Meet Sarah; a wonderful flat fashion blogger and Trustee of Flat Friends UK

The amazing Sarah (@flatterfashion)

It’s Friday, it’s almost the weekend, it’s a beautiful day AND we have another amazing blog for you!

We’re thrilled to introduce today’s blog which is written by the wonderful Sarah. Sarah was one of the first people our founder, Eleanor, connected with on Instagram but it took Eleanor quite a while to realise that Sarah only lives a few miles away!

Sarah works full-time as a social worker having retrained after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. In her spare time she is a trustee of registered charity Flat Friends UK, and she is the founder of flatterfashion.co.uk.

Since she had a mastectomy without reconstruction, Sarah has been developing a fabulous resource of tips for dressing flat after single or double mastectomy – which can be found on her website or in Flat Friends’ patient booklet “Living without reconstruction”.

Sarah is also currently completing a year long “Outflat” fundraising campaign in aid of Flat Friends.

You can find Sarah at flatterfashion.co.uk and on Instagram at @flatterfashion.

Without further ado, here’s Sarah!

“It’s been said that being diagnosed with cancer is like sitting an exam in a foreign language you haven’t had time to learn. We have to rely on our healthcare team to translate for us and we go online in search of exam tips.

On 18th December 2014 I was diagnosed with a fast growing invasive breast cancer in my right breast after finding a small lump behind my nipple two months earlier. On instantly declining the idea of reconstruction my breast care team warned me I would be “very flat” and wouldn’t be able to find nice clothes. The Breast Cancer Care patient booklet on clothes told me that women living without reconstruction who don’t wear prostheses could “disguise” their chest by wearing scarves and loose fitting tops. I searched online: “Which clothes suit a flat chest?”, “Post-mastectomy fashion”, “Clothes without reconstruction”, “living and dressing flat” (and every configuration of those words you can imagine). A website about living flat had one page about clothing but frustratingly gave the same advice of baggy tops and scarves.

I was 35 and being told that if I didn’t reconstruct then I would need to spend the rest of my life concealing my body; as if the public shouldn’t be confronted by a woman without two breasts. Another thing which struck me was that there were only two varieties of living flat portrayed online: either needing to cover up, or wanting to appear androgynous. On finding Flat Friends a few months later I realised that’s far from the truth. “Flat” is the space where a breast once was, it’s not the whole of your chest nor how you choose to present your chest to the world. All women living without reconstruction after a single or double mastectomy – whether they choose to wear prostheses always, sometimes or never – are “Living Flat”.

After many days and weeks scouring social media I found two women in the UK and one in the US who were open about living flat and sharing photos of their daily lives without a strategically placed scarf in sight. I genuinely thought we must be the only ones; that everyone else was hiding in plain sight, or having recon. I imagined I wasn’t the first woman to be in this position; doubting a gut instinct because of how we’re expected to look. I quickly became concerned that some may agree to have reconstruction based on their team, cancer charities, or the internet telling them that the alternative will be unrecognisable and uninhabitable.

The thought that there may be women getting dressed each day in a cloak of secrecy, fearing if they do not obscure their chest then they risk offending society, inflamed an idea to create the resource I had been looking for. Within a couple of weeks of having my mastectomy I had worked out how to build a website and uploaded my first post: “The One Where I Tried On Everything In My 34DD Wardrobe”. I was having to start from scratch working out which fabrics, styles, shapes, designs, seams, and darts would flatter my new body shape.

The day before each chemo I would use my short-lived energy to go to a high street store and try on clothes. I photographed and documented each discovery for my website and social media, whilst picking out themes and criteria which eventually became my list of fashion tips for dressing single or double flat chests. Just as “Living Flat” is an inclusive term so is “Dressing Flat”. Dressing Flat is not the preserve of those who have no breasts, and is not describing an attempt to appear flat. It’s what each of us does every day when we pick out which top or bra to wear.

After five years of mastectomy fashion blogging I have compiled a wardrobe of clothes I feel comfortable and confident in. A huge variety of colours and prints, frills and ruffles, floaty and fitted. Everything from workwear, sportswear, and evening gowns to swimming costumes and bikinis. Plus a padded crop top and a pair of Knitted Knockers. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days when I think nothing looks right and I declare ‘I have nothing to wear!’ – that’s something that happens whether you have two breasts, one, or none. Most days I’m oblivious to my chest’s appearance – it’s my normal and I’m comfortable in my body. Some days I’m acutely aware I don’t have two breasts and I’m sure everyone is looking at me trying to work out what’s missing. But I don’t think you can tell that from my posts because online we are encouraged to share only our best moments – the enviable events; the picturesque location; an emotive attention-grabbing post, or the perfect outfit because they’re what get the most likes and comments.

I’ve never been your typical fashion blogger or instagrammer; rather than wanting to be an influencer I just want to create practical content for women to use when they’re wondering if they’ll be able to wear a bikini, a smart work outfit, or an evening dress if they don’t have reconstruction. The aim is to spare the next woman the initial ground work and trepidation when navigating clothes shopping without two breasts by sharing the basic principles. The rest – finding our own style and experimenting through trial and error – is something we each have to do as individuals, just as we did the first time round as teenagers and young women working out what suited us and reflected our personalities. Over the past couple of years it’s been exciting to see more women sharing their own flat style, either in the Flat Friends seasonal fashion blogs on my website or by starting their own personal Instagram accounts.

For five years I have just shared my latest shopping trips; focused posts about swimwear or evening wear, or the occasional noteworthy outing or outfit. I don’t usually post on a daily basis; so, I decided that in 2020 I would set myself the challenge of sharing an unfiltered selfie everyday in my outfit of the day –  my “outflat” outfits! I hope that by sharing 366 days of dressing without two breasts others who are feeling self conscious will see that Dressing Flat isn’t about perfectly staged photos or needing to validate yourself to others; it’s the reality of picking out something to wear day in day out. Finding clothes that you feel comfortable in, and of looking at your reflection as you go about your day and recognising yourself looking back is the only thing that matters. Don’t let your team, the internet or social media trick you into believing you need to completely re-imagine who you are or be taught how to dress yourself. Find inspiration from others; feel empowered to try different styles, and why not share what you discover to hearten the next woman searching for ideas!

As well as creating useful content I hope my #Outflat campaign will also raise money to support the work of Flat Friends UK, a charity which is dedicated to supporting women who have had single or double mastectomy surgery without breast reconstruction, including those who may face such decisions now or in the future. I am very proud to be a trustee of Flat Friends UK: we believe living without reconstruction is a positive outcome and work to normalise living without two breasts and providing support to women living flat, including those waiting for delayed reconstruction. You can find out more at www.flatfriends.org.uk and you can sponsor me at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SarahCoombes3

Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your story with us today. If you haven’t checked out Sarah’s #Outflat campaign, we strongly advise you to do so – we love seeing the wonderful outfits Sarah pulls together everyday!

Welcome to Valiant Lingerie

Here at Valiant Lingerie we are passionate about creating the lingerie you deserve.

My name is Eleanor and I’m the founder of Valiant Lingerie.

I’ve been aware that there is a lack of beautiful lingerie for women who have had surgery for breast cancer basically my whole life. My mum had breast cancer (twice!) when I was 3 and had a single mastectomy. I remember how much she hated her post-surgery bras.

When I was 19 I underwent genetic testing and found out that I have the BRCA1 gene mutation which means that I am at a much higher lifetime risk of developing breast cancer than the general population. (For most women, the average lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 12% whereas for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, the lifetime risk is between 69% and 72%.)

After a lot of research, and with the advice and guidance of some wonderful doctors, I decided to have a preventative double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction with implants when I was 24.

After my surgery, I was shocked by the lack of feminine lingerie available for women in my position. I had seen my mum struggle with this for years but I had thought that maybe this had improved over time. Unfortunately I found it hadn’t!

Before surgery, I used to wear pretty, feminine lingerie that made me feel confident. After surgery, I found the only bras available to me were plain and functional in style – they looked like something my grandma would wear!

I was desperate to find a bra that was stylish, feminine and designed sensitively so that it was comfortable to wear. I felt as though I was seen by the lingerie industry as a patient rather than a woman. And I couldn’t help but wonder how much worse it must feel for those amazingly strong women who were also going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I started to think about how unfair it was that women who had been through surgery and treatment for breast cancer were abandoned by the lingerie industry.

After years of searching for the perfect post-mastectomy lingerie collection and not finding anything suitable, I created Valiant Lingerie.

At Valiant Lingerie, my mission is to create a collection for all the women out there who have survived breast cancer or preventative surgery. They are amazing and courageous and they deserve to feel bold, confident and Valiant.

We’re so delighted to have you here at the beginning of our journey. We’ll be launching our first collection during the summer of 2020. If you would like to be the first to hear updates, and to receive plenty of notice of our launch date, please join our mailing list here.