Shoulder Surgery: What to Wear

Shoulder Surgery - What to wear. How to make your own post-surgery t-shirts!

Getting Dressed: A very basic ADL!

One of my biggest concerns in preparing for surgery was, how am I going to dress myself every day on my own? My mom and boyfriend are at work early, so am I just going to stay in my PJs all day? Not the healthiest thing for your mental state. You don’t realize how important this ADL (activity of daily life) is until you first hand are unable to do it! I talked to my friend who is an OT and her recommendation was to cut up some large shirts I didn’t care about and also just buy some bigger, stretchier shirts that I would be able to get over everything.

What I did:

  • I went to Target in the weeks leading up to surgery and rummaged through the clearance section, buying medium and larges (I’m normally a small or XS) in shirts with big necks and stretchy fabric.
    • Most of these went for around $4, but I’m sure you could find stuff at a thrift store or the dollar store for even less.
    • I also bought a medium size spaghetti strap tank that was super stretchy.
  • In the mens section I bought some packages of white t-shirts, like Hanes and Fruit of the Loom.k2-_deade422-9eca-4c32-8737-38712ff322f1.v1
    • These were in medium sizes as well, a couple larges.
    • I opted for the v-neck over the crew neck – and I am so glad I did.
    • Some are cheaper than others, but you won’t regret buying the higher quality cotton in at least a few.
    • Muscular attractive men in their boxers on the front? Count me in! These run around $4/shirt, unless you can find a sale.

Then, I TIE-DYED! This was the absolute best decision I could have made, because it brought fun color and patterns to my dreary few weeks.

I cut them in different ways to make it easier to get them on, and then I attempted to sew velcrow pieces on. This didn’t go over so well with my sewing machine, as the sticky kind messed with the machine and the non-sticky was just really not easy, at all. I finally got one done and decided to see how I liked it before proceeding.


Shirt with velcrow down the side

Shirt with velcro down the side

I did not like it. I ended up using the shirt with the velcro the least because it itched and scratched my skin no matter how carefully I placed it. However, I will say it was nice to have one shirt that I could very independently put on myself without needing to pin. If you are more skilled at sewing – have at it! I did not even try to make zippers… that was much too intimidating.


What I ended up using:


The tie-dye shirts were my absolute favorite and I wore these every day for the first 2 weeks of surgery and most days for the first month in total.

I had about 7 shirts, which was nice to not have to do laundry too regularly.

I wore the mediums (I’m usually a small) most days, but did like the large shirt for surgery day.

The first time I wore a non-homemade shirt was two weeks post-op, but I wore these other shirts rarely. Overall, I barely ever wore the “normal,” larger shirts I bought at Target and actually returned a few when all was said and done.

I never wore button down shirts, despite my big plans to use the newly acquired button hook. It worked, it just took too long and I didn’t need to wear them. Also, I didn’t want to have to thread my arm through the sleeve and never wore long sleeves unless going out, in which case I wore a big jacket.


I wore lots of stretchy pajama shorts (easier than pants) when I was at home because there is no buckling, zipping, or buttoning. Shorts and any pants that do not require a fastener are going to be your best bet. I eventually was able to wear jeans on my own, and was able to button and unbutton with both hands.

You will figure out the trick of putting shorts/pants on: 1) hold shorts in unaffected hand on that side of the shorts   2) Put affected side leg into shorts   3) Put unaffected side leg into shorts, using the affected side leg to push out and help pull up with unaffected side. (Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out on your own!!) 😉


How you can make the shirts:

  1. Purchase a package of mens v-neck white t-shirts from Target, Walmart, department stores, or grab some thrifty ones at a Goodwill.  $~25 for 6 shirts
  2. Find a tie-dye kit at your local craft store (Michaels, JoAnns, even Target) and dye the shirts. This one from Michaels dyes up to 15 shirts $20
  3. Wash the shirts before wearing them.
  4. Cut the shirts in 1 of 2 ways:
    • Cut down the affected arm side including under the armpit all the way down to the bottom. Be careful not to cut the top of the sleeve
    • Cut only the top of the affected arm side sleeve all the way to the neck on the seam
  5. Optional: sew velcrow or buttons on both sides of these new cuts
  6. Optional: some shirts begin to unravel easier than others if you don’t sew a new seam. Fold each side of the new cuts over and just sew along the side so it doesn’t unravel


Putting shirts on:

  • Tie-dye shirts are easy:
    • For the ones cut down the side: put unaffected arm in first, then pull over head. Have someone help safety pin the side (2-3 pins), or add velcrow. If staying at home, pinning down the side isn’t necessary.
    • For the ones with the top cut out: put on from feet up over hips, under sling, and put in unaffected arm. Then pin the top at the neck and above affected shoulder.
  • Stretchy non-cut shirts:
    • Always put affected arm in first. Prop sling & arm on pillows, unstrap it, slide the arm through, then over head and lastly the unaffected arm.


  • Make sure you bring your homemade cut up shirt to the hospital the day of your surgery. I stuck mine in the car the night before, just in case we forgot the morning of.
    • I brought the shirt that was cut on top of the shoulder, and we pulled it up from my legs toward my chest, but either version will work.
  • Wear a strapless bra to the hospital (and some granny panties, not a thong. It’s gonna get personal when your drugged up). I thought I would be wearing sports bras, but it really doesn’t work at all. They are too tight and have to go through both arms.
  • I really highly recommend the v-neck tee’s because it’s easier to get over your head
  • For the ladies: I wore a bandeau bra the first week of surgery and whenever I was home for the first month. My thin frame made it easy for me to slide it up and over my hips. However, the other options is a front clasp bra, which I wore after the first week whenever I left the house. I would invest in a couple of these (I bought mine on amazon).
  • I was lucky to have pretty warm weather during my recovery, but if you’re having surgery in a cooler season, try to find ¾ length stretchy fabric shirts. Yoga pants or sweatpants are great, keeping in mind you won’t be able to tie, button, or zip.
  • For some more ideas or pre-made shirts you can buy, check out my pinterest board for surgery. There are some folks on Etsy who make shirts for shoulder surgeries as well as mastectomy and these may be more convenient for some, but are definitely pricier.

Making these tie-dyed really brought so much color and happiness to my days after surgery. I was almost sad to be healed and out of the sling because I couldn’t wear my comfy t-shirts anymore!!

Are you having shoulder surgery? See parts 1, 2, and 3 of my journey with tips on the blog.

And of course, healing vibes being sent your way! ❤


47 thoughts on “Shoulder Surgery: What to Wear

  1. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 2: Day of Surgery | Rich with Life

  2. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 3: Post-Op | Rich with Life

  3. Reboundwear is the answer of what to wear after surgery and during recovery.

    Reboundwear™ Pro PT Gear is a line of clothing designed and tested with the input of doctors, physical therapists, and most importantly, patients.

    • Strategically placed zippers accommodate everything from casts, slings, braces, and boots, to external fixation devices, drains and chemotherapy ports.
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    • Clinicians have direct access to all areas of the body, which eliminates the need to undress in public treatment centers, and solve modesty issues.
    • Avoid painful movements during treatments and while dressing and undressing.


  4. Pingback: Shoulder Surgery Part 1: Preparing for Surgery | Rich with Life

  5. You shouldn’t have to cut up your clothes. i bought the Lindsey Top from when i was having my should surgery and it was super helpful and the great thing is i still wear it after my surgery because it looks like a regular cool shirt.


  6. I have left rotator cuff partial tear arthroscopic surgery on February 10, 2016 and have really appreciated all the insight you have posted. Can’t afford Rebound clothing, but your Tshirt idea sounds great! I have pre op on February 1. I pray your shoulder has healed well, as it appears so from your posts.


    • Surgery still postponed until all clear of sinus infection and nagging cough from sinus drainage. The recovery bra mentioned is too pricy, although looks great.


    • Thanks for the tip of using the snap tape. I went right on ETSY and ordered some. I’m also going to try some velcro and make sure the soft side is facing me with a wider edge covering the “scratchier” side to see if this will help.


  7. Thanks for your article(s) on the ways to deal with surgery. The shirts look fantastic and I thought I’d tell your readers about “snap tape” as an option to velcro. I added a search link below, for those who don’t know what it is.

    I’ve used it for projects before, and it’s great because you can make things larger or smaller….or just close! It may be more of a challenge to close than Velcro, but it is not itchy. Using it on the shoulder seam, or where a strap joins a cami top, might work as another option.

    Again my thanks and all my sympathy and best wishes (both shoulders; first in two weeks) to everyone caring for us (!)….and us!


    • Thank you for the great info Malicity! That sounds like a nice option over vecro but still allow for more independence- I love it! Best wishes to you on your surgery day and post-op healing. Thanks for commenting 🙂


  8. Thank you for making these posts. I am having surgery in two weeks, and I was genuinely freaking out a bit before I found your bras because there just isn’t a lot of “preparation” materials online. Having surgery in the middle of a Texas summer is a little daunting, so I am so happy that you showed how to make t-shirts that I can put on myself!

    Thank you so much!


    • So happy you found them Emily! I’m in Texas now too and it is miserable, but I can honestly say I do think summer clothes have some easier options as far as dressing with surgery. You have lots of time to prepare 🙂


  9. Thank you, from California. I’m preparing for bicep tendon re-attachment surgery at the end of this month and found this very helpful. While I still don’t know how I’m going to manage a few things, this has provided some solutions and filled in the blanks as to what to expect. Thank you!


  10. Love your t shirt ideas ! I’m 65 years old and trying the injections to put off RTC tear surgery till January .. Hoping to wait till after the holidays!! But we’ll see … I live in Reno and it will be quite cold in January … Do you have any thoughts for using men’s flannel shirts for post op and after surgery ?
    Thank you for all the info!!


    • Kris, I haven’t thought of anything especially creative. The winter is definitely more difficult. I think if you get big enough flannel shirts, you should be good. You will thread your affected arm first, so just practice with the size before you buy them – the part that is tricky is when you try and thread your unaffected side and it pulls on the affected shoulder. Anything stretchy is going to be your best bet, so if you can find a more stretchy button down (or zip-up) material (I can’t think of what) this would be ideal. Best wishes! Please let me know what you find! – E


  11. Hi! Thanks for putting all of these posts together! I’m trying to figure out what to wear the day of the surgery and am not sure if the nurses will put a shirt on me before I wake up… After my knee surgery I magically woke up in shorts and was wondering if this would be the same situation. I’m thinking a giant t-shirt or Comfort Colors tank (since the arm holes are huge). I’d love to not have to cut anything up but that’s the laziness talking…


    • Jennifer – it is possible they will put a normal shirt on you before you wake up, though I was in a gown. A giant shirt should work, just make sure it’s really giant, keeping in mind, whatever they put on, you’re going to have to get off later and will be in significant pain. I would just pick up some extra large and/or stretchy shirts if you don’t want to cut anything up.


  12. Was thinking about how I would go a purchase some inexpensive t-shirts at Walmart and retrofit them for my upcoming shoulder surgery. Thanks for the great tips! I’m going to try the sew on snaps as one of your viewers suggested but will also sew on some velcro. Going to make sure the soft side of velcro is towards my body and making sure that one side overlaps the other a little more to help with possible itching issues. I’m older, so the “tie dye” thing probably wouldn’t look the best on me, but will try to find some colors in either men’s v-neck or larger women’s v-neck and retrofit. Thanks again.


  13. Thanks for the tips. I am 75 yrs old so tie dye is not for me. My surgery is sceduled for Sept. 11 so I will need long and short sleeves. Will try the snap tape option. Thank you for your tips


  14. Thanks for the helpful tips. I am about to make some shirts and tank tops with the velcro closures, putting the velcro squares on a tab to prevent touching the skin. it would be really helpful if you could post a description, or, better yet, a video, showing the best way to put the open shoulder and open shirt styles on with one hand and the other in a sling. I have my first total shoulder replacement on the 2yth, to be followed by the other asap. As I have very limited mobility in both arms (can’t stretch across to the other side or behind my back, for instance) I need all the tips I can get.


    • Stretchy pants and one-handed dressing techniques! Try to wear pants without fasteners, always get dressed sitting down, and look up one-handed dressing techniques if you’re having trouble managing the pantlegs. Hopefully that helps!


  15. I am so glad I ran across this. I am having surgery TOMORROW, and it never even occurred to me about clothes after. They said just wear something you can drape over your shoulder after surgery. Now all I have planned is a robe! Maybe no one will notice if I just wear that for a couple weeks -_- It’s cold right now, so I’m up that creek with no one handled paddle in sight. But the tips, were all great! Crackers, slings, and pillows, oh my…


  16. Thank you for your advice and love the t-shirt idea. I am recovering now. 6 weeks post op. You definately need to prepare in advance in the area of clothing and you are dead on with the stretchy pants/ yoga, sweat & PJ in the cooler weather. The tops I have used my husband larger t-shirts & sweat shirts. threading my injured arm in first.
    My PT has brely even begun, By bones we extremely soft like styrofoam. I am not old, (too old) and I do not have osteoporosis. I keep up my bone density test, which I just had another one last Friday to confirm. But a nurse friend told mr that cortizone shots could cause soft bones. Bingo!. I had 3 cortizone shots within a 2 year period in my shoulder 6 years ago when this shoulder problem first started trying to get it to settle down. It helped and stopped the pain for several years. When it came back the ortho dr would only allow me to have 1 more shot the the MRI. Of course it came back with the severe tear. Once he went in the bone was like styrofoam. It is making the PT delayed and recovery drawn out and painful.
    Just a word of warning the shots of cortizone are not harmless.


  17. Pingback: Getting dressed after shoulder surgery | ms mary p

  18. I Love your tie-dye V-neck shirts!! They are fun!! I am going to make them with Velcro. They will be ready for my right shoulder surgery in 15 days. I rather make them then buying them. RIDICULOUS price ….$98.00. That is extremely expensive. You are awesome! Thanks so much 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Emily, I just found and read ALL of your posts . . . thank you!!!!! I will be re-reading them as I prep for surgery August 31–repairing rotator cuff and labral tear, as well as re-positioning bicep tendon. Not looking forward to it, but I know it will feel better once it’s all done. Thanks for all the great tips!!! I’ve got to get to work filling my freezer and making my shirts! :o) I’m glad you’re doing well, and I appreciate that you took the time to write about your experience! Thank you!!!!


  20. Ehlers-Danlos led to dislocations, tears and a fracture. Surgery on Jan 14 2019. Found your articles just in time. Making shirts and a few pull on skirts. Thanks for a ll the work you put into this. Sighning up for the rest of your blog. This great-gramma is teachable. LOL


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