Day 6: What to wear with an ostomy? What ostomy? #7daysofIBD

I’m no fashionista, but I like to look good – who doesn’t?

One of my biggest fears before my surgery was that I’d spend the rest of my life wandering around in sack-like clothes or simply become a nun.

I envisioned a future filled with sweat pants, baggy jumpers and shape-less dresses – looking like a washed-out celeb in a Pineapple tracksuit.

I also imagined a life without romance, I think I believed that I’d be better off living in a hovel somewhere than have my bowel taken away.

I’m ashamed to say that as a teen and a young woman vanity was the main reason I stubbornly refused the operation for years despite being in hideous amounts of pain.

Having the operation felt like giving up my youth – it didn’t matter that my young life so far had been marred by illness, and the operation promised me a new lease of life.

I was horrified of what it would do to my already shattered confidence and street-cred; basically as a teenager I simply couldn’t think of anything worse than having an ostomy bag.

I’d rather put up with the accidents, the blood and the constant toilet visits, than be thought of as a freak – well, more than people already thought a young girl who spent more time in a bathroom than the playground was.

I mean I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, what would I tell people, what would they think?

The people they sent to talk to me where lovely, well and happy, but they were in their 50s and 60s and had grandchildren – I could’t relate to that.

Now I realise I needn’t have worried one bit: unless you know about it, or Winnie announces herself, you wouldn’t have a clue she was there.

It was only when I was in my mid 20s that the surgeons finally got a firm grip on me and this time I couldn’t and didn’t really want to get away/

Straight after my first surgery (well as soon as I had the energy) I went through my old clothes and packed anything that was really tight into a bag and shipped it off to a charity shop.

I needn’t have done, but I’m still glad I did.

Ironically having surgery did my wardrobe a lot of good: it made me grow up, and stop wearing outfits that honestly should have been left back in my student drinking days, or really never have seen the light of day at all.


I get a lot of questions about what I wear, and how to dress with an ostomy.

My answer: wear whatever you want, what looks good, but most of all what you feel the most confident in.

You don’t want to wear something where you are constantly patting your bag, checking it, worrying that someone can see it – but you don’t want to feel like you’re wearing a smock either.

I’ve been pleasantly shocked at the array of things I can still wear. To be honest I can wear anything: I simply choose not to wear some things.

For example; I wouldn’t wear a crop top or a dress with gaps in that show my bag – I could, and good on anyone who does, I just don’t feel comfortable doing that.

I love maxi dresses and in total contrast short skirts, but I wouldn’t wear a skin tight body con dress, mostly because if my bag expands it’s too uncomfortable.

I also wouldn’t really wear something too sheer or that clingy gold material, mostly because you can see the shape of my bag through it.

On the days I feel weird from my bag (yes I do have days when I feel really self conscious about it) I distract attention from my stomach (not that anyone can see) with loud makeup, big hair and well, fabulous shoes – not that I need an excuse.

I usually have a little scarf in my handbag for if my bag fills up and I want to hide it – it’s a little handy tip I got from another blogger.

But really I can wear, and do wear, whatever I want: suits; jump suits; short dresses; pencil skits; ball gowns; see through blouses… and even shorts!

I do struggle to find a decent pair of jeans, but that’s because I need high-waist, a petite and a six, which is a hard combination to go by – if you are looking I find Next is the place to go.

I tailor what I wear to how I feel, what I’ve eaten (sometimes) and sometimes avoid eating certain things if I know I’m going to be wearing that tight dress.

I love the glamour – but some days I like my sweat pants, or PJs and baggy jumpers.

But that’s because I’m human, not because I have an ostomy.


Ten fashion tips for young women with ostomy bags – my experience so far

So here we go, after just over seven months of living with my temperamental stoma and unplanned fistula here are some of the lessons I have learned concerning looking trendy and feeling confident while living with an ostomy bag. As a young woman finding clothes that fit, flatter and make you feel sexy is hard enough without having to worry about what your ostomy looks like, I’ve found the best way to deal with that is to wear whatever you feel comfortable and confident in. If that’s baggy jumpers and sweat pants go for it. But I think the best way is to show off your figure, flaunt what you’ve got, and wear your body with pride…ok, I’ve not braved a bikini yet, so maybe I’m not great a role model but I really don’t think hiding under layers of pyjama-like clothing, or resorting to prison-esk jumpsuits is the way forward. You might disagree, some of this sounds a bit preachy – but give me a chance:

  1. Avoid the “bin liner look” : don’t choose an outfit just because it hides your ostomy bag

If you approach every shopping with the attitude that every outfit has to render your

THE DRESS - I would never have worn this b4 Winnie - she is so much more cool than me

THE DRESS – I would never have worn this b4 Winnie – she is so much more cool than me

figure unrecognisable just because you have a bag of, well crap, attached to the outside of your body, you will (in my opinion) end up feeling worse than your stoma when you’ve eaten too much high fibre stuff. My tip, don’t hide away. Your body is amazing, you are amazing, and that should be celebrated, not hidden under baggy jumpers and sweat pants. Just because you have an ostomy it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sexy….in fact I THINK IT MEANS YOU SHOULD FEEL SEXY. If you see something you look damn good in, buy it, wear it out and see how amazing you feel. Try not to worry about if people can or can’t see your ostomy – that’s hard, and I can’t talk – no one can see it just be yourself and you’ll be surprised to learn that no one cares if you have a little lump under your dress. If they’re looking that hard they must like you anyway, or be envious of your show stopping dress.

2. Use your operation as a chance to change your wardrobe : don’t hang on to those body con dresses which will make you feel like crap

In the weeks following my operation I bit the bullet and went through my wardrobe and got rid of all the über skin-tight dresses I knew I wouldn’t feel confident enough to wear again. Yes it was painful, yes I’m not ashamed to say that I cried, but now they’re gone and I no longer have the temptation to stare at them longingly and feel upset, or worse try them on and get upset. I’m not ashamed of my body, and I didn’t get rid of them because I will never wear anything figure-hugging again – I got rid of them because I knew I would no longer feel confident in them or comfortable. And you know what I don’t miss them. Since that day I have changed my sense of style and I still look great, if anything having an ostomy has made me more adventurous with my fashion sense and less like the rest of the crowd in the same Primark body con dress.

3. Try tops which have embellishments, frills and a different shape – so they don’t cling:

I’m not talking Elizabethan style frills, just a few little touches to draw attention away from your bag. You might not feel the need to do this, but I found this helpful when I first started going out following my op. I didn’t want people to see my bag straight-away, I wanted to cover it, so I found having a few little frills or a loose belt worked really well. Also try tops where the waist line flicks out, or floaty shirts, which I’m told by magazines are really “in trend” right now. Even wrap-around tops can work well as the crease covers any bloating easily.

4. Raise the waistline – try high-rise jeans, skirts and dresses with higher waist lines

I always avoided high-waisted garments; to be fair I always thought they looked pretty ridiculous on anyone who wasn’t a six-foot stick thin Victoria’s Secret model. I especially despised (and still do) those high-waist shorts which show more of young girls’ backsides than if they were wearing Bridget Jones’ knickers; you know the ones I mean, the ones that leave nothing to the imagination. Anyway since my operation I’ve had to throw out my well-worn loyal skinny jeans, which rested rather painfully on my stoma, cutting off circulation and causing minor explosions and a lot of discomfort in car journeys, and I’ve fallen in love with high-waisted jeans. Well not all but some amazing petite skinny ones from Next. I searched a long time for them but finally bit the bullet and bought them for £45 but I’m hardly ever out of them. They fit perfectly and totally cover Winnie. With a IMG_3866top tucked in you would never know I had an ostomy – until she swells up, and even then it’s not that obvious. I’ve also found little skirts which have high waists teamed with a cute vest top make a good match, try and get vertical stripes, seems to give the illusion of a tiny waist.

5. Amazing shoes – go to town with your feet:

If your not sure about your outfit, or don’t want to draw attention to your stomach area (and we all have those days) go to town on your feet. Yes, that’s right I’m telling you to go out and get amazing shoes. When I say amazing I mean killer heels, in daring styles and colours. You know those kind of shoes that everyone comments on, the ones that people say “Wow I love your shoes” without even paying attention to your outfit. And it doesn’t have to cost the world, shops like New Look, Next, Primark even, (my favourite Dorothy Perkins) have show stopping shoes which won’t leave you crying and up all night worrying about money.

6. Go daring in the makeup department:

Ready for the Races - THE DRESS

Ready for the Races – THE DRESS

Feeling under the weather or not very confident, I find going bold and bright really helps. Since my op I have started to brighten my mood by wearing bright pink lipstick, painting my nails as often as I can, and really paying attention to my hair and makeup. Ok sometimes I feel like I’m becoming a cartoon character; before my op I wouldn’t have dreamt of wearing bright red lipstick to work or painting my nails all different colours – but it makes me smile and I find it makes people around me happier. Of course always bare in mind what’s appropriate, but if you can always add a bit of colour, you’ll be surprised how much more sexy you will feel.

7. Get underwear right:

Ostomy underwear can be ugly (see previous post), but sometimes the hold-it-all-in underwear, no matter how ugly it is, can provide a boost of confidence and a seem free look which can be attractive. Just be aware that if you find yourself in a certain situation (you know what I’m talking about) to dim the lights – most are worse than Bridget’s granny pants when they’ve been put in with a dark wash! Try to get sexy underwear. Wearing it will make you feel better, prettier and happier, especially if you’re having a hard time with your ostomy. I save my granny pants for especially bad days and being at home, but on nights out I like to wear the no VPL high rise pants from M&S. Some people swear by the shaper underwear – you know the underwear that sucks you in – I’ve not tried it so I can’t, but in the right situation I might give it ago.

8. Tights can add extra security and seam free look:

If you have an ostomy it can be hard to hide the lines. At first I was worried wearing tights would make emptying my bag harder, and leave me more prone to explosions and leaks. The opposite has been true. I find wearing tights helps to give me added security holding my bag firmly in place come what may.

9. Always carry a scarf: an amazing tip I’ve picked up along the way

I can’t remember where I saw this, but a fellow ostomate shared this tip on Youtube a while back. Always carry a scarf in your bag. It can be one of those thin fashion scarves, and as pretty as you like, or a full blown scarf in Winter. I always carry a thin one with butterflies on it which is feminine and delicate. Basically the idea is that when your ostomy bag fills up and your a) not ready to empty it, or b) unable to empty it – you whip out the scarf and drape it over your shoulders so it rests where your bag is and covers the area that’s filled up. Sounds too simple to work, but it really does. It’s so simple and adds a touch of class and bohemia to any outfit. Crazy right.IMG_1426

10. Don’t care what people think – you’ll be shocked how little they notice

Shockingly enough hardly anyone will ever notice your ostomy bag. No one will ever know you have one, unless of course you choose to tell them or have a full-blown Marylin Monroe moment while waiting for the bus (has happened to me far too often). Most people wouldn’t say anything if they even noticed. For God’s sake James Bond has walked into bars for years with a revolver down his tuxedo pants and no one has made a crude joke…so why would they notice your ostomy bag. The only way people will is if you keep patting it – a habit I’m trying to stop – and fussing with your outfit. Wear what you want, enjoy fashion, feel confident, you’ve been through hell and back and now its time to start enjoying life….live it.

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.