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A breast form is a bust enhancement solution that allows you to supplement one or both breasts without cosmetic surgery. It’s also known as a breast prosthesis.

Breast forms are widely used by breast cancer survivors who chose to undergo a mastectomy (removal of one breast) or a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts). Different communities are now discovering the magic of the breast form.

Today, reconstructive breast surgery is covered alongside mastectomy after the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998. However, this coverage is only available to a select few if you factor in healthcare and aftercare costs, socioeconomics, healthcare disparities in marginalized communities, and the ever-spreading pay gap.

For many reasons, more women have instead decided to “go flat.”

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation has been one of the top five cosmetic surgical procedures since 2006.

The numbers don’t lie — people are concerned with the size and shape of their bust. But not everyone has the coin to go under the knife, so other ways have been invented to meet this need.

If you’re a breast cancer survivor, transgender, or just looking to fill out a certain outfit, breast forms can handle the job. They’re already included in some clothing items, like swimsuits and athletic wear.

Breast asymmetry is common. It may be more noticeable when one breast appears significantly larger than the other. Breast size can vary due to hormonal fluctuations, changes during puberty, or trauma.

A good form can help provide the confidence to boost any outfit. Breast forms can serve up the perfect neckline, or help someone feel affirmed in everyday life. Whether it’s wadded-up tissue or a $175 bra, the power of a little lift is undeniable.

Breast forms come in many styles. Determining what you need can help you choose the right form for you.

Full form

A standard or full breast form is for anyone with minimal breast tissue. This includes those who have had all of their breast tissue removed or who have a naturally flatter chest.

Full forms sit against the skin of the chest wall. They come in various backing options and can be color matched to your skin tone. If you plan to use a form to fill out both breasts, you can pick the size, shape, and color that best represents you.

Partial form

A shaped or partial form is for anyone who has had a part of their breast tissue removed or who wants a bit more padding on one side.

It’s made from the same materials as a full breast form, but it’s worn in a support garment, like a bra, instead of against the skin.

Shell form

Shell forms work best if your natural breast tissue is significantly asymmetrical. This form sits over the smaller breast like a cap on a tooth.

The soft shell engulfs the smaller breast to give it the same volume as the other breast. Shell forms are worn with a bra.

Stick-on form

Stick-on forms can be full or partial and have multiple uses.

These forms are a great option if you’re active or have an outfit that calls for a less supportive bra. They stick directly to the skin with an adhesive backing.

Stick-on forms can stay in place during a vigorous gym session or dancing in a strapless dress.

Breast forms come in different shapes just like natural breasts.

Although some breast forms are interchangeable from the left to right breast, many aren’t, so pay close attention when browsing.

Common breast form shapes include:

  • Oval or triangular: These forms are symmetrical and can be worn on either side.
  • Teardrop: These forms are made for breasts that are fuller on the bottom with less breast tissue above the nipple. Teardrop forms can be worn on either side.
  • Asymmetrical: These forms fit under the arm or upper chest wall to fill in tissue that may have been removed during surgery. Asymmetrical forms are designed specifically for the left or right side.
  • Custom: 3D technology can be used to scan the chest wall and create a custom form that fits perfectly against your chest. Custom forms are designed specifically for the left or right side.

Breast forms typically fall into three categories: silicone, leisure, and custom-made. Forms can be made from an array of materials and serve a multitude of purposes.

When deciding which forms are right for you, be sure to look over the ingredients or list of elements used to ensure they won’t interact with any known allergies.

Silicone form

A silicone breast form is the traditional breast prosthesis. It’s usually weighted to simulate the feel of a natural breast.

Weighted forms can help prevent unwanted changes in posture after breast removal. If only one form is needed, its weight can be matched to the remaining breast, aiding in overall balance.

Silicone forms can be worn inside a special pocketed bra or directly against the skin with a contact adhesive. Some silicone forms are now specially designed with channels in the backing to improve breathability against the skin.

Although silicone forms can be worn underwater, there are forms specifically designed for swimming that are lighter and better suited for rigorous activity.

Leisure form

Leisure forms are any forms not made of silicone. Common leisure forms are made from:

  • fiberfill
  • polyester fiberfill
  • foam
  • beads

These forms are worn inside a bra. The selected material is encased in a cloth-like shell. It can be weighted or unweighted.

The lighter material makes leisure forms cooler and more comfortable than traditional silicone forms. Each form can be easily swapped depending on the day’s activities. They even have waterproof leisure forms for swimming and other water activities.

Leisure forms are perfect if you have fresh scars from surgery. The adhesive backing found on other forms could irritate the delicate skin while healing. Leisure forms can help provide support and confidence until your surgical scars are completely healed.

Custom-made form

Whether a mastectomy has left behind contours of tissue on the breast wall or you’re starting with a naturally flatter chest, a custom-made form will hug the curves and grooves of your body like a puzzle piece.

They can also be color matched to your skin.

If you have breast tissue on one side, custom forms can mimic the shape, slope, and weight of the other breast to create symmetry across your bust.

There’s a tacky surface on the backside of the form that helps it stay in place while wearing a bra.

You can be fitted by a certified professional for a custom form. This expert will ensure you get the best form for your body.

Many mastectomy shops are run by people who have had breast cancer and use forms themselves, so feel empowered to ask them questions.

How to use a breast form depends on the type of form. Some forms can be worn inside the pocket of a bra or other garment. Others can be worn against the skin.

Breast form bras are made with the form pocket included. (The actual forms are sold separately.) Different size forms fit snugly in the breast pocket for an easy swap.

Silicone forms can adhere directly to the skin or be attached with additional adhesives. They’re versatile in size and worn in or outside of the bra.

If you’re using a direct contact breast form that requires a good stick, be sure to remove any body hair for the best adhesion.

Some mastectomy shops — where breast forms are usually sold, no matter the status of your chest — will sew pockets into your existing bras, swimsuits, and nightgowns upon request.

Most leisure forms run from $10 up to $100, depending on the material. The higher the quality of the material, the more the form will cost. Most leisure forms have a shelf life of 6 months before they need to be replaced.

Any custom forms that require scanning or personal measurements are going to be more expensive. These forms can cost thousands of dollars and have a recommended shelf life of 2 to 3 years.

Pro tip: You can usually get a good discount on gear during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Insurance will cover, at least partially, mastectomy bras and other products related to breast cancer surgery. Consult with your insurance provider for the exact details of your policy.

Insurance may not cover all form types. You’ll need a prescription for each replacement form.

Medicare doesn’t cover custom-made forms. Look into any supplemental insurance you may have for additional coverage options.

Most other commercial health insurance policies typically cover the following:

  • a leisure form every 6 months
  • a silicone form every 2 years
  • two to four breast form bras per year

If you change your mind and opt for reconstructive surgery in the future, insurance should still cover the surgery. Be mindful of deductibles and other coverage term limits within the policy.

If cost is a barrier

The nonprofit Knitted Knockers will send you a knitted leisure form free of charge.

Caring for your breast form depends on the form’s material. Each form should come with its own set of individual care instructions. Familiarize yourself with those instructions to extend the life of your breast form.

Silicone forms require special care to retain their natural feel and tackiness. Some forms come with a kit that includes nonabrasive wipes and a mild soap that’s safe for the material.

Non-silicone forms can usually be washed with mild soap and water. Lay the form or breast bra flat to dry.

Breast forms with stick-on backing have unique care instructions that must be followed to retain the form’s adhesiveness. Read the instructions carefully, and refrain from using harsh cleaners on your forms.

How do you know what breast form size to select?

The breast form size you choose depends on several factors, including whether you have existing breast tissue that you want to match or enhance.

If you’re starting with an empty canvas, so to speak, your preference can dictate the size. You may want to use a smaller form in certain outfits and a larger form in others. It’s ultimately up to you!

Do you have to wear a bra to use breast forms?

Whether you have to wear a bra with your breast forms depends on the type of form you want to wear. Some forms are made to be tucked inside a bra or structured garment. Others can be positioned directly on the skin with adhesive.

Can you wear breast forms while swimming or exercising?

Although silicone forms can be worn underwater, there are leisure forms specifically designed for swimming. These forms are usually lighter and better suited for rigorous activity.

Do breast forms have prosthetic nipples?

Most breast forms are smooth. Nipples are usually sold separately. As with custom-made breast forms, you can have nipples custom-made to your preference.

Is it possible to create your own breast form at home?

Yes! If you’re handy with a needle and thread (or knitting needles), you can make one yourself. Knitted Knockers offers free patterns on their website.

You can also use rice, seeds, or other materials to create a form of your own design.

Breast forms are quite versatile. They can be worn inside a garment or directly against the skin.

Whether you want a set to wear during a workout or to add some pop to your favorite black dress, breast forms could become your favorite new accessory.

If you’re interested in finding your perfect form and need some assistance, locate a mastectomy shop near you.

Catasha Gordon is a sexuality educator from Spencer, Oklahoma. She’s the owner and founder of Expression Over Repression, a company built around sexual expression and knowledge. You can typically find her creating sex education materials or building some kinky hardware in a fresh set of coffin nails. She enjoys catfish (tail on), gardening, eating off her husband’s plate, and Beyoncé. Follow her everywhere.