Disability, clothing and my identity
I like clothes of course but I don’t care about fashion or the next must have colour or brand. Perhaps it’s just as well because my body has never allowed me to wear clothes that are in keeping with my age or the latest trends. I have always worn what has been affordable (i.e. cheap) and practical – the colour or style is irrelevant.
I have scoliosis (so my spine is bent and twisted) and my muscles don’t hold my bones together so I have practically no muscle tone – I am a bit like a bag of jelly with some bones and organs laying in unusual places.
The fact that someone has an impairment doesn’t mean they have to go round looking neglected and frumpy in the clothing department. We can look stylish, smart or sexy to suit the occassion – well up to a point.
You see, when I was a teen and could dress myself a bit – my mother chose all the clothes for me pretty much to the day I left for University. We didn’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle and for a while I didn’t even have a wheelchair – so I rarely went out apart from on holiday.
I had to wear embroidered blouses that were straight out of a catalogue for the over 60’s just because they were the only thing baggy enough with buttons down the front. Some of them I liked – but they weren’t chosen by me. Thank goodness for school uniform – although I was the only one in the school who, age 17, wore a black dress made by their mother with poppers all the way down the front. All the other girls either refused to wear uniform or fashioned their shirt and school skirt look on revealing as much flesh as possible.
I was different and it showed in a very visual way.
Eventually I took to wearing black ‘jogger’ trousers which kept me warmer and were easier to get on. However, they edged me closer to the classic ‘day centre’ look.
I struggled pulling up knickers as I couldn’t reach down – so ended up trying ones with Velco down each side from the JD William’s catalogue for the old and incontinent. They were itchy and made a loud crackle noise as I walked/waggled with my uneven gait – this added nothing to my dignity.
As a young woman
When I was at University I bought clothes for myself, for the first time. I gathered a wardrobe full of stuff and discovered that I only ever wore one or two things – the rest were just too hard to get into or too uncomfortable. I remember one particular day I tried on a sexy figure hugging top in TKmax – It felt really good but then I looked in the mirror. I stared in dismay at my wonky body, curvy in all the wrong areas and so back on the shelf it went. I suddenly realised how bad some clothes looked on me. I’m not trying to hide my curvy spine – but this was not a good look at all. I could do a lot better and it took me a good 20 minutes just to get it on! I nearly had to buy the darn thing when it wouldn’t come off. My PA pushed and pulled my arms struggling to get it off, cringing at the snap of cotton thread occuring around the arms. It was a nightmare.
It’s not easy dressing a floppy adult so I resigned myself to baggy comfy clothes as much as possible. I do draw the line at the ‘day centre’ look. This is the compulsory track suit ‘jogger’ type outfit that is two sizes too big for you and usually comes in baby pink or blue. It’s an outfit that is often chosen by carers for ease of dressing and looks dreadful.
Social Norms – thou shalt wear shoes
Clothes are supposed to be part of your identity or culture – not sure what my wardrobe says about me.
I have tons of clothes and shoes but gradually more and more of them have become difficult or impossible to put on (or for others to put them on me). Ironically I have tons of shoes but never wear any because they skate of my footplates and my legs fly of the side like bambi (and they can hurt because my ankles don’t bend and my feet point in strange directions). I have ahad some success with sandals but I generally only wear shoes if my thermal socks aren’t enough to keep me warm. I no longer care what I look like because warmth and comfort is everything.
People at work seemed to have a hard time getting used to a member of staff who didn’t wear shoes and largely went around in bare feet. When your feet don’t even touch the ground the need to wear shoes is purely for warmth or complying with social norms. They hold no practical purpose. People who walk find this hard to deal with. Society has a rule though that you should wear shoes in the UK and care about how your feet look – even if you just wear a sandal that shows the same amount of foot as no shoes at all!! It’s ridiculous! Some of my PAs from other countries and cultures didn’t see it as unusual as shoes didn’t hold the same social status for them – many of my PAs from Africa regularly walked everywhere bare foot. This was so refreshing not to get frowned at for displaying feet!
All change – no clothes at all!
Last year I started using a hoist and that meant never wearing trousers again during the day. We tried but it involved far to much pushing, shoving, ripping and discomfort. I had stopped wearing knickers a long time ago – just to difficult to get on and very sore to sit on all day. I stopped wearing bras because even the slightest pressure on my lungs stops me breathing unless I use my ventilator. Now, I couldn’t wear trousers so very soon I would have to turn into a naturist.
The only option was to have a skirt made that was a wrap around one, with no seams on the seat (skirt back) and a return to poppers for fastenings. I bought some skirts from EBay but a normal wrap skirt is not comfortable and changes shape when seated. I needed to be able to drap the skirt over my chair, hoist and sit on it, then wrap and fasten. Too long and it would get caught in my front castors. Too short and I might get done for flashing.
I met with a local dressmaker, we went through the design and she seemed very positive she could do it. She never got back to me with the promised fabrics or finished design. In the end (six months later), my mum-in-law made me a skirt out of a warm fleece (alas the only pattern in the shop was Tarten). I pretty much wore the skirt in the picture every day for about a year. It was my only one.