Are Your Jeans A Health HAZARD?

Experts say wearing the wrong fit or type of clothes can affect your well-being. Throw out these culprits lurking in your wardrobe

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

When you get dressed in the morning, you’re probably more concerned about whether your outfit looks good and suits the weather than how it might affect your health, but it might be time to think again. In some situations, your clothing can trigger some surprising consequences – here are some issues to be aware of.

THIN BRA STRAPS Can Cause Headaches

This is particularly true if you have breasts with a C-cup or larger. “The shoulder straps on a bra carry some weight of the breasts and if they are too thin for your cup size they can press into the top of the shoulder and compress the nerves, causing pain in the shoulder, arm, neck or head,” says physiotherapist Tim Allardyce. He adds that a generally poor-fitting bra can also be a headache trigger. “If the bra is too loose, the muscles in the neck and head have to work harder – which can cause pain.” Get professionally fitted every time you buy a new bra.

DARK CLOTHES Attract Insects

If you’re a mosquito magnet it might be time to take a look at what you’re wearing. “Black, blue, green and floral patterns on clothing attract mosquitoes as they act as camouflage for them,” says insect expert Howard Carter from the repellent brand Incognito. “Wear white, beige, light brown or light olive if you want to reduce your risk of being bitten.”

Mosquitoes can also bite through fabric. So the tighter your outfit, the more likely it is that this bite will break the skin – so go for floaty tops and skirts or palazzo pants.


The bacteria that cause body odour don’t just live on skin, they can also start to grow on clothing, particularly polyester. Washing at high temperatures can help reduce numbers, as can drying clothes outside, because the sun contains UV light, which helps kill off the bacteria, says odour researcher Dr Chris Callewaert from Ghent University in Belgium.

If you’ve tried both these tricks and the odour remains, the bacteria has taken hold and chances are, you’ll never get rid of the smell in that garment.

SHAPEWEAR Could Affect Sleep

Wearing super-tight control underwear causes us to produce lower levels of melatonin, which might affect sleep, say researchers in South Korea. Shapewear can also compress the stomach upwards, increasing the risk of acid reflux. If you’re prone to reflux or insomnia, make sure the control underwear isn’t too tight.

 SKINNY JEANS Can Cause Nerve Damage

In 2015, the case of an Adelaide woman who had spent the day packing boxes in a pair of skinny jeans made headlines. The jeans had stopped the circulation to her calves, causing the muscles to swell, and this damaged the nerves enough that she fell over and couldn’t get up. It was an extreme case but “compartment syndrome”, as it is called, is a risk if you’re squatting for long periods in tight clothing. As such, Professor Thomas Kimber, the neurologist who worked on the case, suggests wearing something loose for such tasks.

SOME UNDIES Might Make You Itch

The type of knickers you wear are very important if you commonly suffer from thrush. “G-strings and nylon underwear increase moisture and reduce the circulation of air in the vulval region and this combination of heat and sweat exacerbates thrush,” says Sydney gynaecologist Dr Robyn Lloyd. White underwear might also be preferable to dark as there’s a theory that chemicals in dye can also irritate.

“G-strings are also not recommended for cystitis sufferers,” says Dr Lloyd. Cystisis is triggered when bacteria from the bowel colonise the bladder, and the string shape of G-strings can transfer the bugs between the two.

TIGHT CLOTHING Can Trigger Panic Attacks

Close-fitting collars or waistbands can slightly restrict your breathing which, for susceptible people, can trigger an attack. “Panic attacks happen because something makes us feel scared, in this case the feeling that it’s slightly difficult to breathe,” explains Brisbane psychologist Lana Hall. As you start to worry, you breathe faster and this cycle is what triggers a panic attack.

Rather than dumping all your tight clothing, Lana says a better approach is to manage your thoughts. “A panic attack occurs because you’re worrying about your breath. If this happens, simply try telling yourself it’s just the anxious part of your brain talking and thank it for trying to keep you safe. Then distract yourself by thinking of something else.”

THE WRONG SPORTS BRA Might Hurt Your Knees

You probably know that wearing an unsupportive bra is bad for your breasts, but it can affect fitness too. If you run when your breasts aren’t under control you land more heavily, increasing the risk of problems like knee pain, stress fractures or shin splints. Poor support might also slow you down.

How effectively you swing your arms is one of the key things that determines running speed. “When we’ve measured how people run, we find that if the breasts are moving too much women tend to reduce their arm swing to compensate,” says Dr Deirdre McGhee from Breast Research Australia at the University of Wollongong.

YOUR SHOES Can Collect Nasties

There are more than 400,000 bacteria on the surface of an average shoe, including bacteria that cause stomach upsets like E. coli and C. difficile. “On top of this, there’s a definite risk of indoor air pollution via contamination from shoes.” Says Sam Crothers from SpaceCheck Building Biology and Environmental health. “Dirt on shoes can include pesticides sprayed by local councils, mould spores and heavy metals from car and truck exhausts. Once these substances are inside they can be released into the air and breathed in.” The solution is super simple though – take your shoes off when you get home and leave them outside.

YOUR JACKET Might Make You Sneeze

Allergy to dust mites causes wheezing and sneezing and clothing that doesn’t get washed regularly like jackets, scarves or wool jumpers can be a common trigger. Such clothing can collect a lot of dust mites and can trigger a cloud of dust with every move we make, which can trigger symptoms, says Professor Euan Tovey from the University of Sydney. And nothing works better than a good wash – dry-cleaning doesn’t work as well as water does.