How I Built an Endometriosis-Friendly Wardrobe

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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I’ve loved fashion ever since I got my first pair of plastic princess heels. (This only intensified after the grueling days of high school, when my mom took me to the mall for “retail therapy.”) As an adult, I saved for knockout dresses and lingerie that made me feel like I could conquer anything, even just on a CVS run. That changed when I was diagnosed with endometriosis in my first year of law school, after I’d had symptoms for almost 20 years, ever since my first period. I’ve now been through five surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy and doctors’ appointments, and more than a handful of harrowing ER trips. I’m lucky to have wonderful care as I fight this disease with my all…but no one told me I’d have to completely overhaul my wardrobe.

Worsening chronic pain transformed getting dressed from a pleasure to a fraught challenge. Jeans felt like fiberglass around my abdomen—and pelvic discomfort meant that any pants became my worst enemy. Lacy bras and bodycon dresses that I spent college feeling very much like that girl in set my nerve endings on fire. Wearing stiff clothes could be so unbearable that I felt like I was going to throw up.

In the years since, I’ve mastered the art of looking and feeling good despite these limitations. I have a network of close friends who also have endo. We text one another when we find the softest pants or most flattering dress, along with mirror selfies so we can ooh and ahh over how hot all our chronically ill besties are. Even if most of our outfits aren’t headed on some grand adventure, it’s important for us to feel cute or hot or sophisticated or whatever vibe we’re going for as we run an errand, go on a mellow walk, or enjoy a night in.

When dressing became hard, so did looking in the mirror and liking the person I saw. Finding my way back to wearing clothing I love, and feeling good when I look in the mirror, has been transformative as I’ve figured out post-diagnosis life. After endless experimentation and group chats (and many online returns), here’s what I’ve learned about dressing myself with a disability—while also maintaining the sense of pleasure I’ve found in clothes since my princess-heels days.

When it comes to pants, give yourself room to breathe.

Pants suck when it comes to pain-friendliness—they can be constrictive and overly structured. Given that I generally avoid them, you can trust that the ones I do like are exceptional. I look for stretchy materials that don’t dig into me and I buy a lot of pants one size up, a trick one of my best friends with endo taught me: Tight waistbands are absolute hell when you have any kind of pelvic pain, and God forbid you have to sit down. With endo, there’s also always the potential for bloating, which is often referred to as endo belly. I can leave my house without any issue there and come home a few hours later feeling like I swallowed a balloon, so it’s important for my pants to be accommodating.

My uniform: stretchy black pants and an oversized button down.

Caroline Reilly

When I want to look professional, I wear stretchy pencil pants (Norma Kamali, $99). For chino-style pants, I make sure the waistband is comfortable and the fabric is lightweight, but holds its shape—this Djerf Avenue pair is my go-to ($125). And while they might technically be athleisure, I am a recent convert to this pair of Lululemon mini-flares ($118), as well as this very affordable dupe from Aerie ($32). Each has a wide waistband that looks and feels seamless and the slight bell bottom makes them look a little more like pants and a little less like yoga pants, especially paired with a cute loafer.

OFFLINE By Aerie

Real Me High Waisted Crossover Flare Legging

Norma Kamali

Pencil Pant

Make oversized, boxy tops your best friends.

For shirts, I—surprise!—focus on fabrics that feel good on my skin. That’s typically cotton poplin that’s crisp, but not scratchy; anything silky (whether that’s silk or satin); modal; rayon; and cashmere-esque knitwear. I especially love silhouettes that make me feel feminine without being too tight, like oversized button-ups from Gap and Abercrombie. For romantic blouses, I splurge on Dôen. I recently wore one of their sleep tops in post-op, and I felt actually, genuinely, really pretty after nearly five hours on an operating table. My exact sleep top is no longer available, but this beauty is very similar (Dôen, $148), and they have a wonderful selection of silky and breezy cotton sleepwear separates and nightgowns.

My post-op Doên blouse.

Caroline Reilly

For knitwear, I make sure there’s zero risk of them making me itchy or instigating skin irritation. I personally break out in hives from wool so, for me, that means looking specifically for synthetic or cotton knits. It takes some trial and error because online descriptions are often so far removed from what arrives on your doorstep, but typically anything with a cashmere feel is a good bet, as is anything that’s 100% cotton. Along with avoiding wool, I typically stay away from knits with a linen component, which sometimes just feels like they’ve mixed straw into the fabric. Some faves include sweaters from Djerf Avenue, cotton tops from Sézane, and anything from Gap’s CashSoft line. I’ve recently found my holy-grail T-shirts for $15 at Old Navy. I love the cropped and boxy vintage cuts, both of which are super-gentle.

Old Navy

Bestee Cropped Crew-Neck T-Shirt

Gap

Organic Cotton Big Shirt

Wireless bras are the way to go, and if you have vulvar pain, opt for underwear in loose or fuller silhouettes.

Years ago, my physical therapist told me to skip underwire bras as often as I could—and to forgo panties entirely because they can trigger or worsen my pelvic floor dysfunction (a technical term for the nerve and muscle pain that can come with endo). Each and every one of my friends with endo has also heard this from their docs: Basically, if it’s got a seam that digs into your vulva or a wire that presses against your ribs, it’s going to make your already-shitty pain worse.

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