With anywhere between 30-50 percent of people affected by incontinence, it’s an issue that so many women deal with, but one that is still stigmatized and kept out of everyday conversation. This is especially true when it comes to how leakage can negatively impact daily life, including what you wear.
Since no woman should have to give up important parts of her life while managing urinary incontinence, we spoke to experts to help out with this issue.
What is Urinary Incontinence, and Who Does It Affect?
Involuntary bladder leakage, or urinary incontinence, can affect different women for different reasons. Urinary incontinence can occur during everyday occurrences like laughing, coughing, sneezing, or exercising.
Postpartum women, whether they’ve given birth vaginally or via C-section, are particularly susceptible to urinary incontinence.
“There can be injuries to the pelvic floor which affect urinary function, and those things don’t go away on their own,” explains New York City-based OB-GYN Dr. Elizabeth Eden.
Women who have been pregnant can also experience incontinence, Eden says, because “incontinence puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles…[as well as the] angle at which the urethra is now exiting the body.”
Those who are beyond their childbearing years, as well as women who are menopausal, can also experience urinary incontinence, whether it’s due to genetics or other factors, such as the decrease in estrogen levels as you age.
When these leaks occur, Eden says that even if a few drops come out, it can still “be enough to wet your clothing and leave an odor.” While this can be, as Eden puts it, a “major quality of life issue” there are ways you can dress comfortably and smartly, in addition to finding the right bladder leak products that work best for you.
The Best Clothing Options If You Have Urinary Incontinence
When it comes to incontinence and your clothing, you’ve got to consider both fabrics and colors. For instance, personal stylist Lindsay Burns of Las Vegas suggests that women choose polyester, as it doesn’t absorb liquid like natural fabrics do.
She also suggests thicker fabrics, particularly when it comes to pants, like denim. “A dark denim is chic and yet compresses the bulge of a padded panty,” Burns says. If jeans aren’t in your comfort zone, however, she suggests any pants that drape to avoid clinging. Anything that isn’t too tight will better while you’re managing your urinary incontinence.
San Diego-based wardrobe stylist Vanessa Valiente also likes thicker fabrics for women dealing with this issue, including Ponte. Ponte, Valiente explains, is a knit that combines rayon, polyester, and spandex or elastin. “The thicker fabrics also ensures any leakage takes time to show on the other side of the fabric, if at all.”
When it comes to dresses and skirts, Burns says to “look for A-line, fit and flare, and pleated or peasant skirts which fan out from the waist.” Pieces like maxi dresses and accordion pleats are modern without being too revealing of underwear, she notes.
If you’re a tights or pantyhose wearer, Burns suggests switching to thigh highs if you’re worried about what urinary incontinence may do. “They stop high enough on the thigh to wear under [skirts], without interfering with an incontinence garment,” she says.
Valiente notes that when it comes to pants or skirts, prints are great, as “stains and leakage can easily be hidden by a fabulous print or the right pattern.” Both stylists suggest darker colors to hide leakage, particularly blue, green, brown, and black. They also point out that while you may have to go thicker and darker with your bottoms, you still have the freedom to wear tops that in lighter colors and fabrics.
If you have urinary incontinence, which may be circumstantial or lifelong, depending on your circumstances, Valiente suggests shopping for a new wardrobe (between 15-30 outfits) that make you feel good and that you can wear again and again. As she puts it, “Life is too short to not be comfortable and feel sexy.