Functional Fashion

By | 2017-01-13T20:44:09+00:00 January 1st, 2001|
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(Updated March 2011)

By Bhavna Mehta

My husband George wears a skirt. His hips were fused after a mountain-climbing accident 34 years ago and he can’t reach low enough to hold onto his trousers. After struggling for a number of years, he decided that putting his feet in one hole would be much simpler, so he designed a denim “skirt” that has an elastic waist and tapers toward the feet. There are 4 large pockets, two on either side of the longest zipper I have ever seen. “It was terrifying at first,” he told me over lunch, “but I got over it in a day.” “Don’t you want to look, hmmm … uh ‘normal’?” I said to this warm intelligent professor whose resume would land him a job in quite a few multinational companies. “Been there, done that, forgot about it,” he replied.

Most of us do want to look our best with our wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and scooters. But oh, how diverse we are! How demanding we can be about fashion, clothing and accessories. How different our bodies, capabilities and preferences can be — about putting clothes on and taking them off, about which pocket can be used and which seam hurts, about spilling and soiling. Where do we look to meet these varying needs?

Fortunately, many have seen the need for adaptive clothing–fashion designers and business entrepreneurs, caregivers and health-care professionals, and of course, people with disabilities. It’s all about making clothing and accessories durable, fashionable and easy to use, whether we’re talking about pants, jeans, jackets, blouses, shirts, capes, leg-warmers, clothing protectors, loungewear, underwear or footwear.

Pants and jeans for wheelers have evolved to meet our needs. Obviously clothes fit differently when we are seated. Waists thicken and torsos shorten. Thus, almost all sitter pants have a higher rise in the back for seated comfort and ease of keeping that shirt tucked in. Some have discreet elastic waistbands to provide a better hug. Extra material that could bunch up in front is removed and the zipper runs longer in the crotch.  To prevent skin sores, most pants don’t have back pockets. Some have fake pockets and fake buttons. Most manufacturers offer an optional Velcro fly.

Shirts and blouses have their interesting adaptations, too. Shirts are made longer in the back to keep them tucked in and shorter in the front to prevent bunching up. Both back and front closures are common. Velcro may be used under a fake button strip or along the side seam. Shoulder closures make some tops easier to put on. Shirts may have wider neck openings and deeper armholes to provide extra space for freedom of movement.

To complete the picture, accessories are a must. Rain and winter capes usually have shorter backs to cover equipment or behind-the-chair bags without catching on wheels. For rain and cold, Supplex and Polartec fleece linings work well. Clothing protectors can be fancy, especially vests and scarves. Soft cotton body suits give the appearance of layering and may have a crotch closure for easy access to absorptive pads and drainage devices. Shoes with wider openings and Velcro closures are also available.

A word of warning: In the world of functional fashion, women might be somewhat under-served. Maybe it is simply a supply-and-demand issue, or maybe it’s because we women are so picky about how much variety we need, but some things are missing. There are limited options for a cocktail dress or sexy soft underwear with violet Velcro. Some women may find alternatives to jeans and trousers by choosing leggings, jeggings, skirts and slinky pants, or be inspired to design their own adaptations.

So if you’re unhappy with regular store clothes, frustrated with wearing sweatpants all the time, or tired of wearing your favorite pair of pants to every important meeting or date, get busy and look for the manufacturer who appeals to you. Contact by phone or e-mail. Most businesses listed will send you catalogs for free, and some also have a digital catalog available through an online download. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Where To Find Functional Fashion
• 1800Wheelchair. A mobility website that’s a one-stop shop for men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories from different adaptive designers. A wide range of weather gear and wheelchair gloves also featured. 800/320-7140;• AbleApparel Formerly AbleWear. Mission: To provide those in need with a product that is functional, as well as to assist them to look and feel their best both emotionally and physically. Offers a wide selection of clothing, outerwear and accessories for children and adults. 516/873-6552;

• Ag Apparel. Owner: Jordan Silver. Universal fashions for women with evening wear, skirts, tops, swimwear and jackets. Custom tailoring for men and women by request through their Made 2 Measure program. 609/661-0195;

• Cooper Martin. Specialty: high style and functional trousers and loungewear for men and women. 100% Organic cotton used for trousers. 888/476.7205;

 Dignity by Design. Made of two clothing lines — one for people with limited dexterity and the other for those specifically in wheelchairs. Polo shirts, jackets, skirts, shorts and more available for men, women and teens. 612/325-4889;

• Easy Access Clothing and Products. Owner: Sandy Zeichner. A collection of adaptive clothing from many small-scale manufacturers. Wide variety of items under one roof for children and adults. 800/775-5536;

• IZ Adaptive. Owner: Izzy Camilleri. Modern and sophisticated fashions for men and women. Evening and bridal clothing for women are also available. Other adaptive zippers and features can be custom ordered. Canadian-based. 416/860.0783;

 Koolway Sports. Custom coats and outerwear in a wide variety of colors for all ages and genders. Allow for three-four weeks for delivery. 905/493-3188;

 Legawear. Specialty: custom, handmade suiting and shirts for both men and women. Pants, jeans and tuxes also available. Although based in Sweden, USA sales representatives are available in each region.

Professional Fit Clothing. Co-owners: Tom Pirruccello and Kurt Rieback. Specialty: custom alterations on any piece of clothing from the company’s warehouse (Burbank, Calif.). They also provide a line of self-designed capes and clothing protectors. 800/422-2348;

• Rolli-Moden Designs. Active and business wear. Pants, jeans, jackets, suits and loungewear cut to allow greater upper body movement. Pants and shorts have extra long legs for custom adjustment. Accessories include shoes, gloves and rainwear. European-based so exchange rates and shipping costs do apply. +49 (0) 6226 960203;

 Specially For You. Specializing in custom-sewn clothing. Pick from many different patterns and 100 percent cotton fabric. Clothing delivered within four-six weeks. 605/765-9396;

 The Nth Degree. Owner: Dan Wilkins. T-shirts with 105 different designs. Topics include advocacy, inclusion, diversity, empowerment, humor and professional. Designs created by owner or in collaboration with buyer. 800/241-8468;

• USA Jeans. Co-owner: Jeff Bryce. Custom patterns available in shop or send in jeans fabric and have a pair made at off-the-shelf prices. Adaptive considerations. 800/935-5170;

• Versa AccessWear. Fashion-forward clothing and accessories for women. Edgy gloves with sleeve protectors and Velcro components. Custom designs for any occasion (casual or formal) can be made.;

 WheelieChix-Chic. Owner: Louisa Summerfield. Women’s designer dresses, pants, tops, jackets and suiting. Women’s intimates and lingerie with front closures are also available. UK-based and exchange rates and shipping costs do apply. +44 (0)208 392 9617;