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Forget The Sweatshirts And Stretch Pants —
Today's Fashions Make It Easier Than Ever To Look Great In A Brace!

Whether you prefer to be on the cutting edge of fashion or are concerned mainly with comfort, let's face it, clothes matter! And if you've just learned that you need to wear a brace to correct your scoliosis, you may be worried that it'll be hard to find fashions that not only accommodate the contours of your scoliosis brace, but also make you look and feel great.

Well, put those fears of sweatshirts and stretch pants aside! There are a lot of tips and tricks for making the clothes you've always loved to wear work with a brace, and today's styles are particularly brace-friendly. A-line dresses; swingy, fuller skirts and empire-waist tops, with fabulous detailing and in vibrant hues — all are particularly forgiving of any extra bulk or profile challenges you may be dealing with, and they're available at stores that are easy on the budget as well as higher-end retailers.

"If I were still wearing my back brace, I'd have a field day with the clothes that are out there today," says Moira Lion, the author of Fashion Rescue, a style guide with helpful advice on how to optimize fit and comfort while wearing a back brace. Lion, now 19 and a freshman at the University of Southern California, wrote the guide when she was 15 and wearing a Boston brace to correct her own spinal curvature. "There are so many things out there now that are perfect for wearing with a brace."

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine develops one or more abnormal, side-to-side curves that in turn may affect the body's overall balance and alignment. According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, the condition occurs with equal frequency in both genders; however, girls' spinal curves are eight times more likely to require treatment. The prime period for developing the condition is age 10-15, which is also when many girls start to get really — really — interested in clothes, and in expressing themselves through the styles they wear.

Always interested in fashion, Moira says she was "so upset" when her doctor told her she was going to have to wear a Boston brace. "I was 14, and I'd just transferred to a new high school. I didn't know anybody and all I wanted to do was make friends," she recalls. "Clothes were my main concern; to me they're not just about fashion, they're about presenting who I am. I didn't want to be 'the girl with the brace', even if it meant special privileges or treatment. I just wanted people to get to know me for me."

Looking through her wardrobe, Moira realized that a lot of the pieces she had wouldn't fit over the brace, or cover it the way she wanted. At the time, the look was "tight and tiny"; like a lot of her classmates, Moira's closet was full of low-rise jeans, close-fitting T's and midriff-baring crop tops. Moira admits that on the first day of school, she wore a sweatshirt and a pair of loose-fitting pants but, infusing her innate sense of style with a healthy dose of creativity and experimentation, she was soon able to pull together a wardrobe that both looked great and camouflaged her brace.

Moira wrote Fashion Rescue to share her tips and tricks with others facing the same dilemma. Now an international relations major at USC, Moira is still intensely interested in fashion and, even though her brace-wearing days are long behind her, still looks at clothes with an eye for how well they will accommodate a scoliosis brace. She says she's really excited about what she sees on the racks today, and is happy that girls today have so many options from which to choose. "Fashions change; there are so many looser-fitting, pretty tops and cute dresses out now," she says, "And they're really easy to find, no matter what your budget."

It's All About Volume and Flow

According to Pauline Weston Thomas of Fashion-Era.com, volume is one of today's top fashion trends. Not baggy and shapeless, but rather "full, swishing skirts and fluid pants, cropped or long." Tops also have a more unconstructed look and are likely to be made of body-skimming, rather than body-hugging, fabrics. Tops and dresses with an empire waist, which falls right below the bust, also are popular, as are A-line dresses, which, like the name implies, gently flare out from a fitted top in an unbroken, graceful line along the body.

Lush Bow Tank, Nordstrom Suzi Chin Empire Waist Dress,

Moira says these looks are ideal for wearing with a brace. "They're loose around the brace area, which allows you to hide any extra bulk or straps," she says. The problem with wearing a brace, Moira says, is that it can create an "interesting body profile" that can make dressing a challenge. "The front of my brace ended just below my hipbones in the front, but it went lower in the back and pressed into my rear end, which made it look really weird," she says. "In the front, the top hit right under my breasts, with the left side up a little higher, which made things look a little, well, unbalanced. But I figured out tricks to deal with it, and these new, looser looks can make it even easier to do that."

For those who do prefer to wear closer-fitting tops, the good news is that today they do tend to be much longer than the cropped styles of a few years back, extending down over the hips rather than ending at — or above — the belly button.

Embellishments, such as tiered ruffles, ribbons, flowers, patchwork, embroidery and other frills, also top Thomas's trend watch. Details like these can add to the volume and interest of a dress or top, further camouflaging any lumps and bumps you'd like to hide. Tiered skirts were one on Moira's mainstays. "The tiers would hide where the brace was pressing in, so it looked normal," she says. "But I think anything with a little extra 'flounce' in it or extra layering would do the same."

Tiered Skirt, Abercrombie & Fitch

Pants That Work

For those who prefer pants and jeans to dresses, pants with flap-style back pockets can also help round out the rear, Moira says. According to Thomas, the "military/safari" look is big this year, with flap-style pockets as a major feature. Cargo pants are another popular option, and come in both regular and cropped lengths. For pants or jeans without pockets, wearing a long or tunic-style shirt or peasant blouse — or even a short dress — also can help create a smoother profile, Moira says. "This year, long shirts and short knit dresses are everywhere!" she adds.

True Religion "Joey"
Boot Leg Jean
Clean Cargo Cropped Pants, Gap Dobby Pintuck Top, Gap

Finding a waistband that fits also can be a challenge for those who wear back braces that, like Moira's, extend past the hips. Pants with an elastic waistband, such as sweats, yoga pants or even leggings (also ideal for wearing under a long shirt or short dress), are a great choice in terms of comfort and convenience. But sometimes you want or need to wear something a little more structured. Until recently, there hasn't been much choice in terms of rise — the distance between the waistband and crotch of a pair of jeans or pants. Over the past several years, the look has been low-rise; today, rises are, well, rising, and it's easier to find jeans and pants that hit closer to the natural waist, or even above. "I did OK with low-rise because I managed to find styles that 'worked' with my brace," Moira said. "But I know some girls have a hard time with low-rise; they'd rather wear their jeans over their brace so they look for jeans with a higher rise. And now almost every brand has them, so they're really easy to find."

Leggings, Nordstrom Roll-Waist Yoga Pants, Nordstrom Hi-Rise Patch Pocket Flare
Jeans, Levi's

Buying the next size or so up can also help ease the fit of a waistband, Moira says; jeans or pants can be altered to take in any excess fabric in other areas. "Stretch" jeans — those made of cotton combined with a synthetic spandex fiber such as Lycra® — are another good option for accommodating a scoliosis brace because they have more "give" than fabric made of cotton alone. The new wider-leg styles also can help visually balance out any extra bulk.

Paige Premium Denim Stretch
Wide-Leg Jeans, Nordstrom

Jackets: From Sporty To 60s Swing

Dressed up or dressed down, jackets are another great source of coverage. "To feel comfortable wearing my brace, I wore some kind of light jacket almost all the time, the main reason being to hide the Velcro straps that were on the back of my brace," Moira says. "Under a jacket, I could wear almost any shirt I wanted, including my tank tops and tube tops, which I otherwise wouldn't wear alone."

For school and other casual occasions, Moira relied mainly on hoodies — zip-front hooded sweatshirts — because she really liked the camouflage that the hood laying on her back provided. "Not only are hoodies really comfortable, they come in all kinds of colors, fabrics and styles, from your normal cotton to shiny, textured fabrics," Moira says. Darker colors and busier patterns seem to work especially well in creating the appearance of a smoother profile, she adds.

Hoodie, PacSun

In colder weather, Moira switched to down jackets and vests. In warmer weather, Moira looked for hoodies and other cover-ups, such as blazers and button-front cardigan sweaters, in the most lightweight fabrics she could find. "You can see I was really attached to these, because I wore them even when it was hot," she says. "If it really got bad, I just rolled up my sleeves."

Trapeze Cardigan, Gap Knit Blazer, Gap

For girls wearing scoliosis braces today, there's a fantastic new jacket style that's cute, comfortable and offers great coverage: the cropped jacket. Available in a variety of styles and fabrics, from dressy, winter-weight brocades and wools to casual, lightweight cottons, these shorter-length jackets are cropped at the natural waist or higher and often have 3/4-length sleeves, so they're perfect for layering. Some are fitted; others are looser in a "swing" style, with fuller dolman or bell sleeves, that evoke an elegant, retro look. Flip through any fashion magazine, and you'll see cropped jackets paired with a wide variety of pants, jeans, skirts and shorts. "A cropped swing jacket, especially one that has pleating or gathering along the back yoke, would be a great choice for camouflaging a brace, and it would probably work well with a lot of pieces you already have," Moira says. "You'll definitely be the girl with great style, not the girl with the brace."

Puff-Sleeve Cropped Jacket, Gap Military-look Rubbish® Crop
Gauze Jacket, Nordstrom

Back To Basics

What you wear under your back brace can make a big difference as to whether or not you're comfortable in those fabulous fashions you're wearing to cover it up. Many brace wearers are advised to wear a seamless, ribbed, tank-style boy's or men's undershirt. Moira, however, has another suggestion. "I tried these, but when I took off my brace after wearing it a while, my skin would be all ribbed and painful, especially on my hip bones, where the brace tended to rub," she explains. "It took me a while, but I finally found a solution: spaghetti-strapped, seamless tanks made of nylon/Lycra® spandex, like yoga-pant material. It's important that it's seamless, so it doesn't leave an imprint on your skin. Those really worked out well for me, and were so much more comfortable."

Solid Knit Cami, Gap

For activities such as swimming, wearing a scoliosis brace usually isn't much of a problem because it can be removed for a short period of time each day. However, Moira says, some girls whose curves are still noticeable feel self-conscious about baring them at the swimming pool or the beach. "A lot of girls have told me they like to wear suits with more patterned fabric, because it draws the eye away from the back," she says. "Or they like to find suits with more detailing — ties, straps and things like that — either on the back or the front, or those with more coverage in general; for example, a one-piece, racer-back tank suit."

Juicy Couture Beach Gingham
Bandeau Swimdress
Seafolly Costal del Sol Tankini

Tying It All Together

Accessories are another great way to not only direct attention away from your brace, but also create an outfit that's "uniquely you" and really shows who you are. "I loved to play around with belts, sashes and scarves," Moira says. "Sometimes I'd tied a scarf around where one of the straps of my brace would be, like a little above my waist, or wear a belt or sash kind of loosely down around my hips."

Recently, the styles of the 80s have been making a comeback. By wearing a belt — either wide or skinny — over a long, tunic-style knit shirt and leggings, you can create one of the most popular looks of the day. Jewelry — larger, bold pieces are popular right now — also can help divert the eye and add interest to an outfit.

"Accessories let you get really creative, and are a good distraction when you're trying to disguise a brace," Moira says.

Creativity And Confidence:
Always In Style

When you were diagnosed with scoliosis and learned you'd have to wear a brace to correct it, your life was probably just starting to get pretty exciting. Maybe you've changed schools or joined a new sports team, or are taking your dance or music training to the next level. Whether you're concerned about your scoliosis brace showing or not, wearing clothes that make you look and feel great can definitely help boost your confidence as you face these and other challenges and figure out where you fit in, both at home and in the world.

"I love clothes, but coming up with my own little system was a time-consuming and emotional ordeal," admits Moira, who today says she still enjoys serving as a "big sister" to young scoliosis patients throughout the country, providing guidance and sharing her experiences in an effort to make theirs a little easier. "I wanted to share what worked for me and hopefully spark the same kind of creativity in others going through the same thing. It's fun for me to hear the girls I talk with get more confident about what they can wear over time. Obviously, things do go in and out of style, but once you know what works for you, it's easy to spot the key features you need in the new trends, as well."

Talk With Moira

Want to contact Moira Lion for more fashion advice or support? She invites you to e-mail her any time!
E-mail address: lion@ usc.edu.

The materials on this Web site are for your general educational information only. Information you read on this Web site cannot replace the relationship that you have with your health care professional. We do not practice medicine or provide medical services or advice as a part of this Web site. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.

  • Published: July 21, 2008
  • Updated: July 22, 2008