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Adapted Clothing?

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Clothes, we all need it to protect our bodies but we also use it to communicate who we are, it's part of out identity. When you have a spinal cord injury there is even more to it. When you can stand for a minute or if you can't move at all, that will effect your wardrobe choices.

Personally I wore a lot of jeans before was paralyzed. Now I never wear denim jeans. Jeans have a lot of seems, pinholes, pockets. It's too much risks on decubitus (skin damage) and the struggle, taking them on and off, is real. You want to wear things you like but then you also have to consider the risks on bruises etc, and if it's practical. Healthy goes before looks. But looks also should be considered. I had to change my wardrobe over the last year.

Depending on where in the world you live and what kind of weather you are dealing with, the options vary. In Holland most of the time the climate is moist, cold or just muggy. Therefore I need to cover up. But we don't know extreme temperatures so that a plus. I don't need a crazy variation of types (protective) clothes. Also location, local offer and financial situations play rol in this.

As as textile engineer I know how clothes are made. In my experience so far these are the most important factors that influence what people who use a wheelchair wear.

- Skin (avoiding damage)

- Balance of the core

- Comfort/ movement

- Practical

Just to be clear. In my case, the injury is mid-high. T5 means paralyzed from the waist down. Every disability is different so some might not have the same problems and some might have more problems to deal with. I do not feel my bladder, I can't train my abs, I can't stand. This effects how I get dressed and the type of clothing I wear. I'll take you though my thought on the pieces of clothing I usually look at.

- Let's start with underwear. Seemless panties, always. It's not super sexy but I'm not willing to risk my skin to damage because of lace.

- A bra with closure at the front is easier. Balance and maybe sensitive scar tissue on your back might be good reasons to try that.

- Leggings. Because they are comfortable, no seams, no pockets, stretch is easy to take on and off. When you are paralyzed you get cold very often so It's better to cover them up. Leggings are skin tight so you avoid folds in the fabric that could cause problems, because you can't feel that.

- Sweaters/Hoodies. Being in a wheelchair means your arms also function as legs. They are never at rest. You need to be able to move freely. The more comfortable and free you feel, the better.

- Skirts. Depending on the length, I prefer mini or midi, its so easy to just pull up and you don't have to take down your pants all the way every time using the toilet. The type of fabric is important. Avoid fabric with sequins on the back or ruffles that cause the fabric to fold double when you are sitting the whole day. A-line I think works best when sitting down and also accentuate the waist.

- Dresses. Depends on the type of injury you have but some girls avoid tight fabric on the belly area. Being paralyzed can effect the function of the abs and If you can not train them and you sit all day, "the belly" is there. Can't do anything about it. Dresses with A-line from the waist down, look more flattering when you sit down than the ones that are skin tight.

- Pants. So you want to wear pants? Just go for a size bigger and take fabric with some amount of stretch. During the summer a light weight fabric that is also loose, could work.

I like leggings on myself better because with pants there is all the loose fabric on those skinny legs, you think you can hide them, but you still see it. It's personal.

- Shoes. Okay, so flip flops and sneakers are safe. But heels can be tricky. The support of the ankle is important to avoid spraining your ankle. The height of the heel can effect the stability on the foot plate of your wheelchair. The legs need to stay safe when rolling around. adjusting the calf strap on your wheelchair will do most of it, but not all. Shoes with more grip on the soles stay safer on the plate. It's possible to but tape on it to avoid them slipping off after every 3 meters rolling.

- Coats. Normal short coats intent to move up when rolling around and long coats can be annoying to put on. But either way the movement of the arms and chest is important and to stay warm. I already ripped a few seams because my arms are stronger and bigger now. You don't want a coat too big but when moving your arms you need the space. When one day you find the perfect coat or jacket, just buy two.

I'm not a shopping queen, I actually hate spending time on buying and trying (a.k.a shopping) but I feel better when I look feminine and wear clothes that suit my body and me as a person. In general the adapted clothing lines, are just not my style. And I guess most people would agree, to say those clothes look ugly. They are not made for young people who care about their appearance. Tommy Hilfiger created a special line in the U.S. We need more options like that, also in Europe. In the meanwhile, I just keep looking at regular brands for the things that do fit my needs and style. I've spend way too much time searching online, buying, trying on and returning orders because most clothes don't fit my disabled body.

I like sneakers, dresses and just a mixture of feminine and urban styles. It's been quiet a journey, I've ripped many seems and tried a lot of different clothes I don't like, but are practical. I'm still looking for better matching products. Like all people in the world, prices count when you need to buy things you can afford. I prefer to have less clothes and to be more sustainable. Quality over quantity. In a dream world I would like to have everything custom made, so the fit is always perfect, but for now I'll keep looking for "normal" clothes that also suit me. #clothingchallenge

For the ladies with similar experiences please let me know If you'd like to share your thought on it.

Photo © Tiger Lopez
Photo © Tiger Lopez

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