Dressed for Sitting

Bobby Rohan wears a shirt from Norm Thompson.

Bobby Rohan wears a shirt from Norm Thompson. Shorts are his pants of choice, as they “fit well and are easy to get on and off”.

Standing tall, so long and lean:
the fashion models in the magazine.
They’re the best dressed people in this town,
but will I look as good sitting down?

“How will it look on me?” This is the question everyone ponders as they wander through the pages of catalogs or in and out of shops at the mall. But for people who use wheelchairs, a different question is often harder to answer: “How will it look sitting down?”

In the ’90s, Target addressed this question by featuring adults and children with disabilities in its sales circulars. Levi’s has also used an occasional model with a disability, and Kohl’s department store actually had a mannequin in a wheelchair. Nordstrom has repeatedly used models who are wheelchair users. One Nordstrom ad that featured a model in a wheelchair caused a bit of controversy when next to the seated model they showed an alternate view of the jeans on a standing body. Did the model really use a chair normally, and if so, was the ad really representative of clothes a wheelchair user would wear? (The model had on jeans with studded back pockets and a white blouse).

It turns out the model really was an authentic wheelchair user, but overall the clothing did seem impractical for someone who is seated all day. So what are wheelchair users to do? Trying on six or seven outfits in a dressing room is not a luxury most of us can afford. When I was younger, I’d have my girlfriend try on the clothes and then sit down with her stomach pushed out to mimic my body (I’m a low quad). But that was a timely endeavor, and often the clothes did not look the same on me. In the past I felt forced to either settle for easy access and fit that was so-so fashionwise or sacrifice comfort for a fashionable look, but after 26 years in a chair, I think I’ve finally found a happy medium.

Definite Do’s
Do wear foundation garments. Everyone knows a solid foundation is the key to great architecture. Well, the same goes when constructing a great look. The bra, panties or body briefer you wear can make a big difference. If you wear undies or protective briefs, a body briefer that hooks at the crotch provides access for personal care and can hold, lift and separate problem areas. Use bra extenders to extend the crotch area to make it more comfortable and easier to hook. Do not use anything that snaps/hooks under your bum directly against your skin!  Other alternatives are the control camisoles, waist slimmers or control slips. The slip is great because it has no crotch but can slide down around the hips to keep it from rolling up when seated. A great variety of undergarments along with accessories like bra extenders can be found at www.barenecessities.com.

Do wear elastic waists. For years the elastic waist lacked fashion pizzazz, but current styles are not only comfortable, they’re hot. For women, Newport News — www.newport-news.com — has a line of clothing called Shape FX that enhances the figure with ease of function. The company’s Control Palazzo Pants have a hidden built-in power mesh liner to tame the tummy and wide legs to balance out the hips. This line also has “Hold-you-in” pants, wide-leg pants, various leggings and several skirts with the essential elastic waist. Pair any of these sizzling bottoms with a stylish top and you have the perfect marriage of ease and elegance.

For men, Norm Thompson — www.normthompson.com – offers some pants with panache. Their Full-Elastic Twill Pants have an all-around elastic waist with a button closure that allows for a perfect fit that stays put during transfers but comes off easily when needed. Add one of Thompson’s many urbane shirts and you’re ready for the office or a casual cruise around town. If it gets chilly, the website offers several pullovers, like a two-toned sweatshirt that offers a sporty collar with an open V-neck — so it’s easy to get on and looks great.

Do wear standard scoop or angled front pockets. These are the types of pockets usually found on jeans, and they don’t pucker up when sitting. The basic five-pocket jeans are nice, but sitting on pockets all day can be a pain in the butt, literally! The best jeans for women are Dream Jeans — www.dreamjeansonline.com. These jeans flatter the figure by instantly making a girl look five pounds thinner. Most pairs have no pockets in the back and sit at the natural waist, so you’re fully covered and comfortable. There is also no tight waistband, so not only do you look great, but you feel good, too. These jeans tend to run a bit bigger than department store sizes, so buy one size smaller.

Along with the Dream Jeans, Norm Thompson also has a full line of Dream Pants for more sophisticated tastes. Both the jeans and pants look great with any top, so check out the chic fashion tops at Newport News and at Norm Thompson (see previously mentioned websites). Both sites offer a plethora of options that are stylish, affordable and fit for the chair.

Men should look for jeans with back pockets that have minimal stitching, or check out some of the specialized sites like www.AdaptationsByAdrian.com. This site offers a variety of adapted clothing products, such as Sitter Pants with a higher back and an easy-open hook. This company’s jeans are made of stretch denim with an elastic waist and a fly that opens down to the crotch seam for easy cathing.

Do wear boot cut or wide legs. Sitting down, even in a chair with a 90-degree leg angle, leaves the feet exposed. And unless you’re a size 6, your shoes can start to look like boats. A boot cut or wider leg not only minimizes the foot size, they also balance out the hips and slenderize your overall appearance.

Do wear stretch fabrics. Stretch fabrics, whether in a skirt, pants or shorts, move with you, provide support, stay on during transfers and help keep a body looking good.

Do wear specially designed clothes. There are a few great sites out there that design specifically for the consumer with a disability. Versa AccessWear (www.versaaccesswear.com) “merges fashion forward design with construction elements suited for women with limited physical mobility.” These pants and jeans include a comfort stretch panel at the seat, and Versecure tabs keep the top, pant or skirt in place. This is especially helpful when transferring. Another site, Wheelie Chix Chic (www.wheeliechix-chic.com) offers designer clothing for the woman in a wheelchair. To the naked eye, these products look like high-end designer fashions, but inside are hidden extras that enhance the body and make every garment more user-friendly. Ross Daniel Adaptive Apparel — (www.rdadaptiveapparel.com) is a new site that promotes themselves as being “fashion pioneers and advocates who are filling a niche” for our community. The site currently offers cool adaptive socks for children who wear leg braces or ankle-foot orthotics.

Definite Don’ts
Don’t wear pleated pants. Whether you are a guy or a girl, pleats at the waist pucker when you sit down and can instantly add 15-20 pounds to your look. Look for a flat front or drop waist for a more flattering fit.

Don’t wear white or really light colors. Face it, wheelchair users get dirt on their hands, and that dirt transfers to your clothes, even if you are incredibly careful. Being dirty not only ruins the fashion ensemble, it can also impact the way we feel. Why spend the day worried about the spot on your shirt when you can avoid it by wearing a darker color?

Don’t wear low-waist jeans. When sitting down, the rise of the pants decreases, so a low rise leads to belly over the waist and the inevitable butt-crack. True, more than likely no one will see the “plumbers-crack” since your tush is in the chair, but breeze on your behind can cause discomfort, and the belly roll is never attractive.

Don’t wear anything you don’t feel good in. It doesn’t matter if it’s the latest fashion, the hottest trend or if your boy/girlfriend bought it for you. If you don’t like the way it looks or if it makes you feel uncomfortable, take it off. Fashion should enhance the way you feel, not diminish it.

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