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All About Binders & Compression Shorts

What are Chest Binders and Compression Shorts?

Simply put, a chest binder is a garment designed to compress one’s chest, and is also sometimes called a compression vest. People most often wear their binder underneath their everyday clothes, while some people may wear their binder as a shirt in and of itself. People bind for many reasons: binding can be part of one’s gender transition, gender play, or as part of post ‘top’ surgery recovery.

Compression shorts, sometimes also referred to as binding shorts or binding briefs, are a style of shorts that a person wears underneath their everyday clothes, in order to provide compression for the lower part of the body. They help to smooth out the lines of hips and bums. People often wear binding shorts as part of their gender transition, gender expression, or gender play.

Regardless of why you’re looking for compression gear, there are some good options out there and some simple guidelines to follow when choosing, wearing, and caring for your binder!

How to Choose Binders or Compression Shorts

We currently offer four styles of chest binder from Underworks, which all compress well, but based on their length and configuration, fit bodies differently. These binders come in sizes ranging from XS to 4XL, and are usually available in white or black.

We also offer a pair of compression shorts, called the Hip Buster Brief, for folks seeking to compress the lower part of their body. The briefs are available in sizes ranging from S to 3XL, and are available in black. Here's some details about each product style we carry!

Underworks Tri-Top Binder / Cotton Binding Top:

The Tri-Top and Cotton Binding Top both bind to the belly-button area. It provides extensive chest compression without affecting the hips and lower body. A lot of binders have a tendency to roll up from the bottom when they’re in use, and this style is no exception. However, the length of this binder minimizes the impact of this rolling!

Underworks Ultimate Binder/ Cotton Power Tank:

The Ultimate and Cotton Power Tank both bind all the way to the hip area and can be tucked into pants or underwear. It is the most constrictive of our binders, compressing not only the chest, but also belly and hips. It’s also the most likely to ride up the torso during wear. Some appreciate the flattening it provides of many lines of the torso, while others find it prohibitively constricting for daily wear.

Underworks Concealer Binder:

The Concealer features both a cotton undershirt and binder combined into one garment. The binder is designed to bind to the rib cage / midriff area. The undershirt layer allows folks to wear this binder as a single piece of clothing (or a comfortable extra layer in the winter!). This binder is ideal for anyone who already wears an undershirt, and the binder is sewn into the tank to ensure it never rolls up.

Underworks Swim Top:

While all of our chest binders can be used for swimming, many styles can be tricky to pull on and off while wet – not to mention the fact that chlorine can be rough on the nylon material. Hence why we offer a swimming-specific binder! The Swim Top is sleeveless, all black, and has a zipper running up the front of the garment. Changing in and out of a wet binder just got a lot easier! The Swim Top may also prove to be a more accessible option for folks with restricted mobility. The top portion of the binder can be unzipped, allowing more room and flexibility for the wearer to position the binder in place before zipping it up.

Hip Buster Brief:

The Hip Buster Briefs bind to the middle of the leg, and are designed to straighten the lines of hips and bums. Due to the constrictive nature of the Hip Buster, the crotch has been designed to allow the wearer to pee without having to pull the shorts down. Genius!

How to Choose a Binder Size

We know that finding a chest binder that works can be a challenging and confusing process. Here are some general tips for choosing gear that fits well, is comfortable, provides compression, and allows the wearer to breathe easily!

First, it is important to determine what size (or range of sizes) will work best. Using the diagram listed on the product page of the binder you’re interested in, begin by measuring around the widest part of the chest with a measuring tape, and compare that measurement to the ones listed in the diagram, in order to determine which size is likely to fit best.

The next part involves a little bit of trial and error. Try on the binder size that’s the closest fit, based on the measurement you obtained. If you find that you are between sizes, sizing up is likely your best bet. The binder should provide adequate compression, with a little room to breathe.

While some folks choose to go down a size in order to try and achieve a flatter look, this usually ends up being too constrictive. Stick with a binder size that fits snugly and provides a decent amount of compression- without being overly constrictive- in order to help minimize some of the challenges like lung compression or back pain that can come with binding.

How to Choose a Compression Short Size

In order to get a sense of which size should fit best, use a tape measure to measure the circumference of the waist, just above the hip bone. Compare this measurement to the chart listed on the product page to determine the best size, based on the measurement of the waist. For anyone who finds that they are between sizes, go with the larger of the two. These shorts have a very snug fit!

How to Wear a Binder

While the traditional way of putting on a binder is by pulling it overhead, some who are new to binding (and even folks who have been at it for awhile) find it helpful to step into their chest binder to put it on. This means that you can hold onto the shoulder straps and step into the neck opening of the binder, pulling the binder up. From there, put each arm through its respective armhole, and adjust the binder as needed.

As far as long-term wear is concerned, we find that binding too tightly, for too long, may cause musculoskeletal issues, and possibly limit lung capacity. There is recent research available from the Binding Health Project (BHP) that suggests the same. Unfortunately, commercial binders like the ones we stock on our website are associated with negative physical symptoms. At the same time, chest binding was also found to have a positive impact on mental and emotional wellness for nearly all of the people surveyed.

The most common negative physical symptoms reported included back pain, shoulder pain, and chest pain, as well as itchy skin, overheating, and difficulty breathing. At the same time, some of the positive mental effects of binding included increased self-esteem, decreased feelings of anxiety and depression, and feeling safer in public spaces.

In order to help reduce the negative effects of chest binding, bind as little as you can, as loosely as you can, and try to find a binder that gives you adequate compression, with a little room to breathe. While it may not be possible for everyone, according to the BHP results, taking a day (or more) off from binding each week could be one of the best ways to reduce the negative physical side-effects of binding. Each person’s experience with binding is different, and it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of binding on a personal basis. This can help you come up with a plan that best meets your own preferences and needs if you choose to bind.

For athletics, or time spent at the gym, it is ideal not to bind. However, at the same time, we realize that this isn’t realistic for a lot of folks. The next best thing would be to bind more loosely at the gym, in order to ensure that you’re able to breathe adequately during exercise, and not restrict your range of movement more than necessary.

Lastly, it is generally best to stick to wearing only one binder at a time, since layering two binders, or wearing a binder in combination with other extremely tight clothing, can be overly constrictive. Avoid binding during sleep, and only use the binder recommended by your surgeon if binding is part of your surgery aftercare.

How to Exchange For Size

At GenderGear.ca, we recognize that choosing the right binder can be a big decision. Since we are an online store, and it isn’t possible for our customers to try on different sizes and styles before purchasing, we are more than happy to chat about binders with you before purchasing, in order to help out with the selection process. Send us an email at info@gendergear.ca with any questions you have!

And at the end of the day, if you order one of our binders and it just isn’t the right fit, have no fear! We ask that you take it off immediately and email us - we are happy to organize an exchange for a different size or style.

Care and Cleaning

Binders, including chest binders and binding briefs, should always be hand-washed or machine-washed in cold water (on the gentle cycle), and hung to dry. Your binder will last longer if you don’t wash your binder in hot water, as it will cause the nylon to wear out prematurely. Unless the binder has stretched out significantly, it should never be dried in a dryer, as heat will damage the binding material.

If you do find that your chest binder has stretched, a quick spin in the dryer should help to restore its shape – just don’t let it cook in there! It is also worth noting that binders should never be bleached. Bleach is just too harsh on the nylon material, and will weaken the elasticity of your binder. It can be hard to resist bleaching a white binder that has changed colour over time, but if this is a concern, starting out with a black binder can be a good option. Black fabric helps conceal dirt and stains a lot better than white fabric!

Binder Recycling Program

Did you know that we have a chest binder recycling program where we sell pre-loved binders at a discounted price here at GenderGear.ca?! Here’s how it works: we accept binder donations on an ongoing basis from people who no longer use their chest binders. In some cases, their binders may no longer fit, or maybe they’ve had top surgery and don’t wear them anymore. Donors mail us their used binders, and we provide them with a $10 gift card for each binder they donate. We then wash and re-sell those binders for $5 each to anyone who wants one.

Due to the fact that we rely on donations for this program, we don’t have a whole lot of control over the styles and sizes that are available at any given time, and, as with all projects for trans and gender variant folk, demand often far outstrips supply. As such, if you are interested in donating one of our discounted binders, please get in touch! We are more than happy to work with you! Interested? Send us an email at info@gendergear.ca for more info!

Have Questions?

Have questions? Need help? Write us at info@gendergear.ca and we’d be happy to chat!