Like many transgender people, when I first Googled "being transgender," plenty of the links were about how to bind your chest. In recent years, trans awareness has been spreading and binder companies have been flourishing, so I want to share my list of the best binders you can buy.
I'm assigned female at birth (AFAB) and have so far been unable to pursue any kind of medical transition, like hormones or surgery. That makes binding the number one way I shift my body to a more traditionally masculine shape — and I'm just one of many trans people who do the same.
A 2016 study — the very first on chest binding — done by a five-person team at The Binding Health Project found that half of the 1,800 respondents bind their chests seven days a week.
A report from the study revealed conclusions from the survey and research, saying, "Based on our preliminary analysis, for most participants, binding was a positive experience and led to improvements in mood and self-esteem, minimized gender dysphoria, anxiety, and depression, and helped them to feel in control of their bodies."
However, researchers also cautioned folks that binding can cause health problems, including "pain in different parts of your body, to shortness of breath, to bruising or other skin changes."
That's why it's so important to find a binder that fits you well, and to keep a close eye on your body while you're binding.
Here are my suggestions for some of the most comfortable, versatile, and well-made binders you can buy.
GC2B sent me a binder for review back in 2016, and it quickly became my everyday go-to. This half binder is made of sleek, soft material, and its shape and size make it ideal for plus-size folks. I will say that, for me, this one takes a little bit of working with: It has some slippage problems, which can be solved by wearing a tank top underneath it, and the length can make it difficult to figure out how to position larger breasts so you look flat (again, the tank underneath will help!).
Despite its drawbacks, this is my favorite binder. I've never felt any discomfort while wearing it, and it's one of the easiest to take off and put on. It's a great starter binder, and at $33, it'll give you plenty of bang for your buck. Also, GC2B does offer customized sizing options if you need them, which is a totally necessary feature that few binder companies offer.
FLAVNT caught my eye in 2015, when they ran a Kickstarter to fund a skintone-matching swim binder. The Bareskin Binder officially launched in late 2016, and is now available in four skintones. It's swim-friendly, and is meant to give trans folks a more shirtless look on beach days. The stretchy Nylon-Spandex combo is a comfy one, but the one downside for me is that FLAVNT doesn't offer this binder in sizes larger than XL — that's a 45 to 48-inch bust, according to FLAVNT's size chart.
In an email, a FLAVNT rep told me the company does plan to expand to plus sizes, but for now, plus-size folks will have to lose out here.
One of the tough things for nonbinary folks is that binders are often designed to be worn under traditionally masculine clothes. But this binder gives people the freedom to wear things like strapless dresses and ubercute spaghetti straps. It has a Velcro closure in the back, making on and off easy. As someone who often has to get their spouse to help them out of smaller/thinner binders, believe me — easy on/off is a blessing. Again, this binder is only available to size XXL, which is a 46.5-inch bust.
The top portion of this binder has "double reinforced powernet panels" made of Spandex and Nylon, but has a relaxed stomach, which means you won't get the unfortunate shelf look that comes with some other long binders. It's also great for folks with larger stomachs or sensitive stomachs, and who don't want any tummy compression. This binder comes in sizes up to 3X, and is just one of Underworks' Extreme Compression series, which offers about 15 different extra-powerful options.
This binder was also sent to me for review, and alternating it with GC2B's piece gave me a great perspective on the differences, both positive and negative. This binder is more snug than the GC2B piece, so offers a flatter look, and it has a longer hem so it feels even less like a bra and more like a tank top, but it has a high neckline and wide shoulder straps, which makes it hard to hide under clothes. The material is wicked comfortable, though, as well as durable, and it's great for everyday wear. However, I was sent the largest size, and it is just shy of too tight and cuts in under my arms, so I would mostly recommend it to folks who are smaller than I am — aka, less than a 52-inch bust.
I like this binder because it offers solutions to lots of universal binder problems: A zipper to fix the over-the-head on/off difficulty; super breathable mesh to help the sweating-like-a-horse aspect of binding; and thin straps that almost look like you're wearing a regular tank. I don't mind my binder showing under my clothes, but for folks who need to stealth bind, this is a great option. Keep in mind, however, that while this binder comes up to size 3XL, it's definitely made for smaller people, and likely won't stretch well for plus-size folks.
Shapeshifters offers the best custom sizing of any binder brand I know. They account not only for your bust size, but also your underbust, waist, hips, and even the length of your back so they know where to cut off the hem. In their FAQ, the company adds that they "will be happy to widen or narrow the straps, raise or lower the armholes, or set the straps closer to the neck or farther apart, upon request for no charge."
Customization like that is completely unbeatable. I will say Shapeshifters' binders don't offer as much compression as binders from Underworks or GC2B, so you won't get as flat a chest, but if you're plus-size or have an unusual body shape, Shapeshifters is so flexible and inclusive that it's worth the sacrifice.
I'm so happy nude binders are becoming more common. GC2B offers tanks in white and black, but also in various skintones. All the skintone binders are offered in half binders and in tanks like this one; I suggest the tank if you're looking for some stomach compression. For folks who are OK with stomach compression, you'll find this binder offers a very flat look, but like its half binder sibling, you may need to wear a regular tank top underneath to prevent slipping and to help hold your breasts in place.
I can't resist putting these on the list, because they're functional, but they're also amazing. My geeky self wants all of them — from this Ultimates Captain America look to the Steven Universe and Iron Man (with an actual LED light ARC reactor in the chest) pieces. Like all of Shapeshifters' binders, they're custom-sized, and come with tons of optional add-ons like a racerback cut, a side zipper, and layers of lace for extra aesthetics.
10. Sports Binder
Many of my gripes with binders come from one thing: They ride up. And when I have to wear a tank underneath them to keep both my breasts and my binder in place, it gets hot, itchy, and sweaty real fast. But this binder is actually built for sports, so while it won't give you a completely flat chest during your workouts or sports events, it does have anti-bouncing support, and it will allow you to bind while you exercise, which is something that should never be done in a binder which isn't specifically made for physical activity.
Hey there, young trans folks and folks who can't afford the binders I've listed so far. I'm with you. Up till this year, I wasn't able to afford a binder myself. So my ultimate suggestion is, if you can't afford a binder and you need one, to poke around and look for preowned and donation-based binder recycling programs like the one Gender Gear runs, or this one by Point 5CC, or this one by TransActive Gender Center.
I always felt like I didn't deserve to apply for a free binder, because surely there was someone out there who needed a binder more than I did. I don't want anyone else to feel like that, so please: If you're in financial straits and need one, apply for one. Helping you is the reason these awesome orgs run recycling programs.
Whatever your budget, body type, and individual needs, I hope my recommendations have given you ideas for your next — or first — binder. Just remember: Measurements matter, don't bind for more than a few hours at a time, and be sure to check in with your body to make sure what looks good feels good too.
Images: Courtesy Brands