark.

Why does my 3 year old have breasts? ›

Breast Development in an Infant or Toddler

This is a normal physiologic process involving transient activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Of course, progressive breast bud development at this age can alternatively signify a pathologic process (i.e. precocious puberty).

Why is it comforting to hold breasts? ›

Stimulating, caressing or simply holding breasts sends nerve signals to the brain, which trigger the release of the 'cuddle hormone' called oxytocin, a neurochemical secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland in the brain.

Why does my 3 year old touch my breast? ›

Children who have recently weaned from breastfeeding will often grab at breasts out of habit. They also do this when they have learned to associate mommy's breasts with self-soothing. And yet another possible explanation is that your toddler is just plain curious or might like the way your breasts feel!

Do binders work on large breasts? ›

If you have a larger chest, a one-size-fits-all approach for binders may not work for you. Even though some companies provide bust measurements for their binders, it won't always indicate whether a binder will fit you properly. Brands that offer custom sizing may be a better option.

What do you wear under a binder? ›

Try an undershirt under your binder.

Some folks swear by putting a thin cotton undershirt underneath to add an extra layer between their skin and the binder. This undershirt also helps to absorb sweat from your skin.

What do girls use to hide nipples? ›

“My best hack is if you don't have nipple covers just laying around you can use regular, medical, or silicone tape and criss-cross it over your nipples,” says Brooklyn-based stylist Joiee Thorpe. “Lay the two pieces very flat so they don't show — smoother tape will work better.

How do I flatten my chest? ›

If you want to bind your chest, buy a chest binder or compression sportswear, or layer 2 sports bras to flatten your chest. Before you bind yourself, put cornstarch or baby powder on to absorb sweat. Then, when you put a binder on, push your breasts down to make them flatter.

How do I tell my mom I want a binder? ›

You can give a practical, understandable statement and simply say, "a binder is like a fancy sports bra that flattens your chest. A lot of trans people use to reduce dysphoria and I was hoping you could get me one." Explain why you want one. Explain to your parent why you would like a binder and how it would help you.

Why can't you sleep with a binder on? ›

Binders can restrict your breathing, which can be particularly concerning while you're asleep. Avoid sleeping in your binder to give your body a break.

Is it better to get a bigger or smaller binder? ›

PSA - Don't be afraid to size up for binders. Even one 2 sizes too large still works pretty well, and is so much more safe and comfortable.

Is it better to size up or down binder? ›

Binders are sized and designed for compression purposes, so if you measure correctly, they will fit snugly, to give you a compressed and flattened effect. Do not intentionally go down in size; the binder will be too tight, and you will be unable to get it on.

Can you shower with a binder on? ›

Binders have a time limit of 8 hours max of “safe” wear-ability. Although binders can get wet, they should NOT be worn in water, whether you're swimming, showering, or other activities. Binders cover the entire upper body keeping heat and sweat inside, causing over-heating and exhaustion.

What are the benefits of wearing a binder? ›

Wearing an abdominal binder may decrease post-operative pain. It may also decrease psychological distress following your procedure. They also may promote deep breathing.
After surgery, an abdominal binder is thought to:
  • support your surgical incision.
  • relieve pain.
  • get you moving more.
  • reduce swelling.

How do you put on first binder? ›

Putting it on

Step One: Put your arms through both your armholes and pull it so the fabric is around your shoulders and in front of your face. Step Two: Pull the binder over your face until it's around your shoulders. You may look like an awkward chicken-pterodactyl thing right about now. Don't panic!

How do you breathe while wearing a binder? ›

Breathing and Relaxation

If you can't take a deep, full breath your binder might be too tight. Shift from thoracic (chest) breathing to diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing and try an intercostal stretching breath and/or the quadruped breathing exercise before and after you wear your binder.

What should you not do with a binder? ›

Give your body a break every 8-12 hours when possible, and do not sleep in your binder. Be sure to stretch your arms, shoulders, chest, and back immediately after removing your binder. It is also a good idea to take a few deep breaths and cough to clear out any fluid build-up in your lungs.

How do you know if a binder fits? ›

In a correctly fitting binder, you should be able to breathe without trouble. Your binder should not cause excessive discomfort or dig into your skin. If you experience any of this, you likely have the wrong size!

What size binder should I get? ›

When you are choosing a binder for your papers you need to be aware that a binder should always be a bit larger than the size of the paper it will hold. So for example, if you want to keep standard 8.5 inch by 11 inch papers in your binder then the best binder size is likely to be 9.75 inches by 11.5 inches.

Is it OK to swim in a binder? ›

Is it safe to wear one while swimming? No water should cause an issue, although you'll want to rinse and/or wash it thoroughly after, to make sure the salt/chlorine/etc does not wear negatively on the binder as you said. We strongly recommend wearing one size up from your normal size to swim.

Can you sleep in a binder? ›

Don't bind for more than 8-12 hours at a time. Always take your binder off before you sleep. You can use the me when you're not binding to wash your binder, which will help it to last longer. Take your binder off before exercising.

How long should you wear a chest binder? ›

There are a few agreed-upon best practices: wear your binder for no more than eight to 12 hours at a time, don't sleep in it, ensure you wash your binder regularly, and make sure you wear one that's the right size (not too small). Peitzmeier also recommends that you try to take days off from wearing it, if possible.

What happens if I wear my binder everyday? ›

You should avoid wearing your binder for more than eight hours a day, especially if you use it every day. Over time, wearing the garment for long hours can actually break down tissue and cause breathing problems, back pain and skin irritation.

How can I bind my chest without a binder? ›

To bind your chest safely without a binder, try wearing a tight-fitting sports bra that's 1 size smaller than your usual bra size. If you have a larger chest, you may want to put on a second sports bra backwards for extra support.

What should you not do while wearing a binder? ›

Other tips for safe and effective binding include:
  1. Always remove your binding before you sleep.
  2. Do not wear binding while exercising.
  3. Remove binding before showering.
  4. Never wear binding for more than eight hours at a time.
  5. Take days off from wearing binding when possible.
  6. Never layer commercial binders.
11 Jul 2019

Can you sleep in chest binders? ›

Binders tend to be used as a temporary solution to the problem of having breasts and cannot be worn at all times. During exercise they can restrict breathing, and back and chest pain can come from wearing them for more than about eight hours at a time. You should also never sleep with a binder on.

When should I not wear my binder? ›

You should avoid wearing a binder for more than 8 hours. For people under 18, we recommend taking it off after 6 hours. If you have to wear it for longer than this, we suggest going to the bathroom or another private space and removing your binder for 5 – 10 minutes to stretch out your muscles and chest.


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