Massage Etiquette Around The World

Massage Etiquette Around The World

A frequent discussion post on massage Facebook groups revolves around what to wear for a massage, draping and whether adjusting underwear is appropriate. And there is a large cultural difference which could lead to massage recipients feeling uncomfortable if trying a massage in a different country or a different modality in their own country.

An expression that is commonly used by therapists is that you should “undress to your level of comfort”.  Personally I am not particularly fond of this phrase as it is ambiguous and can be interpreted differently.  I am comfortable in a lot of different clothes.   If I am snug in Ugg boots and Stubbies then is that what I should be wearing for my massage?

My preference is to ask clients to take off as much as they are comfortable to do so.

Undies or no undies

If you are directed to leave your underwear on then please leave your underwear on.  For example, in clinics in Australia, wearing underpants is the norm and some massage associations insist that they must be worn during remedial massage.  Also some therapists will feel more comfortable with you wearing underwear and it’s their table so it’s their rules.

In other parts of the world (or for mobile massage in Australia) this does not apply and what you wear (or don’t wear) is up to you.   If your preference is to be nude under the drape for the massage then that’s up to you.


In Australia and US then draping for therapeutic massage is a requirement.  In some states of the US then draping is optional as long as both therapist and client agree but this is very much the exception.   Even in states which permit undraped massage, if the therapist (or client) insists on draping then that is non-negotiable and the proportion of therapists prepared to perform undraped massage is very low.

However, in some European countries then draping optional massage is more accepted.  I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s the norm but it is more customary there than other parts of the western world.

In the US, from my understanding, sheets are used to drape and the action of draping is almost a ritual with classes on correct draping etiquette a requirement for many courses.  In fact a complaint that is occasionally made by clients is that a significant proportion of the massage can be taken up by the therapist adjusting the drape and making sure that the tucks are perfect.

In Australia, towels are the most commonly used, normally place loosely over the clients body and tucked into underwear if it is worn.  When an area is to be massaged then the towel will be removed from that area but other areas will be covered. Whilst the draping procedure is much less formal than the US, you have a right to feel safe and secure with towel draping.

Moving underwear

Probably the most contentious issues with wearing underwear though is whether the therapist should ever move or adjust them to access areas for treatment (in particular for the glutes).  In Australia, most therapists will lower underwear by using the towels to access the glutes, with the client’s permission and informed consent. Many therapists in the US often express horror with this as many of them have been taught that underwear is never to be touched or moved.  The fact that the massage recipient is wearing underwear is a clear demonstration of physical boundary between what the client is prepared to expose and what they do not wish to have exposed.  If a client is wearing undies then they will only ever massage areas such as glutes by compression through the drape and there will be no skin on skin contact.  They express astonishment that here in Australia moving the undies aside is the norm.

Personally I believe that the contention just arises from the difference in draping and the proportion of clients who are/can choose to be nude.   I suspect that with the diaper style draping used that moving underwear might feel more invasive than when loose towels are used.   Hands should never go under the underwear but so long as the client knows why they are being adjusted and they grant permission then it’s no big deal….but my American Facebook colleagues struggle to accept and force their clients to have to choose to be naked if they want their glutes massaged.

Etiquette with Richard, Mobile Massage Sydney

If you book a massage with me then what you choose to wear/not to wear for the massage is entirely your decision.  A higher proportion of clients who I see in their homes choose to wear nothing compared with when I worked in a clinic.  But if you prefer to wear undies and/or a bra then that’s perfectly fine with me.  My standard draping is with large bath towels so that only areas being massaged will be exposed.  If you do want hip and glute massage then I will ask if I can lower your clothes so that I can access the relevant area.

Please do not hesitate to contact Richard if you have any questions to any information presented on this blog. Any information, advice, recommendations, statements or otherwise contained herein, or in any other communication made by or attributed to Richard Lane, whether oral or in writing, is not intended to replace or to be a substitute for medical advice trained by a trained physician or healthcare practitioner.
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