So if you didn’t know, I got married last Saturday! Hooray! It was magical, and queer, and everything I had hoped it would be.
(And if you somehow missed the momentous announcement, this is a great opportunity to like our Facebook page so you’ll never miss another update like this again. Harhar.)
As someone who is trans and has a lot of dysphoria around my chest, one of my biggest concerns for the wedding was finding the right binder. It had to be comfortable enough to wear for the entire day, offer excellent compression for all of those wedding photos, and breathe so I could bust out my best dance moves without feeling gross. It also had to accommodate my larger chest and tummy.
Most importantly, it had to be cheap, because, like many trans folks I know, I have very little money.
For the last year, in anticipation of my wedding, I’ve been trying out a whole assortment of binders. And as a service to those of you who are broke but still wanting to bind, I thought I’d review three of the binders that I think are worth knowing about.
For the record, I’m not getting paid to review any of these binders… though if I’m being honest I totally wish I was (hit me up; I’ll be waiting!). I’m doing this because I know what it’s like to desperately need a binder but wonder if emptying out my wallet was really worth it.
From least impressive to most, here are the three cheapest (but still reputable) binders I could find, and how they held up:
Tri-top Chest Binder from Underworks
Price: $30 + shipping
The tri-top is a really popular binder, priced at around 30 dollars. It’s often the first one that folks will try out because it’s such a recognizable name. But despite its popularity and hype, I’m personally not a fan.
The compression was superb; I am a very busty queer and getting things to flatten out is a real challenge. If your primary concern is compression, you won’t be disappointed.
It is an enormous challenge to squeeze into at first, but overtime, this binder will lose some of its shape; great, because it’ll be easier to get on, but not-so-great, because it will also lose some of that impressive flattening. This is the case with most binders, but it’s a complaint that I hear about tri-tops most often.
Even with its magical compression, I couldn’t get past how uncomfortable this binder was. The material has very little give to it, my mobility and breathing were noticeably restricted, and no matter how many hours I spent in it, it wasn’t the kind of binder that I “forgot” I was wearing – I seemed to be aware of its annoying presence almost constantly.
Even after trying a couple different sizes to ensure I had the right one, it never felt right. It’s a basic binder that is fine for shorter hours of use, but it’s not a binder I find myself wearing often, if ever.
Overall, I wouldn’t say this is the worst binder. It’s just not an exceptional one. It’s worth noting that there are folks who absolutely love the tri-top, and it tends to rate highly, so as with any binder, what it really comes down to is personal preference.
Just not my cuppa tea, it seems.
Extreme MagiCotton Sports and Binding Bra from Underworks
Compression: 3.5-4/5* (depending on cup size)
Price: $35 + shipping
This is one of the best kept secrets of the binding world. Because this is marketed as a bra, most folks miss this one entirely. But if you’re binding or interested in trying it out, you need to know about this binder’s existence.
I first heard about this from a couple of trans guys who were buying these damn things in bulk because they were great for working out. A traditional binder just doesn’t offer enough mobility for exercise, so they sought out something specifically designed with athletes in mind.
In the time since I first wrote about this binder on Tumblr, I’ve found out that folks who have chronic pain and can’t wear traditional binders have also started trying this one out. I can confirm, as someone with on-and-off pain in my shoulder from an injury, that this is an option worth looking at if you need a binder that’s less harsh on your body.
An additional benefit for some is that, if you are still not out as trans and living under your parents’ roof, this passes easily as a sports bra and won’t raise any red flags.
The downside is that because of its stretchy material, you might not achieve the same level of compression, depending on your cup size. As a larger-chested queer, I definitely wouldn’t wear this binder if I needed complete and total compression, but I can assure you, smaller-chested folks need not worry about this.
With a little bit of layering, this can totally work as an everyday binder for larger-chested cuties; with a smaller chest, layering isn’t necessary at all.
I love this binder, and I wear it when I’m exercising or when my body needs to recover from a couple days of more intense binding. I now consider it an essential in my closet.
It’s important that we take care of our bodies as we bind; binding definitely takes a toll. I’d recommend that everyone who’s interested in binding give this one a shot, especially if comfort is your primary concern.
GC2b Half Binder from GC2b Transition Apparel
Comfort: 4-4.5/5* (depending on size)
Price: $33 + shipping
Let this photo from my wedding speak for itself.
There’s Ray on the left (my spouse, whoa) and me, wearing the GC2b, on the right. This binder not only made my chest look terrific, but I was able to dance at my reception and party the night away, comfortably and happily. I forgot I was even wearing a binder.
Seriously, I forgot. It was amazing.
And, y’all, you would have never guessed that I have a large chest, right? It’s magic.
I’d first heard about this binder through a rave review at Autostraddle, and from there I kept seeing gushing reviews popping up all over the net. I was skeptical, but as it turns out, I didn’t need to be – this binder is fabulous.
The design is quite brilliant and one of the reasons why folks are so excited about it. There is a panel on the front that flattens, but the material on the back is more of a stretchy mesh – which means the binder can expand and contract as you breathe, but the front will still compress just the same. It also means it’s more flexible than your typical binder, making it easier to get on and off.
This thing is comfortable as all get out, which, if you didn’t know, binding is seldom a comfortable affair. I was amazed that this was nearly as comfortable as the binding bra I mentioned previously, but was much more effective at compressing.
There are some downsides – the cut won’t work for everyone, especially us chunkier babes who may find there’s some arm spillage or a little more pressure around our ribs depending on sizing. I’m actually in-between sizes, so I own both a large and extra large (the large for when I want extra compression, the extra large when I want more comfort).
It’s a lower cut, which I recognize can be a good AND bad thing. Good so that you can rock that v-neck with no problem, but bad if you’re dysphoric and the last thing you want to see is cleavage when you bend over or take your shirt off.
That being said, this is now my favorite binder and the one I rely on for near-daily use. Usually you have to sacrifice some compression for comfort or vice versa, but I find that it binds exceptionally well without sacrificing your comfort or safety.
This binder gets my absolute highest recommendation. I’ve heard mixed reviews here and there, but I’m in love with this binder and I think it lives up to the hype.
* * *
But, hey, wait. Before you run to grab your debit card, here’s some shit I want you to know:
First of all, binding isn’t a walk in the park. It can leave you feeling a bit sore, constrained, and uncomfortable. But that being said, if binding is causing you a noticeable amount of pain, you, my friend, need a different size or a different binder altogether.
Do not settle for pain or think that pain is a necessary part of binding. Binding shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t make it difficult to breathe.
Too many people – particularly trans folks – are somehow convinced that hurting themselves is just part of the process when, in fact, it shouldn’t be.
It’s also worth knowing that a binder could be recommended a thousand times over, but it just might not be a good fit for your body. The tri-top comes with some serious praise, but no matter how I contorted my body and what size I tried, it just didn’t work for me.
In other words: It’s silly to think that there is one binder that’s ideal for every single person. It’s just a series of trials and errors before you get something that works for you.
Lastly, I recognize that 30-35 dollars isn’t “cheapish” for everyone (and honestly, it’s a stretch even for me these days). So I want you to check out Micah’s list of binder resources over at Neutrois Nonsense (and just familiarize yourself with Micah’s work because it’s fantastic), which includes some binder exchange programs.
I also hope folks will weigh in via comment if they know of any great initiatives that help increase access to binders or have any thoughts about binding more generally.
That’s it for now! I’m off to enjoy my “honeymoon” now (ie Netflix, eating leftover wedding cake, and cuddling with my sweetie, because what else could a queer need?).
Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.