#AllChestsWelcome and the Great Binder Story, Part I

Even before starting to live my truth, I was allergic to bras, having not worn one in years, with the few exceptions when wearing white or the Acton Dress. However, my #freethenipple tendencies stop when the reflection in the mirror gives me dysphoria and clothing doesn’t empower me. This does not happen to me every day, but it does happen, and not just to me. I think many among my queer siblings can relate to this feeling. Since coming out as non-binary, I’ve been very committed to the quest of making a good or at least decent binder instead of buying one, and sharing my journey with you folks. Hopefully this can be helpful for others and can empower you and alleviate your pain as it has done for me. I’d also like to invite all binder-wearing humans to chime in! I’m eager to make this into a series, so feel free to comment or connect with me on IG.

Just a quick note to remind us all that we should not bind all day every day, and especially not at night. Also, binders should be tight but not so tight they leave your skin severely chafed and your arms tingling. Last, when binding, resist the temptation to push the tissue down and instead push it up and sideways, toward your armpit. This is a trick I’ve learned from drag and it 1. doesn’t damage your tissue and 2. achieves better and more realistic effect.

Without further ado, first, let’s establish the baseline for comparison. Here is a picture of me with a bra, the last surviving of its kind. I had to fish quite a bit to find this one.

Emilia stands in profile, showing their silhouette in a bra under a plain white tee shirt.
Yours truly in their only bra.

At the beginning of my binder story, I was temped to just use a waso bra. This is used in certain Kitsuke (Kimono dressing) circles to redistribute the breast tissue to achieve a certain silhouette when wearing kimono. These bras, in my experience, tend to be very uncomfortable, not to mention not exactly invisible under shirts.

A waso bra shown on a mannequin, both front and back views, in an image from an online store. The bra zips up the front and comes up quite high at the front. It uses compression to flatten and redistribute the bust tissue, so that the kimono can fall in a smooth line from the shoulder down to the obi.
An example of waso bra. I can already see the sweat forming where that zipper lies.

Having ruled out this option, I looked for what I had in house. I’ve been a fan of Sophie Hines for a while and decided to use the Axis tank, which I originally bought to use as a workout top, as a building block for my binder. This style is, in my opinion, quite easy to fit, though I would recommend making a toile first. The armholes ended up a bit low on me, which was ok since I don’t have a lot of tissue to reposition, but may be problematic for others.

First I made a trial run in merino knit, which is super comfortable but basically has the same effect of going braless. I also decided that the higher neck version was not a good idea as a binder, because it would show every time I decide to unbutton the first couple of buttons of my shirt.

Because I can always made the same mistake twice, I made another version with high neck, this time in cotton lycra.

This was a great failure because I wanted to have less stretch across the bust, so I cut it with the direction of greatest stretch, or DOGS, rotated by 90° (cutting on the direction of minimum stretch where the marking “direction of maximum stretch” was), but this way the shoulder straps stretched too much. It’s a disaster and guess what? It doesn’t bind! But it’s soft so I use it for my yoga practice, and I still learned quite a bit in the process.

Now, almost defeated, I gave in a purchased a small cut of swim fabric (or “fast dry sports fabric”, as it’s called here). I again inverted the direction of stretch but this time reinforced the shoulder straps, which finally did not stretch. This version, with lower neck line, effectively compresses but is extremely uncomfortable to wear in the Japanese summer.

Again, in the spirit of thriftiness, I used up the last of a cut of Sou Sou fabric. Sou Sou is a very famous Kyoto-based traditional Japanese fabric design and production company, which has since expanded to lifestyle, clothing, bags… I don’t make my love for Sou Sou a mystery, and find their merging of traditional style with modern sensibility fantastic. This is Chizimi Cotton, which is absorbent, light, and perfect for hot climates.

It’s… very cute! Also in this case I have to admit little binding is achieved, but I now want a million more in this fabric (and possibly matching leggings). I’ve already worn this underneath my Zadie Jumpsuits and I love the look, plus I feel like I’m having a piece of Kyoto whenever I wear it.

Finally, here’s a the winner. Months ago (or maybe last year?) I purchased a generous amount of power net to make bottom underwear in a color similar to my skin tone for all the light colors I wear all the time (sarcasm alert — I mostly wear black). Anyhow, I ended up making only a handful of said bottoms and the fabric sat in my closet for ages… until recently!

As you can see in the picture below, I did achieve the results I was hoping for when binding ability is concerned, especially when you compare it to wearing a bra, and wearing no bra. I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, but after looking in the mirror I can say binding really de-emphasizes the breasts, flattening and repositioning tissue.

I’m very pleased to say that this model is not only comfortable, but also very breathable. I think I want to experiment more and make a mix of power net and cotton lycra, in layers and crossing the DOGS. I guess even more binding can be achieved by adding an extra layer just on front to really compress the center. Another point which I yet have to investigate is to remove the back seam and instead have side seams. In my mind, this could make it easier to fit and possibly also in increase front compression without compromising comfort in the back.

I can’t wait to wear my binder out and about under a nice suit and feel empowered and affirming my gender identity. I also hope this was useful to you all and help you feel like your truest self.

Emilia enjoys black outfits, word puns, good tailoring, and transforming their apartment into a greenhouse. When they are not sewing, they are a researcher in the field of Neuroscience. You can find them on IG @emilia_to_nuno and on their blog.