Ask Allie: Fashion After a Broken Arm

Hi Alison: thank you so much for all of your broken arm-related posts, they have been lifesavers. In December, I badly broke my left forearm and needed surgery to fix it. Although I haven't been in a cast, I have two hideous incisions that are still healing. They were fine while I was on short-term disability, but now that I'm going back to work, I'm at a loss for what to wear. Do I cover them up? Do I just bare them for the world to see? I love short-sleeve dresses and shirts, but I am now feeling the need to buy new clothes to cover them up. I'd love your thoughts and advice as someone who has gone through this as well. Thanks!

fashion after a broken armAfter my third arm surgery, I had bandages for a while but not a cast. While my doctor used this surgery as a chance to minimize the scars from the previous two surgeries, I still ended up with a long red gash running from my wrist to an inch or so from the crook of my elbow complete with visible suture marks and other lovely things. It made me cringe to look at it, and I lived with it every day. I couldn’t imagine the stares, questions, and comments I’d get when others experienced it. I really worked myself up imagining what people would think when they saw it, even people I hardly knew, envisioning uncomfortable conversations with strangers in the office elevator or the man making my sandwich at Subway.

I went back to work wearing loose long sleeves. But the fabric irritated my incision while I typed and I ended up pushing them up anyway. And there were the comments I expected (“ew!”) and those I didn’t (“I would DIE if I had a scar like that!”) but in general people saw it, sometimes remarked, and then moved on. I gotta say the best way I got over it was going to the nail salon; my technicians are not shy in asking questions and sharing their thoughts. They’ve told me I needed to lose weight, have more babies, wax my chin, and color my roots so I expected some awful comments on my arm. Nope, they asked how it happened, am I healed, and how I am caring for the scar. At work, I had client meetings and attended conferences in short sleeves and I saw people take a second glance, but no one really thought much of it and rarely commented other than to show concern.

I realized it wasn’t that shocking, and I realized how many people I knew had visible injuries or situations I never thought twice about. I saw their whole self, and people were seeing my whole self. I went from despising my scar, to being proud of it. My injury may have literally broken part of my body, but it did NOT break ME. The scar was a battle wound from a war I fought and WON. Each time I massaged it to break up the scar tissue, I sent love into it. My arm dealt with a helluva lot, it deserved some affection.

For a while I considered counteracting the ugliness of the scar with a beautiful tattoo, maybe a vine of flowers. I then came to see it as a badge of my toughness and considered getting a tattoo on the other forearm to balance it out. Then life happened, months went by, and the scar became as much a part of me as the age spot on my cheek, the little scar over my lip, my birthmark on my ear.

While there's plenty of products and home remedies out there that will minimize scars, it's likely you will have this scar forever. It is now a part of you and you are in charge with how it will be perceived and how it will affect you.

My scar has faded to what looks like little white cat scratches around a long pink line. It peeks out even from a long-sleeved top and it will always be there. But it’s okay because it’s now part of me, and proof that while I may fracture my radius, I will not be broken. And you too aren’t broken. You have survived, and while your arm may be weak for a while you are now a stronger person from this experience. If you wish to talk more about the experience, do not hesitate to reach out again. Many dismiss such an injury as it’s so common and you do recover. But the time from injury to 100% healed can be long, frustrating, and upsetting and each situation is different. Let me know if I can help.

As for the original request – fashion after a broken arm, I found short and elbow-length sleeves the most comfortable.  For long sleeves, either cotton sateen or silk was my favorite as it didn't scratch or catch on the scabs or when I had them, sutures.  Instead of cardigans and blazers which could be tight on the forearm, I loved shawls and pashminas to ward off chill.  Soft jackets were great because they won't constrict and could be shoved up if my arm got irritated.  I didn't use Mederma or any other scar-lightening product but I did massage a Vitamin-E based ointment into my forearm each night to soften the skin and help with massage (it's also great for cuticles, elbows, and lips!).

13 Comments

  1. Alexandra Grimshaw
    March 26, 2017 / 10:18 pm

    Thanks for the tips I am also an Allie with a broken humerus – poncho life for me for the next few months!

    • March 27, 2017 / 9:19 am

      Oh no! Sending healing vibes to you! If you wish to discuss it, any tips I learned, etc. don’t hesitate to email me alison at wardrobeoxygen.com. Hang in there!

  2. crtfly
    January 29, 2016 / 8:46 pm

    While we’re doing fashion for injuries, I hope that you can help me out too. Long story but I tend to trend towards the klutzy side. I was out of town with my Sweetie, I fell backwards off a step into a driveway of hotel hitting my tailbone and my head hard on the cement step. As scalp wounds do, there was lots of blood. Ambulance, ER, various test, CAT scan of my head, 5 staples in my scalp.

    The good news is that there was no bleeding in my brain, no skull crack, and tailbone is painful but not broken.

    That happened Wednesday. The ostrich egg on the back of my head has gone down to a small bump. Amazingly the ER didn’t shave the gash site. But ER advised me not to wash my hair with anything except water. Also, I have a big, honking bandage covering the staples. I am probably going back to my office Monday. Most hats look silly on me. Can you give me some scarf tying ideas that will cover my bandage and most of my hair without looking terribly dorky?

    I don’t mind people asking me about why I am wearing scarves on my head but I don’t want to display my bandage and have to answer questions about that. I also don’t what to gross anyone out. Some folks can handle that sort of thing better than others.

    Thanks!

    Chris

    • February 2, 2016 / 1:51 pm

      Sorry for the delay Chris! You poor thing, how are you doing now? My sister had brain surgery and rocked a scarf for a while to cover up the staples and bandage. She found the most success with using those contour clip barrettes (http://amzn.to/1KUQ3sU ) to hold the scarf to her hair and preferred the ones that had a bit of clear rubber over the back side of it because the fabric didn’t slip (can’t find any pics online but have seen at CVS etc.). As for how to tie, YouTube is your friend as there’s a ton of tutorials, some for hairloss, some for religious reasons, some for style. A good way to find stylish ones is to search vintage headscarf how to, I found https://youtu.be/tDOU044QPoU and then I came across Brini Maxwell, who is utterly fah-buuuu-lus and she too has a video https://youtu.be/shUpzkx9SOY

      • crtfly
        February 7, 2016 / 5:04 pm

        Allie,

        Thank you for the scarf videos. They helped greatly expand my scarf tying repertoire.

        Regarding the hair clips you recommended: We discovered that they work much better at anchoring my head bandage over the injury on the back of my head than the medical paper tape we were using previously.

        As always, thanks for your help.

        Chris

  3. Pam S.
    January 28, 2016 / 4:49 pm

    Great post! One slip and it could be any of us! For even more inspiration check out Padma Lakshmi. A giant scar following an accident in her teens didn’t prevent her career in modeling or the amazing success she’s had since. She rocks that scar!

  4. Gayle Wheeler
    January 27, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    Allie – Your response to this was fantastic! As I read her question, I was silently yelling “heck, no!” Wear what you love to wear!! When you are rocking a favorite outfit, it boosts confidence levels and that confidence is projected to others. I have a good friend who sports a very large dark red birthmark starting at her neck and continuing down her arm. She rocks sleeveless/halter style tops like nobody’s business!

  5. Ginger
    January 27, 2016 / 11:41 am

    I have fair skin that is easily sun damaged and prone to wrinkling, but I found out after a surgery, that it heals with minimal scaring. Your pink line will likely continue to fade but you might be extra vigilant about sunscreen on that arm so you don’t get uneven skin tone.

  6. cono0507
    January 27, 2016 / 10:42 am

    Loved this. For me it wasn’t my arm, but my leg this year. I’ve spent the last 8 months in a long brace on my leg due to a significant knee injury and two surgeries. Pants and jeans don’t work with it, so I’ve spent all of that time in leggings with dresses or tunics and short boots (that accommodate the brace). I felt very conspicuous at first and felt like the brace was so visible and prominent but grew to accept it and the scars as a sign of strength of what I’ve been through. I have a few more months of the brace and I may indeed miss it when it is gone (and I’ll miss wearing leggings every day when it is time to wear pants with a zipper and button again – it has been comfy!) But I will rock those scars because they are just another chapter of my story.

  7. LarkBark
    January 27, 2016 / 10:23 am

    Thank you so much!! I wrote you the question and this response is just beautiful and makes me realize that my scars aren’t something that I need to hide. Really appreciate it!!

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