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?

PB: It’s important to take a variety of sizes into the fitting room because designers differ in their sizing and cuts. Also, it’s worth trying on swimsuits that don’t have great hanger appeal. If you see a swimsuit in a color you love, try it on. Most suits look much better on the body.

If you’re buying online, be sure to look at the size guides. Many women go up a size in swimwear. For instance, if you are a size eight in dresses, you likely take a ten in swimwear. Don’t be afraid to email or call for fit questions. I’ve become an

expert on fitting women for swimsuits over the phone!

Think about whether you will be swimming in the suit (and actually getting wet) or if you'll predominantly use the suit for sunning or relaxing poolside. For swimming, you want to opt for a slightly snugger fit as suits tend to stretch a bit when wet.

Whether you buy online or in a boutique, put the suit through its paces. Bend over in it (I mean really reach for the floor!) reach up high, squat down. Make certain you get the coverage you need both at the bust and in the rear when you stretch and move in the suit.

MORE: Have you ever taken a design suggestion from a client?

PB: It’s imperative to listen to my clients. After I created the Convertible Bandeau Bikini, both individual customers and retailers asked for a one-piece version of the swimsuit, so I designed the Convertible Maillot. It has the same versatility (you can wear it strapless, halter style, cross-front) yet this maillot is for a slightly more sophisticated customer—a woman who likes the elegant draping at the top, but wants a more conservative leg. It’s perfect for the French Riviera!

Next: Best Swimsuits: Slimming But Not Uncomfortable

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First Published Tue, 2013-06-04 14:31

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