Finding the right fit – the struggle to find the perfect outfit with an ostomy and IBD -Part 2

Finding the right outfit which makes you feel confident when you have an ostomy is nothing short of a challenge. I spent the whole of this weekend feeling like I was about to have a nervous breakdown traipsing around shops trying to find the perfect work outfit for a very important conference next week. I had the entire Trafford Centre to go at – that’s hundreds of shops – could I find anything? Could I hell!

Can you tell I have an ostomy?

Can you tell I have an ostomy?

Some items of clothing just don’t seem to work when you have an ostomy. Take for instance the simple pencil skirt. Being just 5ft 2 inch and with a tiny waist (which, yes I know, many would kill for) I have always found it difficult to find skirts and trousers that fit perfectly, without leaving metres of loose fabric hanging from the backs of my legs, or fitting all the way up but then pushing painfully against my stomach when it bloats. But now I have Winnie, finding the perfect pencil skirt has become a seemingly impossible task. Every skirt is simply too long – going past the glamorous knee skimming length and travelling just that slight bit further past my knee caps in order to resemble an ill-fitting tent. The skirt always fits at the hips, then gapes at the waist so much i could probably fit another person inside with me if I so desired. The effect rather resembles that of a child wearing her mother’s clothing, but with the added impact of the skirt being just tight enough in the wrong places to show off Winnie, lumps and all, to the whole world. Not the best look for a conference where I want to look smart, classy and professional.

The result of the shopping trip was very gloomy. To imagine my mood you would need to picture a slumped person walking around the Trafford Centre with a rain cloud hanging over their head, shivering and shaking as they got soaked by the rain. I was a dark moment. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t have a nervous breakdown in the changing rooms as the piles of jackets, shirts, skirts and trousers, all neatly pressed to start with, ended up discarded in piles around me. Scrap that, with the depression that descended on me as I left the umpteenth retailer as the shops closed following hours of browsing, I’m grateful I didn’t smack the changing room assistant who smiled at me as I handed her the pile of ‘not quite right’ pencil skirts, smirking and saying “oh, did you not find what you were after?” – do I look like I have? ARGH!!

I left the Trafford Centre empty handed…who does that? And sulked the whole way home. What made it worse is we went back the next day, and yes, I came back with my first ever iPad (I will talk about this another time) but without any clothes. What made it even more infuriating is Andy came back with a jumper, and had no problems whatsoever in picking a handful off the rack all that fitted beautiful before choosing his favourite and buying it….a process that took mere minutes…how unfair is that.

Just after my op – all skin and bones, but no ostomy bag in sight

I ended up back at trusty Tesco, and place that rarely fails me for cheap but decent quality clothing, somewhere I have found more clothing to fit me following my surgery than anywhere. I don’t know why that is. It could be because it is cheap enough to try things I wouldn’t usually try, or I could be that because it’s close to my work I’m able to spent longer browsing than normal. I like shopping there as I can bring things home to try them on; changing rooms are a horrible experience for those already self-conscious because of ostomies; mostly because of the gaps in curtains and lack of privacy, but also because of the glaring mirrors and the disappointment of never being able to find anything to fit is aired in public, with the woman next to you getting to hear the gleeful sound of another woman’s sign of frustration that the outfit she was counting on just doesn’t look right.

The result of my shopping trip was the same as ever. I returned home with bags full of clothing, all of which had looked perfect on the hanger, but in reality looked ill-fitting and dowdy on me. The trousers rested on Winnie, causing my ostomy bag to balloon out above the waist-line, creating an outline underneath my new blouse and making it painful to sit down. The skirt was once again too long and clung in all the wrong places. In the end my room was littered with a pile of discarded garments all of which needed to be returned, or hang forgotten in me wardrobe for the next five months before being carted to a charity shop. I used to return impulsive purchases through guilt, now it is through anger!

My sense of style has changed since having my operation. Don’t

A new style of skirt for a new me

A new style of skirt for a new me

get me wrong a lot of my favourite clothes still fit, but I’ve had to make some tweaks in the bottom department to accommodate Winnie. I guess its more about confidence than anything. About feeling like people can’t see Winnie when she fills with gas or is going into overdrive. I always try on clothes when Winnie is getting about half way full – I won’t risk fully full in case I try on something to small and she explodes – but I like to be able to see how the clothes fit and whether you can see her when she is getting close to an explosion. In that way I always know what that party dress will look like in a worse case scenario moment. Sometimes she swells up when I’m trying on, and I’m left with minutes to struggle out of an outfit to get to the nearest MacDonald’s loo – usually the zip gets stuck at this moment or I end up flailing around with a dress stuck on my head.

Either way, what I think this ramble has been trying to say is that finding a sense of personal fashion with an ostomy is hard. It’s been seven months since my op and I still haven’t found an outfit which makes me feel as sexy as I used to. I have found those that make me feel fabulous, womanly and cute, but not really sexy. You might disagree, but it’s not easy, when the only advice when you have the op is to choose where you want you X mark (for your stoma) drawn so that your favourite jeans fit – she ignored it anyway and I had to give them away!!!

In my next post I hope to share some of the tips I have gained since my operation and some of the outfits which show no one can tell you have a stoma – it’s all about the confidence ladies!!!


Trying to find the right fit – getting clothes to look right with an ostomy and IBD – part 1

After a few nightmarish days of running around the Trafford Centre in search of a pencil skirt which fits a thin person with an ostomy bag and finding absolutely zilch, which lead to a full-scale breakdown, tears and wailing of ‘I’m disgusting, just look at me’, I thought I would do a series of blogs on trying to find clothes that fit and make you feel a million dollars when you have IBD and/or an ostomy bag. Let’s hope it helps to stop you spiralling into a shopping induced whirlpool of self-pity.

So here we go, over the next three days I am going to blog about my fashion dilemmas, what not to wear when your bag is on overdrive, and how to make yourself feel instantly happier, braver and more confident even when you’re about to disappear into a world of pain and misery…oh, and the biggest tip of all – avoiding white pants.

Over the years I have really struggled to find clothes that fit and look right. Years of

Work - some outfits have lasted the op - this is one

Work – some outfits have lasted the op – this is one

weight fluctuation due to Crohn’s/Colitis flare-ups and lengthy periods of hospitalisation have caused chaos in the wardrobe department, meaning I seemed to have developed two wardrobes: one for when I’m sick and the other for when I’m well – I’m sure you know which one I wear most often.

My wardrobe is divided. One side appears to be clothes that when I’m ill I wouldn’t be seen dead in for fear of either looking like a vampirish skeleton or, on the exact opposite side of the scale, looking like a beached whale. I have loose fitting clothes for the days I look like a snake that’s swallowed a hippo – you know skinny but with a bloated belly the size of a small planet – and I have hundreds of too big jumpers which can be layered up to give the pretence that I’ve not lost that disastrous amount of weight again – a trick I picked up years ago in an attempt to stop my spiralling illness upsetting my friends and relatives. I’m 99% sure this doesn’t work anymore, but I have to admit that I find comfort in wearing clothes which bulk me out when I’m looking painfully thin – oh, and it does help to keep me warm.

As a self-conscious woman suffering from IBD wrecks total havoc on my daily getting ready ritual. Even something as simple as getting dressed for work can result in a room strewn with clothes and a total meltdown. Some days even silk hurts my swollen belly. Kicker lines dig painfully into my hips, bra clasps rub sores into my bony spine, and dresses pull uncomfortably as my stomach spasms underneath the material. I’ve had days where nothing fits right, where everything causes discomfort, or in some weird magic trick the clothes that fitted perfectly just days before are transformed into giant’s clothes. Some days my room ends up looking like a Very catalogue has exploded all over it, with clothes strewn everywhere. On days like that I’ve considered going to work in my PJs, or even naked – I’m sure that would raise a few eyebrows in court.

Summer dress - teamed with tights = winter winner

Summer dress – teamed with tights = winter winner

In previous posts I’ve talked about how I expected to feel unattractive following my surgery; how I expected to not want to wear anything but trackies for the rest of my life. When I first took off my baggy joggers and pjs after months of recovery I vowed never to go back to them again. Ok, so I haven’t stuck to that. As I write this I have to admit I’m wearing my team GB joggers teamed with a far too big jumper. Yes, I look dreadful. Yes, i wouldn’t go out like this (well I would just to get some sweets or a snack) but I’m comfortable and that’s what joggers are made for, pigging out days and poorly days. I don’t feel guilty about wearing them occasionally but since my surgery I have realised the value of dressing to make yourself feel good, look good and to increase confidence. I’ve realised that when I’m wearing my trackies I don’t feel womanly or attractive, that even when I’m feeling ill, bloated or tired, putting on a nice dress, doing my makeup and hair and pulling on a pair of heels instantly makes me feel better, even if inside I’m crying.

Post surgery has presented me with a whole new world of problems in the fashion department. The best thing I ever did was to bite the bullet and through out all my ‘I will never wear you again’ outfits which would have been a daily reminder in my wardrobe of the figure I once had prior to the arrival of Winnie (the stoma) and my un-scarred stomach. I thought that I would miss those clothes; the figure hugging body con dresses I used to dance the night away in, the bikinis and extremely uncomfortable jeans – I don’t miss them one bit.

At first I stubbornly tried to dress the same way I used to. It worked for a while as I’d lost so much weight the added width of my ostomy bag on my waist line didn’t make a dint on my waistband, but once my muscles and weight started to return I learnt the hard way that the well-worn skinny jeans were no longer an option now that I had my new best friend. Those were my favourite jeans. They were cheap but comfortable and fitted me like a glove, so I carried on stubbornly wearing them, despite the fact they were crushing Winnie to death. I finally threw them away after a few very unfortunate incidents on long car journeys, where, the lesson was learned that a tight waist band resting on an overactive ostomy = explosion. Those jeans were not made for sitting down.

More tomorrow…in the meantime if you have any fashion tips please get in touch and share them….you could help someone (me included) feel more confident.