Hardly anyone opens their closet in the morning and feels like figuring out what to wear is an easy decision. But when you have hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), staring down your closet comes with its own unique set of challenges.
Certain fabrics, designs, and types of clothing can irritate the painful boil-like bumps from HS, potentially making your go-to garments off-limits during flares.
Don’t think for a minute that means your fashion choices consist of just sweats or a bathrobe, though (tempting as it may sound at times!). There are a surprisingly vast amount of HS-friendly clothing and fabrics (some even designed with the condition in mind) that can let your skin breathe and show off your individual style.
Here’s a guide for how to dress for HS from head to toe.
HS-prone areas have an annoying trifecta for potential irritation.
First, HS bumps often crop up in high in hair follicles of sensitive areas and sweat glands — like the inner thighs and armpits. These skin regions are exactly where friction can occur from exercise or the day-to-day movements of just getting around. And these areas also happen to be the spots where clothing bands and seams meet up with oh-so-tender skin.
That’s why clothing is often to blame (at least in part) for exacerbating HS symptoms, according to a 2021 research review. While frustrating, the flip side of this scenario offers a bright spot. In other words, wearing the right kinds of garments may help protect sensitive spots and ease HS flares. (Ahhh, sweet relief.)
When you’re shopping for HS-friendly clothes, look for soft, breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics. They can perform double duty by preventing friction and pulling sweat away from HS-prone skin.
Great fabric choices for HS include modal (a durable, flexible form of rayon) and lyocell (a more sustainable form of rayon, which also sometimes goes by the brand name Tencel). As a bonus, Tencel fabrics are also less prone to wrinkles than cotton — perfect for packing away in a suitcase.
Another HS-friendly fabric option, similar to lyocell, is bamboo. It tends to feel cool against skin — a soothing advantage when you’re dealing with irritating bumps.
On the other hand, cotton is a fabric you might want to skip if you have HS. As any athlete or outdoorsy type will shout from the mountaintops, cotton can cause friction that leads to dreaded chafing when you’re moving around a lot.
Plus, research shows that cotton can house bacteria, and it is also highly absorbent (meaning it will trap your sweat against your skin, potentially leading to irritation). Not a great combination if you’re trying to protect those HS-prone areas of your body.
The material certainly makes a great choice for drying off after a shower — but aside from your towel, cozy cotton clothing won’t do your HS any favors.
Getting dressed starts with slipping on the right skivvies from your unmentionables drawer. According to the 2021 review, seamless underwear designs can help reduce friction and discomfort on sensitive parts.
For undies, opt for boy short designs or even bicycle shorts that won’t have bands encroaching on your groin. The boxer brief hybrid is a great choice for peeps with a penis (or anyone who prefers that style — no judgment here!).
If you wear a bra, skip the kind with an underwire that rubs and aggravates bumps. Instead, go for a bralette, a brami (a camisole with a built-in bra), or even a longline sports version that offers support without a tight band.
And rather than thin straps, which can create friction and dig into your skin, try racerback designs. You might find them to be more comfortable.
You can also find clothing designed specifically for peeps with HS. Yes, really!
HidraWear, for example, offers HS-friendly clothing that serves as undergarments, wound dressings, and fasteners combined. You can purchase underarm or thigh/groin area disposable dressings that fit under the brand’s washable and reusable garments, such as briefs or undershirts.
The wound dressings also come with a disposable external fastener that works with the garment so that you don’t have to use irritating tapes or adhesives that also refuse to stay put.
Plus, the HidraWear founder lives with HS, so you can feel confident the garments come from someone who truly gets it.
Got a hot date, a big day at the office, or just a fun night out with friends? You’ve got lots of options for getting glammed up, even during an HS flare. Thankfully, many clothing brands have created upscale clothes with Tencel because of its ease of care and wear.
Brands like ADAY and Vetta offer beautiful capsule wardrobe options that are versatile, functional, packable, and stylish. Yet, they’re also kind to sensitive skin with technical fabrics and flowy silhouettes. Those billowy shapes are gentler on the skin than tight-fitting outfits, which can cause pain and worsen HS, per that 2021 review.
Of course, sometimes flowy clothing (like skirts and dresses) can leave skin vulnerable to chafing, since they let your parts rub up against each other. Hack these dressier duds into HS-friendly wardrobe staples by wearing a pair of bicycle shorts or cropped seamless leggings underneath.
As luck would have it, workout clothes are often made out of breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics. Tencel also makes an athletic fabric, and you can check out this list of athleisure brands that incorporate it.
So you’ve already got one box checked when it comes to finding gear for yoga, running, or whatever activities you like to do — even burpees. (Wait, does anyone really like those?) And since exercise makes anyone prone to friction, many styles on the market also aim to prevent chafing.
But with HS, you’ll likely need to seek out options that specifically protect areas where you’re most prone to flares.
Search for seamless longline sports bras, for example. Brands like Thirdlove offer minimalist but supportive styles. If underarm chafe challenges your movement, opt for technical T-shirts, too.
Want a cropped style for extra cooling? Pair with your favorite high-waisted seamless leggings or tights for an overall frictionless fit while you bust a move.
Still, even the most moisture-resistant workout gear still absorbs some sweat when you’re hitting the gym. Try to swap into clean clothes ASAP after your workout to prevent sweat from aggravating your HS.
When it comes to finding the right clothing for HS, it may take a little trial and error to find what works for you. But rest assured, there are designs out there that can keep you cool and comfortable — not to mention looking fabulous. There’s even an HS clothing brand aimed at helping keep your wound dressings tucked away and comfortable.
The key is to seek out options that prevent chafing, wick away sweat, and fit your unique style so that you feel confident — no matter what HS throws your way.