Hidden Lingerie: Intimates for women with Crohn’s and Colitis

Photography by Conor McCann

FASHION spoke to founder Natalie Jones about the Canadian brand and finding power through comfortable undergarments.

It is a truth universally accepted that bras and underwear are the worst. In a journey akin to searching for the Holy Grail, the hunt to find those magical and perfect undergarments can feel like an endless series of challenges. Whether shoppers are looking for lift, coverage, size, colour, fabric, style or anything (and everything) in between, what unites most bra wearers is the struggle for comfort. For women with Crohn’s disease and colitis, this pursuit can feel especially exhausting.

Toronto-based brand Hidden Lingerie is trying to change that. Featuring an array of bralettes and undies in muted tones, founder Natalie Jones created her company with the hope of “changing the way women who have Crohn’s and colitis feel about their bodies.” Jones has from Crohn’s disease herself and describes how hard it is for women who like her, who suffer uncomfortable and painful inflammatory bowel diseases, to wear traditional intimates. That’s because the tight elastic found on bras and underwear naturally sits around the chest and hips, adding stress on the already sensitive stomach and bowel region.

Crohn’s and colitis are “diseases that inflame the lining of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract and disrupt your body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrition, and eliminate waste in a healthy manner.” According to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, symptoms can include abdominal pain and cramping, severe diarrhea, rectal bleeding, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Currently there is no known cure for either but sufferers can take steps to reduce symptoms such as various medications, surgeries, and wearing comfortable clothing that puts less unnecessary pressure on the area.

As you can imagine, bras and underwear have typically been excluded from the “comfortable clothing” list.

With that in mind, FASHION spoke to Jones about Hidden Lingerie, the importance of comfort, and tips anyone can use for their next underwear shopping excursion.

What motivated you to create Hidden Lingerie?

​​I was unexpectedly diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 19, so my early twenties were quite tough as I navigated through trying multiple medications; I even went through a couple of surgeries to remove portions of my intestine. Through that time, I noticed that there weren’t any comfortable undergarments that I could wear all day, and I found myself always coming home from work and immediately changing. I have a background in fashion and I’ve always loved designing and creating, so I was inspired to start making my own bralettes. It started as a hobby, as I used sewing to take my mind off how I was feeling so I first began making them for myself and then for family and friends, and then my basement apartment became my design studio. My goal essentially was to create the perfect undergarments that would make me feel comfortable and confident all day, even when I didn’t feel it.

Of all the garments to make, why lingerie?

Crohn’s disease can cause bloating and extreme abdominal discomfort. When I was going through tough times with my disease, I found myself changing clothes multiple times a day — I never felt quite comfortable in my skin or my clothes. A bra or pair of underwear was the last thing I wanted to wear because it would exacerbate my symptoms as they are often restrictive and tight. I wanted to create a non-wire bralette that seamlessly moves with your body and is soft against the skin so I decided to start making my own. I began to feel more confident in what I was wearing under my clothes and I thought perhaps I could help others feel the same. Lingerie can be very empowering because it isn’t about looking sexy for someone else. Lingerie should be something that women buy and wear for themselves to make them look and feel as good as they deserve.

Where does the name Hidden come from?

Crohn’s disease is often referred to as an invisible illness because those suffering might not look sick to the naked eye. But between the symptoms and the scars, it takes its toll on the body. Sometimes it can just get too much, and it feels impossible to hide. And that’s why I named the brand Hidden — it comes from [Crohn’s or colitis] being an invisible disease and the fact that lingerie hides underneath your clothes.

What makes Hidden products unique?

People with Crohn’s and colitis are always on my mind when I design. Our pieces are delicate and feminine, but they also provide comfort and support — just because something is pretty or sexy doesn’t mean it has to be uncomfortable. Lace against the skin can be itchy, so that’s why we use soft stretch lace on the outside and mesh on the inside. Also, our hook closures at the back are specifically designed, so they don’t dig into you. We really want it to be a second skin so that anyone can wear our products.

Also, on the production side, we use deadstock lace and mesh, as well as organic cotton and rayon, all of which are purchased from Canadian wholesalers. Our pieces are also sewn in small batches in Canada, so we’re supporting the local economy and not creating garment waste.

Hidden Lingerie
Photography by Natalie Jones

How did the fitting process affect your designs?

When we started, we reached out to a few people I followed on social media who had Crohn’s or colitis. We sent them products and asked them to tell us how they felt while wearing them. There were some tweaks early in the process. A couple of people I sent pieces to had a stoma bag (a pouch that basically your intestine leaks into so it doesn’t go through your whole bowel), so we adjusted the underwear to fit one and that’s why a lot of our styles are high-waisted. It was important to me that what I created made those people feel as comfortable and confident as I felt in our products because that’s who we were making it for.

What advice would you give to women (with or without Crohn’s or colitis) before they go bra shopping?

I would tell them to remember that comfort is most important but to enjoy the different styles of bralettes that are out there. Use lingeries as a way to celebrate your own femininity and confidence within yourself. It’s about you and no one else!

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