As someone who lives in high-waisted jeans and can’t go without leggings, I know a thing or two about form-fitting clothes. Including the fact that they are not, unfortunately, always the most comfortable option in the closet, no matter how flattering they may be.
Discomfort is usually your body yelling at you, telling you to, ‘Please take this off, I don’t care how hot you look!’ And while we may be able to ignore our body, there is a price to be paid. And that’s especially worth noting as the world opens back up, summer sets in, and we decide we want to set the leisurewear aside for awhile.
“Generally, if your wardrobe restricts free movement and doesn’t feel comfortable, it is likely doing some harm to your body,” says Toronto-based osteopath and body and posture expert Dr. Liza Egbogah, who says she has seen plenty of patients with shoulder injuries simply from wearing a tight blazer or restrictive dress shirt. “While slightly compressive clothing like yoga pants and minimally constrictive shapewear shouldn’t pose any problems, clothing that is especially tight or meant to make you look smaller can restrict circulation, irritate the skin, cause strain and even affect your breathing and digestion.”
Our bodies have many working parts that need to move unrestricted to function optimally, she adds. “When something restricts this movement or flow, this upsets the bodily system. You can feel yourself moving differently when you’re wearing something your body doesn’t like.”
For example, when it comes to shapewear, which functions much like a corset (and that should be red flag enough), you may not be taking full breaths since your diaphragm can’t move effectively and your lungs can’t fully expand. As for skinny jeans with minimal stretch, they can limit hip and knee mobility, changing the way you walk and move, and potentially result in injury. They are also known for causing compartment syndrome, which is what happens when pressure is built up in our muscles. This can lower blood flow, which can prevent oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Doesn’t sound worth it, does it?
As the popularity of body-conscious clothing rises, the key is finding the right size for your body, something that can offer a bit of stretch. But don’t keep them on for longer than a few hours, because your body will start to fight back. For men, tight pants can also cause testicles to feel constrained and painful.
“If they are fitted or compressive with a tight waistband, it’s a big no-no, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time sitting,” says Egbogah. “Every time you sit in tight, high-waisted pants, you’re cutting into your intestines, which can lead to constipation, bloating and/or diarrhea. Not only that, but if your back and core muscles start to rely on the support from your high-waisted pants, they may become less active and engaged, leaving you more prone to back pain.”
But hey, low-rise jeans don’t exactly win this battle, either. Also known as lowriders, or “rap pants,” low-rise jeans tend to sit low or below the hips — usually three inches below the navel. Despite their popularity, low-rise jeans come with consequences, such as cutting into your lower intestines and your hip flexors, where many nerves run through, causing injury if you apply too much pressure. You’ll know this is happening if you begin to experience numbness and tingling in your legs. The hip flexor compression can also cause more cramping during your period due to the inflammation.
Your bra may make you anxious
Your underwear is at play here, too. Just think of what it was like – because we’ve all been there – when you wore a bra that didn’t quite fit. It can cause everything from skin irritation to poor posture.
“Our rib cage is meant to move with every inhale and exhale,” explains Egbogah. “When this motion is impaired by a too-tight bra band, we don’t breathe properly or take in enough oxygen. When this happens, a message is sent back to the brain telling you to breathe faster with shallower breaths, which can leave you in an anxious state.”
“Bra straps can also cut into the top of the shoulders and cause you to hunch over if they aren’t supportive enough, she adds.
As a rule, if your bra band feels too constrictive, you can try bra extenders to add comfort and ease. And, of course, if your weight has fluctuated or you’re just not sure if you’re wearing the right size, it’s worth getting professionally measured. All you might need is a change in band or cup size.
“The same way you feel less stable in a stiletto and more balanced in a chunky heel, there is more stability in your neck and back when you wear a thicker bra strap rather than a spaghetti strap,” says Egbogah, who adds one especially tell-tale sign: “If you have marks on your shoulders at the end of the day, you may want to look for a different bra.”
Ties that bind
Ties, too, can be troublesome. In fact, a tight tie can put you at risk of blindness due to a rise in pressure in the body, according to a 2013 study, which can put you at a higher risk of glaucoma. It can also lead to a reduction in blood flow to the brain.
It isn’t only fit that matters when it comes to the way our clothes might be impacting our physical (and even mental) health, though. What are clothing is made of also has a massive impact.
“Our body has a certain degree of flexibility and it’s helpful for our bodies when our clothing does, too,” says Egbogah, pointing out that fits that elastic, or loose tend to be more comfortable and give our bodies room to breathe. “When it comes to our bodies’ ability to moderate temperature and the health of our skin, the breathability of the fabric matters.”
She says that natural materials like cotton tend to breathe better than materials like polyester, and will work better for our skin and temperature, especially important as we move from spending more time indoors in a controlled environment to variable conditions outside the home.
You can also experience other types of irritation, for example, dermatitis or eczema flare-ups, which can be caused by wool (especially if you’ve got dry skin). That’s your body telling you it can’t breathe. Synthetic fabrics, like the aforementioned polyester, rayon and nylon, which are treated with toxic chemicals, have a tendency to trap odours, allowing bacteria to grow. Clothes dyed with toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde, can also cause skin irritation and even anaphylactic shock. Fabrics you can rely on include not only cotton, but also linen, hemp, silk and cashmere, which is why it can also be important to invest in higher quality and healthier pieces.
So to sum up: what you put on your body matters. Keep things loose and choose quality fabrics. Your body will thank you.
Sadaf Ahsan is a Toronto-based culture writer, editor and stereotypical middle child. She can be reached here.