Chest binding is done to flatten out the appearance of the chest. A wide range of people practice chest binding, and it is commonly done by trans men who have not had top surgery. If you are a trans man who is considering doing some chest binding and wants to do it safely, then this post is for you! It includes information on kinds of binders, how to measure your chest for a binder, resources for cash-strapped trans men, and important health considerations.
Is it a Good Idea to do Chest Binding?
There are many situations in which it is a good idea to bind your chest. For example, some trans men experience psychological discomfort about their breasts, sometimes as part of gender dysphoria. If you experience that discomfort, binding is likely to help you.
Some trans men just find it hard to be read as male while having visible breasts. After all, to most observers, the most obvious signal that a person is female is the presence of breasts.
Also, some trans men are required by law to live as male for an extended period of time before they can qualify for sex reassignment surgeries (the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care Real-life Experience). This can be very hard to achieve if you are sporting Double D breasts! For trans men with this problem, chest binding may be essential in order to pass as male during this time period. This was certainly the case for me, as I was lumbered with ridiculously enormous breasts. (I still feel grateful every day that they are gone. I really hated them, and carrying them around for so many years was torture.)
Note that directly after top surgery, you may actually be required to wear a chest binder to improve healing. I wore a binder for six weeks almost continuously, which was pretty awful at the time. However, it was not as tight as binders used to flatten out the breasts (which is why I could wear it for so long). It was fitted to promote healing, which is a different situation. And I really needed it, as I had severe bleeding and bruising on one side.
Some people even use chest binders because they simply want a less curvy appearance. It’s a modern, gender-bending world, and there are as many reasons for using chest binders as there are individual gender expressions.
The point is, whatever your reason for using a chest binder, it is a good idea if this is something you personally want or need.
Safety Precautions when Chest Binding
It is essential when wearing a chest binder to take care to bind your chest safely. There are very important things inside your chest – notably, your heart and lungs, so you do have to be careful! You do not want to compromise your vital life functions.
Sadly, there are sometimes problems with chest binding, which is why it is so important to do it right. Wearing a binder that is too tight, or chest binding for too long, can cause problems. People have been known to faint, to have fluid build up in their lungs, and even to break rib bones (which can be very painful, very hard to treat – and should be very high on your NOT to do list).
Also, while you are very young your skin will put up with almost anything, but over time, damage may start to show. Most people don’t want to cause longer-term damage to the elasticity or appearance of their skin. If it is severe enough, it may even impact the outcomes of top surgery (surgery to flatten out the chest and create a more male-looking chest). Dr. Scott Mosser says:
“Binding over a long period of time can alter your skin’s natural elasticity, which may have some minor affects on your final cosmetic results.”
Do not Chest Bind 24/7!
It is vital that you do not bind too much. 24/7 is NOT a good idea. Your chest needs a break, and YOU need a break. Be sure to restrict it to less than 8 hours in any 24-hour period. Try to take breaks during the time you are wearing it. And definitely, do not bind while sleeping. Take your binder off when you go to bed – and take advantage of that time to wash the binder and air-dry it. You don’t want to be constantly throwing it in the dryer, as this may wear out the elasticity prematurely.
It is also highly advisable not to practice chest binding while working out. Your body needs to move freely, and you need to breathe more deeply, and you are likely to sweat. Chest binding while working out is really not a great idea. You could try an extreme sports bra instead. If you feel you absolutely have to bind while working out, consider using a special chest binder that is one size bigger, so you can breathe more deeply without problems.
Make Sure You Get the Right Size Binder
You may be advised to use the smallest binder you can force onto your body. Do not listen to that! It is important not to use a binder that is too small, as it can impact your health negatively. Most problems with chest binding stem from using a binder that is too small.
Use Appropriate Materials for Chest Binding
Never use duct tape or Ace bandages to create a homemade chest binder. Neither of these is capable of moving with your body, and for that reason may have negative health impacts. Ace bandages are the worst, as they tend to tighten up as you move. This makes it very dangerous to strap Ace bandages around your chest. And of course, duct tape is very harmful for your skin.
Instead, get a good quality chest binder made from good quality materials.
Recommended Products for Chest Binding
Fortunately, there are many good quality products available for chest binding. There are even options to get used chest binders, if you cannot afford a new one (see “Chest Binding Resources for Cash-Strapped Trans Men” at the end of this post). Men who have completed top surgery often have chest binders they no longer need.
There are also many options to buy chest binders online, including gc2b; Underworks; and T-Kingdom. Gc2b is noted for doing a lot of donations of binders via affiliated programs (see Resources at the bottom of this post). Underworks products are very popular. One of their most popular products with trans men is their tri-top compression shirt. I had one of those, and found it worked very well for me (I had very large breasts back then). Amazon also has a wide variety of binders available.
How to Measure your Chest for a Chest Binder
If you are ordering online, you want to try your best to get the size right, as not all companies will do exchanges. Here is a step-by-step guide to measuring your chest to get your correct chest binder size. You will need a measuring tape and somewhere to write your numbers down.
Step 1: Measure the biggest part of your chest (over the nipples). Make a record of that number. For example, 42 inches.
Step 2: Measure just under your breasts, on your breast crease. Make a record of that number. For example, 34 inches.
Step 3: Add the two numbers together. For example, 42 + 34 = 76
Step 4: Divide the resulting number by 2. For example, 76 divided by 2 = 38 inches. This is your binder size.
How to Choose Your Chest Binder
There are basically three types of binders: long ones, short ones, and sports-bra-style binders. The long ones reach down to well below your waist, while the short ones end at your waist. Both have an annoying tendency to roll up, but the advantage of the longer ones is that you can try to stop them from doing this by tucking them into your pants, and cinching them down with a belt. On the other hand, if you carry a lot of weight on your tummy, the longer ones can be uncomfortable. Some are designed to slim down the look of your tummy, but personally I find having my tummy corseted is not a good feeling.
Make your choice based on whether you like the idea of tucking in a long binder and cinching it in place, or would prefer something shorter (and potentially less hot to wear). The sports-bra-style binders are of course by far the shortest, and might be a good choice for you if you feel the heat badly.
All three types are available in basic pullover style. Some of the short and long ones are also available in a vest stile, with a zipper or Velcro to make it easier to put them on.
How to Put On Your Chest Binder
The first time I got a binder, I was completely flummoxed when trying to put it on, and almost had a panic attack when it seemed to get stuck while partly over my head! I was making a mistake by trying to get it on over my head. In fact, you need to pull it on from the bottom up. So the idea is to get your binder inside out and upside down, and then step into it. Keeping it inside out and upside down, pull it up towards your waist. Then take hold of the sleeves and pull the top of the binder up to your shoulders. Get your arms into the sleeves, straighten out the bottom of the vest, and there you go.
Once you have the vest on, you may be disappointed to see what looks like a large uni-breast on your chest. If this happens, put your hand in via the neck hole, and push each breast gently downwards and outwards. The closer you can get your nipples to your armpits, the flatter the look you will achieve. But be gentle with yourself. Bear in mind that your chest will look bigger to you as you are looking down at it, and it is just inches from your eyes! Take a look at your side view in a mirror for a more objective view.
Make sure that you can breathe freely and easily, and your ribs don’t feel as if they are hurting. If at any point you feel pain or feel breathless, remove the vest immediately. It is either too small, or perhaps you have been wearing it for too long. As with all things to do with our health, listen carefully to your body.
Many trans men still have to add on a few layers of clothing to really feel like they are passing. For me, I found that dress shirts were a great option, as they are usually quite loose and billowy. I never wore t-shirts until after my top surgery.
Wearing Your Chest Binder
As noted above, don’t wear it for too long! And never while sleeping or working out. Also, do not wear it if you are in a situation where you are likely to become impaired, e.g. a situation where you are likely to drink a lot of alcohol or take any consciousness altering drugs. If something went wrong and you lost consciousness, you could end up wearing your chest binder for way too long. In a worst-case scenario where the alcohol or drugs impacted your respiratory system, you would be extra compromised by the binder.
In short: Don’t Drink and Bind!
Do you run hot or cold? Unfortunately, if you run hot, your chest binder is going to make this worse. If you are already on T, you may end up sweating a lot. This can interact with the binder to give you a rash, or even cause sores. To protect against this, either use cornstarch or talcum powder on your skin. There is also an excellent natural product called Bodyglide that prevents chafing (most commonly used by chubby people to prevent irritation when exercising). Or you could try wearing a thin cotton shirt between the binder and your skin. In very hot weather, a good strategy is to carry a second binder that you can change into if the first one gets too sweaty.
Note that you can wear a binder while swimming. Hand wash it well and air-dry it afterwards. This should not impact its elasticity.
Chest Binding Resources for Cash-Strapped Trans Men
Trans men are famous for helping each other out whenever possible. As a result, there are many programs in which trans men pass on binders they no longer use, for whatever reason. One of these programs may be able to give you a new or gently used chest binder. Here are some of them, arranged in alphabetical order, not in order of preference, as they are all good programs.
The Binder Project
The Binder Project selects three people at random from a list of entries each month. Each person selected receives a brand new gc2b binder. The company gc2b is one of the most reputable of all suppliers of new binders, and also donates many of them to needy people via projects such as this one.
Come As You Are Co-op Binder Recycling Program, Canada
This Binder Recycling Program aims to recycle binders. They give you a $10 gift certificate if you donate one to them, and supply them for $5 each. They also sell new binders. They even recycle sex toys – who knew that was even possible?
The FTME Free Youth Binder Program
The FTME Free Youth Binder Program provides free binders to people aged up and including 24; they are only able to ship to US addresses.
In A Bind
In A Bind helps youth in the USA to get a free binder. It relies on donations of cash and binders to function. Here the Program Coordinator of In A Bind explains how it works:
MORF Binder Scheme
The Morf Binder Scheme provides free binders to trans men in the UK and around the world.
Point 5cc offers free new or used binders with any purchase to needy people in the USA. The name refers to the most common dosage of testosterone for transitioning men.
Qmunity Binder Exchange
The Qmunity Binder Exchange provides free new and used gender-affirming chest-wear to trans and gender-variant youth who are unable to attain these garments on their own. This program is for youth in BC, Canada only. It offers other support services as well.
The Transitional Male Big Brothers Binder Program
The Big Brothers Binder Program aims to provide quality new or gently used binders to trans men who would otherwise not be able to afford a new binder. Their program is only for trans men who identify as male, and who plan to or already are living as male full-time. Also, they require a donation, and have some other rules. If you are under 18, your guardian may apply for a binder for you. Underworks donates a lot of binders to this program.
The Northern Ireland Binder Scheme
Another option is trans clothing exchanges, which you can read about in this post here, on the Trans Guys web site.
Good luck with your chest binding, and please bind safely. We trans guys have enough challenges, without adding in accidental self-harm. I trust that your binding experience will be like mine – safe, not too uncomfortable, and well worth it because it helped me get through my real life experience, while also feeling a lot more comfortable in the world.
Did you like this post or find it useful? If so, please support my blog:
I would appreciate it very much if you would SHARE it with others or LIKE my Facebook page. Or click on one of the Amazon links before buying from Amazon – small commissions are really helpful! BEST OF ALL – just SUBSCRIBE to my blog. It makes you part of my community, and gets you free updates about new posts. Thanks in advance – reader support keeps me going and helps a lot!