Shopping for Swimsuits, Post-Mastectomy

Swimsuit shopping is daunting, period. MORE sat down with post-mastectomy swimsuit designer Patricia Brett, who creates suits that let you feel your best—even after a procedure. Read on for her story and swimwear shopping tips

by Alana Peden, interview by Susan Swimmer
patricia brett image
Patricia Brett
Photograph: Veronica Brett

MORE: Why did you start designing swimsuits?
Patricia Brett: My background is actually in architecture. I have a BS in Architecture from Ohio State and a Master of Architecture from Yale. I practiced architecture for about 20 years before I turned my attention to designing swimsuits.

In 2003, I had a risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy (the same surgery Angelina Jolie recently had). I found that with my breast reconstruction, swimsuits and bras just didn’t fit right. My sister (who is now a 16-year survivor) wasn’t able to have reconstruction after her radiation and was disappointed in the post-surgical swimsuits available. With a bit of research, I learned that fewer than 25% of women who have a mastectomy elect to have reconstruction. I felt there needed to be a better fashion solution for those of us whose bodies have changed as a result of breast surgery. I created Veronica Brett to be this fashion solution.

For me, architecture was about problem solving through design. I felt the same way about the swimwear. I naively thought that if I could design a building, I should be able to design a sexy, sophisticated swimsuit that solved the issues unique to women after breast surgery. But there was one catch, I wanted the swimsuits to be beautiful—so that all women would want to wear them.

MORE: What are the biggest complaints you get from women about regular swimsuits?
PB: Most people just assume that a post-mastectomy swimsuit simply has a pocket on the inside, but that’s only part of it. Many swimsuits have underwires or boning, which can be uncomfortable for a woman who has had surgery. A lot of swimsuits are too low under the arm, and expose scars from surgery. It's all about giving women coverage where they need it—while still creating an overall sexy appearance.

As women, I feel that we have many beautiful parts: our shoulders, backs, bottoms, and legs, and I wanted to create swimwear that could accentuate all of a woman’s beautiful parts.

MORE: What should women be looking for when buying a suit post mastectomy?
PB: My goal in creating Veronica Brett swimwear was to allow women to shop as much as possible the way they shopped prior to a mastectomy or lumpectomy. The questions I tend to ask women when I help them in a fitting:

  • Cut Where do you need coverage? Do you have a chemo port or scars on either side that might require coverage? Do you have any concavity that you want the suit to disguise? Make certain that the shape and style of the suit gives you the coverage you need even before you try it on.
  • Pockets If you wear a swim form, be certain the suit can accommodate the form. Some suits (like my Front-Lacing Halter) take a tear-drop shaped form turned vertically. In other suits (like strapless or bandeau styles) you will want to place a tear-drop shaped form horizontally. A triangle form requires a larger pocket and a suit with a little more coverage. I recommend my Classic Surplice for the woman who wears a triangular-shaped form. (If you are shopping for a swim form for the first time, I’d recommend getting a tear-drop shape to have more options in the style of swimsuit you can wear.)
  • Color It used to be that post-mastectomy swimwear was predominantly only available in large prints. I believe this is was an attempt to distract from breasts that might be two different sizes or shapes. I really felt there needed to be sexy, sophisticated suits in beautiful solid colors, including black. So I worked hard to make the silhouette of the swimsuit due the work rather than rely on a distracting print.

 

MORE: How do you get the fit right when trying on suits?

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