Dressing With Fibromyalgia: Do Your Clothes Cause You Pain?

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Fibromyalgia has brought many challenges and limitations into my life, not the least of which is finding clothes that are not painful to wear.

The hypersensitivity brought on by fibromyalgia can manifest itself in many forms and may vary with each individual. Some are hypersensitive to light, sound, scents, chemicals, medications, heat and/or cold. We frequently have many allergies, which is also a type of hypersensitivity.

In my case, one of my biggest hypersensitivities is my skin. There are very few lotions, soaps, facial products, etc. that don't cause me to break out in a rash. But what is even more difficult to deal with is the fact that most clothing hurts me. However, since society and personal modesty dictate that I be covered, I'm forced to do the best I can.

Although for some reason it is rarely discussed, I suspect many of you have a similar problem. So I thought I would share with you the things I've found that work best for me and I hope you'll do the same. Since I'm a woman, most of my suggestions are going to pertain to women's clothing because that's what I have personal experience with. But I hope any of you guys who have problems with painful clothing will comment as well and share any particular problems or anything you've found helpful in this area.

Fabric and Seams

My first rule for any clothing is that it must be incredibly soft. I usually gravitate to knits - cotton or polyester. I know polyester has a bad rep from those awful polyester pantsuits from the 1970s, but there are some nice polyester knit blends available today that are very soft and comfortable. Rayon and silk are also good soft options, but they usually have to be dry cleaned or hand washed so they're not fabrics I wear on a daily basis.

The challenge of finding comfortable sleepwear was solved for me when I discovered Goodnighties. The fabric is unbelievably soft, plus it is infused with negative ions, which helps me sleep more soundly and reduces my pain. I can't imagine ever again sleeping in anything else. Now if I could just find daily wear clothes as comfortable as my sleepwear.

In addition to the feel of the fabric itself, be sure to check the seams and the thread used. I've seen a piece of clothing made with a nice soft fabric ruined because the thread was scratchy and the inside of the seams were rough. The seams are going to rub against your body, so make sure they are as soft as the rest of the garment.

Style and Size

Comfortable styling is going to vary significantly from one person to another depending on personal taste, body shape and which parts of your body are most sensitive. For me, my neck is far and away the most sensitive part of my body. I can't stand anything touching or even coming close to my neck. Necklaces, turtlenecks, crew necks and even most collars are out of the question. That drastically limits the number of tops and dresses I can even consider.

For some people with fibromyalgia, their waist is a very sensitive area. That makes finding comfortable pants or skirts a challenge. In those cases, low-waisted pants may be more comfortable. And for casual wear, drawstring waistbands rather than elastic can be less binding. You might also check out the maternity department for pants. Back when I was pregnant, all we had were those pants with the big ugly knit piece inset in the front, but today most maternity pants are styled to look just like regular pants only looser and with more support in the waist and stomach area. No one but you has to know they're maternity pants.

The styles today tend to be very form-fitting, but I just can't wear clothes that cling to my body. Even the softest clothes will begin to irritate and hurt me if they are constantly touching me. In fact, I tend to buy many of my clothes a size larger than I would wear if I didn't have fibromyalgia just so they will hang loosely and touch my body as little as possible.


This section is just between us girls. Underwear is something we don't usually talk about in public, but I figured if we can't be frank, we can't help one another. So, here goes - I'm going to mention the unmentionables.

First of all, I'm not sure who first decided that we have to wear underwear at all. Unless your clothes are form-fitted or sheer, most people aren't going to know what you do or don't have on underneath them. So if going "commando" is more comfortable for you, I say go for it. I won't tell anyone. But if you do want to, or feel like you have to, wear undergarments, here are some tips that may help.

Panties - Once again, soft and comfortable are the key words when it comes to choosing panties. Cotton is usually recommended for health purposes. Make sure the elastic is loose enough that it doesn't bind you around the waist or legs. I find panties that have the elastic covered with fabric to be much more comfortable. If your waist is sensitive, try the bikini style; if you can't stand elastic around your hips, try the full panty style.

Bras - According to studies, 85% of women are wearing the wrong bra size. I don't doubt it. Finding a good, comfortable, supportive bra is difficult even for those who don't have hypersensitivity issues. Some basic tips when looking for a bra:

  • Look for wide straps, preferably with some padding on the shoulder area so they don't cut into your shoulders.

  • Avoid lace trim that could be scratchy.

  • Look for cups that don't have seams on the inside, which can be scratchy and irritating.

  • Try to avoid underwiring as it often tends to cut into your ribs.

  • Sports bras can be a good comfortable option.

  • Ideally, find a good lingerie speciality shop and get help finding the best bra for your particular needs.

If you'd like to go braless but don't want it to be obvious, try pasties or nipple covers. There are dozens of different types and styles available. Do an online search to find where you can get them locally, or just order them online. Actually, large rectangular bandages work very well, too, as long as you're not sensitive to the adhesive.


From what I hear, hose are now out of style. That's good news for me. This is one of the few times in my life that I've actually been "in" when it comes to style. I haven't been able to stand hose on my legs for many years now. First to go were pantyhose because they were too binding on my stomach and waist. I tried thigh-high stockings, but they cut into my legs too much. That's when I began wearing only long dresses or pants so I could wear the knee-hi hose. Now in the warm months I wear nothing on my legs. When the weather is cold, I wear soft, knee-hi socks with wide bands at the top so they don't bind my legs. If you like to wear shorts or shorter skirts, try a self-tanning lotion if you feel your legs are too pale.

Final Thoughts

Finding clothes that I can stand to wear remains an ongoing challenge for me. When I do find a top or a pair of pants that is comfortable, I usually buy several in different colors because the chances are good that the same style and fabric won't be available next year.

I'm fortunate to be able to work from home, so my biggest problems only come when I have to go out. Most of the time I can be found at home wearing long, loose-fitting, soft knit gowns or dresses with nothing underneath. I may not be stylish, but at least I'm comfortable and my clothes are not adding to my pain levels.

Now I want to hear from you. Do you have difficulty finding clothes that aren't painful to wear? Have you found any items of clothing that are particularly comfortable? Do you have any tips that might help the rest of us in our search for comfortable clothes? Please click "Comments" below and share your thoughts.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.