A new fashion label is helping to give women back their confidence breast cancer surgery. Zoe Chamberlain reports.
Life coach and NHS worker Michelle Usher knew through her work that when women had surgery as a result of breast cancer, they were dealt a confidence blow as well as a physical one.
So she made up her mind to do something to try to help them.
Working with a designer who had had a mastectomy herself, Michelle came up with Belovely – a clothing range featuring a secret that only the wearer knows about.
The dresses and tops have hidden built-in bra support with pockets to discreetly hold breast prostheses.
They also have necklines that don’t gap, higher underarm and backlines which hide visible scarring, adjustable straps for a perfect fit and empire waistlines that fall flatteringly around the tummy and hips.
“Coaching has helped me to understand the important relationship between how you look and how you feel,” says Michelle, 46 and from Sutton Coldfield.
“Having coached someone who had come through such a devastating illness and seeing the energy and drive she put into getting some normality back into her life was truly inspirational.
“These are traits I have witnessed in many other ladies who have had breast cancer too, and I wanted to do something that could help them as a whole person.
“I wanted my designs to really make a positive difference to how these ladies feel about themselves.
“My aim has always been to offer a new fashion alternative for ladies who have had breast cancer that inspires confidence by enabling them to wear stylish, feminine designs that looks like high street fashion, with subtle adaptations only the wearer need know.”
What makes Belovely extra special is the fact Michelle uses her coaching experience to post regular self-help blogs for women who have had breast cancer, offering useful tips on building inner confidence and self-esteem.
“Through the personal experiences of women I’ve talked to and coached, I saw an opportunity to bring both aspects together – helping ladies with breast cancer find clothes that make them look good from the outside and using my fashion coaching blog to help support ladies to feel good about themselves from the inside,” says Michelle, who is married to Carl and has two children, Lauren, 16, and Daniel, 13.
As a former HR professional in the NHS, Michelle undertook three years of extensive research, attending support groups, talking to breast care nurses and carrying out one-to-one and group research to test out design ideas.She said she wanted to make sure they would give women who had had a mastectomy, lumpectomy or reconstructive surgery the freedom to wear strappy, feminine styles post-surgery, with or without a bra.
Hillary Hopkins: I can finally relax knowing my prosthesis won’t show
Hillary Hopkins was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in January 2011.
She underwent a mastectomy and had six lymph nodes removed the following month.
Her treatment continued for six months with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Numerous shopping trips ended in disappointment when she tried to find clothes that would hide the scarring from the surgery and keep her prosthesis hidden.
“I wanted to start dressing nicely again. I didn’t want baggy clothes that made me look as if I’d just thrown it together,” said Hillary, 49, from Shelfield, Walsall.
“But everything I found in the shops was too low on the bust and under the arms or gaped open.
“I was constantly worried about my prosthesis showing and didn’t feel comfortable going out, just in case it did show.”
Hillary, who has two children, Bradley, 15, and Libby, seven, was thrilled when she discovered Belovely Designs online.
She said: “I don’t know of anyone else who makes clothes like this. They are comfortable to wear, fit brilliantly and there is no danger of them gaping or showing scars.
“It was such a relief to find clothing that was perfect for women like me, who want to look nice and fashionable, but have had a mastectomy.
“All I could find before was vest tops, but I wanted more than that.
“Belovely offers a great range of styles and I love the way they fit so well at the neckline and around the bust. They’ve helped me feel so much more confident and feminine and I couldn’t be happier.”
Hillary is still on medication but doing well, particularly now she feels better in herself.
Her husband Idris has also noticed a difference in her confidence, says Hillary, as have her friends when she goes out with them.
“I was always asking them if they could see my prosthesis and reminding them to tell me if they saw it slip,” said Hillary.
“Now I’m able to relax and enjoy myself, confident that the clothes I am wearing are made specifically for women like me.”