Women looking at her clothes in her closet

Dressing with IBS and other Digestive Health Issues

Jamie, RN and Jen Garces, Stylist

Written by: Jamie, RN and Jen Garces, Stylist

Updated: December 1st, 2022

Dressing when you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or many other digestive health conditions, can be a tricky situation. 

You could be doing everything right, feeling great, and then bam! You suddenly become bloated or inflamed. Tight, restrictive clothing can add to the pain, and can also lead to feelings of self-consciousness.  This creates stress, which we know can make symptoms worse. There is also the matter of needing practical clothing if you urgently need to use the bathroom. Anything too fiddly can make it difficult when you may already be in pain.

Many living with IBS want to feel good in their clothing. When you feel great in your clothes, often your confidence can increase. So, how do we balance practicality with style? 

We put Jamie on the task. Jamie has lived with IBS and Celiac Disease for over 10 years. She reached out to stylist Jen Garces of Vancouver for some tips.  

Jamie: What is your suggestion for different bottoms (eg. pants or skirts) that aren’t too constricted but still look fashionable and tailored?

Jen: Something that makes a big difference in terms of comfort in the waist is the rise of the pant. Some women might prefer a high-rise and others a mid or low-rise. Making sure it’s comfortable when you sit is key, so I suggest sitting down when you’re trying something on and see how they feel. 

Fabric can also make a big difference in terms of comfort. When it comes to denim, check the amount of stretch the jeans have. Look for jeans with at least 2-3% spandex for some give, and higher for more of jegging fit and feel. 

Another way to ensure the waist is comfortable is looking for a pant or skirt with some elasticity around the midsection. Jogger-style pants, made with either a casual or dressy fabric, will often have the back elasticized while looking tailored from the front.”

Jamie: Bloating can also cause people to think twice about the kind of tops they wear. Many people with IBS and other digestive conditions avoid tight tops because bloating and inflammation can happen at any time. What would be your suggestion for tops that will look fashionable but still cover a distended stomach?

Jen: When someone is feeling bloated, the style that is most flattering is an a-line top (narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, – that make a shape like a capital A). Another option is to wear a shirt with pleating that is more fitted at the bust and flows around the midsection.

Jamie: IBS and other digestive health conditions can cause sudden weight gain or loss for many people. Do you have suggestions when one experiences this?

Jen: A change in weight can be strange for a lot of people. Depending on where the weight comes off or on, a person’s overall shape can change and it’s more than just going down or up a size or two in the styles they’ve been wearing. Dressing a new body can take some adjusting. If you think the change is temporary, set aside a budget and invest in a small capsule wardrobe that will fit your current size. Having clothes that fit the body you have is the best way to feel good in what you’re wearing; independent of the size on the tags. 

Jamie: Getting dressed up for a special occasion can be difficult. Many would like to wear trendy items such as jumpsuits and nice dresses, but often these aren’t very practical to wear when needing to use the bathroom urgently. Do you have any suggestions for getting dressed up?

Jen: For special occasions, look for pieces that don’t require fussing around when you need to to use the toilet. If you want to wear a dress, find a style that suits your frame. This could be a fit and flare style that comes in at the natural waist, but not tight on the stomach, and therefore wouldn’t need spanx to pull the look off. 

Another option is a shift dress, which goes straight down and isn’t tight anywhere. For winter, look for dresses with sleeves to help stay warm without having to worry about adding layers and losing the shape of the dress.

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