It ain’t easy sitting prettyApr 26 01:31
Let’s face it - the world was not made for wheelchair-users. From architecture and cars to clothes and shoes, most things in life, unless they’re developed by a specialty company, don’t really factor us in. When I was hurt in my teens, I quickly learned how true this was when it come to clothing. My size 10 shoes no longer fit (my feet had shrunk a size in less than 3 months), my pants were all too short now that I was sitting 24/7, even my fancy underwear was pointless because of my now stupidly sensitive skin. Talk about feeling like the anti-Tiff.
I had no idea who I was anymore. Not wearing what you like and not looking how you want to, can really do a number on you and crumble your self-esteem. I think everyone with a disability experiences this frustration. We feel a certain way, and then we see ourselves in the mirror and go, “OMG that’s me?!” After my injury and my discovery of how clothes no longer looked that good, I stopped trying. But thank God that only lasted a few years, until I got burnt out on looking like a scrub.
I finally started to research how clothes should hang on a seated body. I started experimenting with different cuts of pants - flare, boot cut, straight leg - all in the hopes of finding the perfect look. It wasn’t easy. I bought a lot of crap that didn’t look good, found out how hard it is to keep shirts down, how tricky it was to buy a pair of shoes that were both cute AND comfortable. To sum up: I wasted a lot of money.
But what I did figure out by the time I turned 20 was that even though it was easier to find clothes that fit when I could walk, looking fabulous sitting down in a wheelchair can be done. I won’t lie - it’s 10x more stressful, and definitely a more lengthy trial and error process, not to mention a money waster if you’re buying things that can’t be returned, but it’s a process that must be done by each and every one of you.
And for every wheelchair-using person out there, what they discover will vary. Some of you may be shorter, and extra long inseams on your pants won’t be necessary. Some of you may be unable to wear leggings or skinny jeans because of a leg bag. And some of you may find high heel shoes will never work on your foot plate no matter how hard you position them. Like I said - major trial and error process. But at the end of the day, the struggle is worth it. When you finally figure out your magical top/bottom combo that works WITH your wheelchair, the peace of mind that delivers is priceless.
Lesson of the day: The presence of 4 wheels and a chair should never limit your style.
What wheelchair fashion tricks have you discovered?
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1. fridawrites | Apr 26 03:11
I learned from your other writing that maternity pants work well in fighting the way things settle when one's sitting--which can make me look way heavier. And for the first time I have to get jeans in tall sizes. Also, A-line shirts and tunics--tops that are fitted in the sides that look great standing buckle and bulge as soon as I sit. I try to acquire a few extra pieces at a time when I can. Mixing and matching is really important--saves a lot of money! I try to go with some basics and then add a sweater or jacket or scarf (loose!). I confess I also save nicer clothes for going out so they last longer. For me funds are really tight but I have found some nice pieces/nice brands on ebay, very inexpensive.
2. IZ ADAPTIVE | Apr 26 10:17
You are correct that the world was not made for wheelchair users! It takes a special commitment to create a line of adaptive clothing, and usually the larger retailers want to provide for the largest base of customers. Until wheelchair users are no longer seen as a "small group" of society, they will not get the attention they deserve alongside their peers. Tiff, you have a great talent with your writing to stir the way people think--because unless they've been personally affected, most people have just never realized the challenges. Adaptive clothing needs to start with unique patterning, and needs to be comfortable, stylish, easy to put on for wearer and/or assistant, and be reasonably priced. It's a challenge for producers as its not always cost effective to produce a line of clothing that can be adapted for various needs. Thankfully there are those out there who prefer to make a difference in people's lives and strive to create clothing that really "works" for seated clientele.
3. Tiffiny | May 02 04:27
@frida: mixing & matching is one of the best fashion secrets out there for sure :) @IZ: are you still planning on doing adapted lingerie?
4. kimfloyd | May 04 08:29
What I've discovered: 1) Tall pants are a must, 2) Higher heels led to fat ankles, wobbly legs sitting and not being able to roll under a table or desk, 3)Panties must have a flat, almost no existent seam, which is hard to find, 4) Knowing no matter what I choose that you cannot hide a quad belly, and 4) You never, never we get over mourning the things that you use to be able to wear preinjury no matter how long it has been!
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Tiffiny Carlson is freelance writer and writes the “SCI Life” column for New Mobility. She's also a C6 quad from a diving accident that occurred when she was 14 years old. A lifelong resident of Minneapolis, Tiffiny has been a writer in the disability community for over 10 years and writes for several publications and blogs, as well as her personal blog BeautyAbility. Her work has also appeared in mainstream publications such as Nerve.com and Playgirl.