What Does Adaptive Clothing Mean to You?
Adaptive clothing. What do those two words conjure for you? For me, I think of Christmas morning, 2003. I unwrapped a gift from my mom to discover a pair of sneakers that she bought to fit over my leg braces.
“They’re supposed to be really comfortable and easy to walk in,” she explained to me as she saw me try and fail to hide my disappointment. “Easy to get on, too.”
As she spoke, I stared down at the shoes, the beige faux-suede and Velcro laces staring back at me from their tissue paper nest. These were the exact shoes that my elderly eighth grade English teacher wore. I quietly closed the box and tried not to seem like an ungrateful kid. Later, I told my mom that I just couldn’t show up to school in the same shoes as my teacher. We took them back.
Later in life, adaptive clothing meant figuring out ways to make clothes more accessible. To button shirts, I would use a bobby pin, looping the rounded end around the button and pulling the open end through the button hole. It was not a quick process. Often, I would button the shirt up most of the way the night before, so I could slip it over my head and only have two or three buttons to contend with in the morning.
When I lost the ability to stand, I had to stop wearing pants with button closures. I just couldn’t figure out how to pull them up and button them in a seated position. At that time, adaptive clothing meant only wearing leggings and super stretchy pull on pants that I could easily get on and off without assistance. As a disabled woman, my clothing needed to be utilitarian. Dressing for function left very little room for fashion.
The Future is Fashionable Function
Things have started to change in the last few years. As the disabled community continues to push for change, our voices are finally being taken into consideration, and our buying power is being taken more seriously. Adaptive clothing isn’t just functional anymore. There are fashionable options from retailers across the world. Even major retailers like Target feature disabled people in their ads and carry adaptive clothing lines.
It’s a change that I am so excited to see. There is absolutely zero reason that disabled people should be left out from something as basic as wearing the clothes we desire. If fashion seems frivolous to you, consider what it might feel like if you just didn’t have the option of wearing what you wanted. It’s all about choice. If you choose to not care about clothes, that’s totally okay! But when you don’t even have the option to choose, things as “trivial” as fashion become much more important. In a world full of barriers and inaccessibility for the disabled population, fashion can be just one more unfair blockade preventing access to the kind of full, rich, three dimensional life that we desire. Clothes are one way we can express ourselves, and everyone should get a shot at that.
One of the adaptive clothing brands that is changing the narrative around disabled fashion is Yarrow. Their catalogue is filled with high quality clothing that doesn’t sacrifice fashion for function. Take a look at the photos below, and you’ll see what I mean! There are options for work, weekend, dressy occasions, and all the moments in between.
Timeless Fashion: The Classic White Button Up
Bye bye, bobby pins. Hello, true adaptive clothing. This sleeveless button up shirt is totally magnetic. All I have to do is slip my arms through. After that, the buttons’ magnetic pull does the rest. It is lightning fast, and I don’t have to worry about the buttons coming undone throughout the day. Let me tell you, there are few things more embarrassing than having to ask a coworker to rebutton part of your shirt for you, because you left your bobby pin at home.
In addition, if you are larger-chested like me, there is no dreaded button gap with this blouse! The magnetic closure holds the seams together so much better than traditional buttons. It is definitely an added bonus that I was not expecting. I love not having to mess with fashion tape!
This garment also offers tons of versatility! Pair it with dressier pants for work, or dress it down with jeans as I’ve done here. In the fall and winter, it would look great peeking out from a wide-neck sweater. Feeling frisky? “Rip” it open like they do in the movies without damaging your blouse! (Kidding! Kind of.) French tuck, full tuck, or leave it hanging loose. However you choose to wear it (or take it off), this is the kind of classic piece that you will keep coming back to for years.
Office Fashion: The Black Pant
Independence at work is a must for me. I have to be able to use the restroom and get my pants off and on without assistance. As I mentioned before, this usually means leggings or super stretchy pants without any button/zipper closures. That is why I am thrilled about these adaptive pants!
Just like the shirt above, these pants have a magnetic closure where a zipper would usually be. Instead of a button on top, there is a small strip of Velcro, making the closure on the pants completely accessible. But there is even more accessibility to be found here!
These classic black pants come in two fits: standard and seated. That’s right! Pants specifically designed for wheelchair users! The seated fit rises higher in the back, which makes getting them all the way pulled up in a seated position so much easier. They also have loops on the side that you can use to pull them up. The slits on the side are perfect for orthotics or just to serve as a little extra fashion moment. I also love the cropped look of these, because I am a shorty (only 5′) and they hit at a more flattering place on my legs than most pants.
Not only are these pants functional and fashionable, they are so comfortable! I feel like I am getting away with wearing pajama bottoms to work when I wear these (just like a lot of us actually did during 2020). The great thing about a classic black pant is the near-endless styling possibilities. You can pair them with a summer blouse, as I have done here, or a cropped blazer for a dressier office. They would also go great with the white button up featured above. Pair them with a sweater in the cooler months. Wear them with flats, heels, or ankle boots. These pants are suited for year-round wear in a wide array of styles!
Dress Up: The Velcro Wrap Dress
Dresses and skirts are notoriously the go-to for most of the women on wheels that I know. These garments are easier to wear than pants, and many of us tend to stick to them during the spring and summer months. But if fashionable dresses–such as the wrap dress–have ties, it can be challenging for those of us with atrophied hands to tie them tight enough to avoid a wardrobe malfunction.
Most wrap dresses also have a little button near the waist that can be especially challenging to fasten. But what if those buttons and ties were replaced with Velcro? That is exactly what Yarrow did with the Tiffany Wrap Dress. It’s as adjustable as a standard wrap dress without the hassle of ties and buttons.
The bow is stitched in place, giving it the look of a traditional wrap dress. Literally no one would know this is Velcro unless you showed them. This little dress is perfect for summer weddings and events! Change up your shoes and accessories to really dress it up or make it more casual for work. Personally, it makes me feel like Lorelai Gilmore, circa season seven of Gilmore Girls. Quick, someone get me a Connecticut inn to run and a gallon of coffee to drink!
Enjoy Your Summer of Fashionable Function!
So what do you think? We’ve come a long way from bobby pins and leggings-only fashion here. I featured three pieces in this post, but Yarrow has much more to offer. I hope you’ll check them out and find pieces that speak to you and your unique style. Whether you’re dressing for work, the weekend, special events, or anything in between, there is an adaptive clothing piece for you.
Discovering our style is a fun and creative experience that hasn’t always been afforded to disabled folks. But by supporting brands that create functional and fashionable clothes for us, we continue to change and shape the narrative around disabled fashion. And really, anything that makes my life a little easier is welcome! Even if it’s something as simple as getting dressed. Because that’s really what it comes down to, right? The simple things that are so often taken for granted become monumental when they are finally made inclusive.