When I first became paralyzed I had to grieve the loss of so many things. I was so sad about not being able to feel the sand between my toes on the beach or someone touch my legs. One particularly painful loss was the ability to look beautiful standing in my clothes. The ability to see the back of a stunning dress and the way it would drape on the floor. I remember a shopping trip with my Mom not long before I was shot and paralyzed when I tried on a long red formal gown with an open back. I was so sad that I would never again see just my body and the clothing. The view would now forever be obstructed by a wheelchair. Beautiful clothes were, and still are, one of my obsessions. I am sure many wheelchair users who acquired their disability can relate to the feeling that you may never be as beautiful or fashionable as you were before your disability. However, I now feel more confident and fashionable than ever. I know how to dress in ways that are comfortable and beautiful while sitting. But, it’s not as easy as you might think.
People who use a wheelchair can rock some gorgeous fashion! It takes some creativity, but expressing yourself through your clothing feels amazing. It took me years of trial and error to find what design elements worked best for me. I will share with you my tips and the tips of my friends on how to make sure people see you and not just your wheelchair.
My personal preference is to wear dresses and skirts. I have spent most of my life in school, working or running around with my kids. I wanted to make my intermittent catheterizations as easy as possible. I have always found it difficult to get pants off in a public bathroom - and especially hard to get back on! I was usually sweating and exhausted by the time I was finished in the bathroom. I am also quite girly and have loved dresses since I was a child. I prefer slim cut designs because it keeps my clothing away from the tires of the wheelchair. I would love to be able to wear full skirts, but I find it quite difficult and impractical. Pencil skirts are one of my personal favorites, especially when traveling. Pencil skirts keep my legs together and look sophisticated.
If you prefer wearing pants my friends suggest high waisted pants and leggings. It keeps the pants from being too low in the back, which is a problem for those of us who sit all day. High waisted pants also have better support for the belly area. Jean leggings (jeggings) are a great look and easier to wear than traditional blue jeans. Jeggings often don’t have back pockets which reduces the number of potential pressure spots when seated.
Many times I need alterations for a proper fit and finding a good tailor is a must. People with disabilities often need to have clothes customized to fit our unique measurements and to be able to get them off and on more easily. Females who must do an intermittent catheterization during the day can have a seamstress add a zipper that extends to the inseam. It’s important to make sure your pants are long enough when sitting. If you have long legs, try the tall section and then have them hemmed to the perfect length.
I love to wear white, but it can be difficult for wheelchair users. Clothing guards help to protect clothing, but it’s hard to keep white looking white. Colorful clothing and accessories make you stand out for all the right reasons. I also love black because it’s slimming and it hides dirt and stains. It is also easy to make a little black dress versatile by adding colorful scarves and jewelry.
Where do I begin? I have had a love/hate relationship with shoes since becoming paralyzed. Shoes are difficult because my feet swell as the day goes on. I’m careful about where shoes cut into my foot causing marks. I check the pressure points on my feet frequently to prevent a wound. My feet are sometimes purple because of poor circulation. I try to wear shoes that have good coverage on the top of my foot to hide the discoloration. I prefer shoes with a heel that’s not too short or too tall. If the heel is too long it will hit the ground. If the heel is too short and the bottom of the shoe is slippery my foot will not stay on the footplate. There must be a back on the shoe, or the shoe will fall off.
Specific Shoe Ideas for Women
- Buy shoes a half to a whole size larger than the measured size. This prevents cutting off circulation to the feet.
- Boots with zippers that go all the way down.
- Sandals with a short heel and full coverage on top.
- Shoes with memory foam or inserts to prevent heel sores.
- Wear leg warmers under knee-high boots. People with disabilities often have poor circulation and our legs and feet get cold fast. Leg warmers and knee-high boots are sexy, warm, and they camouflage the atrophy that comes along with mobility impairment.
- Oxfords stay on and look cute.
- Buy shoes with an ankle strap. I have had to look for one lost shoe because they fall off frequently.
Jackets and coats with a two-way zipper are great for people who have to sit all day. You can leave your jacket slightly unzipped from the bottom, which prevents the jacket from bunching up and causing a “frump” in the stomach area. Athletic jackets are often made from Lycra, and are form-fitting and flattering. Many jackets are too long for people who sit all day. You can have a tailor cut the jacket shorter. Men will likely need some alterations for a sport coat or suit jacket to lay properly. Women can choose a cropped style jacket that hits right at the waist. Anything longer usually gets in the way of the tires.
with a great print can make a statement. I like to wear stockings with some support in them, which helps my circulation, and holds my tummy in.
Earrings are easy for me, but they might not be for someone with limited hand dexterity. Earrings with magnetic closures are easier to put on for some people with limited hand dexterity.
can add personality to an outfit. I have difficulty with long necklaces. They get caught when I lean over to get my wheelchair in and out of the car. I have broken several long necklaces when they get hooked around something in the wheelchair. People who don’t take their chair apart and put it back together again frequently have no problems wearing multiple long necklaces.
Bracelets have been the biggest jewelry problem for me. If the bracelet is loose it can get caught on the wheel lock. I also don't wear bangle bracelets because they hit against the push rims, make noise, and generally drive me nuts! I like leather bracelets with beading to add shine.
A scarf is an easy way fashionably spice an outfit up. Make sure the scarf is not so long that it rubs on or gets caught in your tires. It can be time-consuming trying to get anything untangled from a wheelchair tire.
Your wheelchair can be a fashion accessory too! Wheelchair manufacturers have great colors and designs that you can add to customize your wheelchair. I have a Tilite rigid frame wheelchair with flower tattoos and purple accents. I have a friend that wears every color of the rainbow in her clothes and her multicolored wheelchair. Your wheelchair can be an extension of your personal style.
Designer Adaptive Brands
There are several designers creating clothes specifically to accommodate people with disabilities. Several designers are making clothing with magnetic closures, easy to pull on pants, and one-handed zippers. Some designs are AFO-friendly, or specifically make pieces for people who sit all day. Many of these designers can be found on zappos.com
. Tommy Hilfiger
has a very fashionable adaptive clothing line, and if you are you are looking for a great pair of adaptive jeans checkout Seven's
Fashion can be so much fun! The way we choose to dress is one of the greatest forms of self-expression. I have learned to pay attention to the details of my wardrobe in regards to what can be seen while seated. I know what clothing items are functional and still look good. I have always said that if people are going to stare at me more because I use a wheelchair, I’m going to give them something to look at…..my fabulous clothes!