Spinal Cord Injury and….Female Fashion!


As we continue our Spinal Cord Injury Awareness month in September, I thought I would share some specific info about a struggle that we women face. So guys, you may already be checking out on me! I won’t scare you, I promise! Let me say, that I know some guys struggle with this issue also but it is not discussed like the gals discuss it.

There are some great Facebook groups set up for learning from our peers with paralysis. It is a lot of fun engaging with other ladies who are paralyzed. Alright, you guys are fun too but I relate a little more to the gals! A conversation going on in one of those groups is the topic of today’s post.

It was started by a friend of mine who is newly paralyzed and struggling with a VERY common struggle for all of us that sit in chairs – FASHION! Why did I just yell that word? Because it is SO frustrating at times to feel like you look good in your chair!

Let me share some of the problems:

– Clothes are not designed for the sitting person.
No one goes into a dressing room to try something on and says, “Oh! Let me sit down so I will look better!” No, we go in, try it on, turn sideways and suck in our gut and decided if we look skinny enough in it or not. Or so some of us used to. Because we are sitting, many tops just bunch up in our laps adding extra fabric everywhere. No one wants a shirt that comes to your knees!

– Lack of muscle control.
Many of us lack some abdominal muscles. This gives even the thinnest gals a pooched belly just because there are no stomach muscles to hold in your insides. So, they pooch out! If you are trying to look pulled together, you really don’t want to emphasize a round stomach! So, we need blouses that will hide our tummies AND not have an extra yard of fabric laying in our laps.

– Our broken thermostats.
A spinal cord injury breaks your internal thermostat. It is very hard to cool down once you get hot, and it is extremely hard to get warm once you get cold. Our clothing can greatly help or hurt this process! Dressing warmly in cold seasons can make a huge difference in how long I will be miserable and vice versa and not overheating in the summer.

– Getting dressed is NOT an easy task.
The clothes that we pick to wear cannot be too complicated to wear or we just can’t get them on and off very easy. Asking a quad with limited hand dexterity to wear a button up shirt would take a huge amount of time just to try and get it buttoned. A pullover is much simpler. Not only do we need to get dressed in the morning, but anytime we need to restroom, we have to wrestle clothes. I think the pulling up and down of clothes takes more time than emptying our bladders! My bathroom time can be greatly increased just by what clothes I wear! If you think this doesn’t matter it does. Try going into a bathroom with your friends and they are all completely finished, hands washed and dried and they are waiting on you and you still haven’t even started because you are still wrestling clothes! It really can be frustrating.

– Our tires eat up long sleeves.
Imagine taking the bottom of your shoes and continually wiping them on the cuffs and arms of your sleeves. This is what our tires do to our clothes! I have SO many stained and chewed cuffs of hoodies and jackets because of my wheelchair tires. It cannot be helped. Rain, snow, gum….you name it…it has been on my sleeves!

– Pressure sores.
We have to be very careful of back pockets or snaps or buttons or seams! Those little things can give us BIG problems!

– Strong arms!
We use our arms for everything so we get some biceps on us! That is good….until you try to wear certain pieces of clothing. They don’t fit your upper arms very well and your arms are restricted from rolling. Coats, suit jackets, and certain shirts bind you and you can hardly get your arms back to give yourself a push.

– Shoes are limiting.
We have feet that swell and flop. Toes don’t go in shoes real easy without bending backwards. Adorable flip-flops fall off our feet It is very hard to keep feet on our footplate if there is much of a heel at all. Sometimes the angle of our feet on our footplates (like if you even try a heel) can set off spasms. We have to be careful if our feet swell to not get a pressure sore on our feet from shoes that have gotten too tight without us knowing it.

– Our self-image.
Shopping for clothes that look good sitting down without you holding yards of fabric, fit you right and look decent on bodies that have changed shape due to paralysis, are fairly easy to take on and off, picking sleeves and colors that will hopefully stay clean and fit your upper arms, staying alert for big seams and buttons or snaps, layering abilities so we can add too or take off so our temperature stays even, and then finding fashionable shoes that match your outfit can be a very tall order to fill! It can leave you discouraged, extremely frustrated and feeling frumpy and unattractive. It can really take a toll on your self-esteem. We are not shallow enough to think that our worth is in our appearance, however, we want to look just as attractive and stylish as we did before paralysis.

Those are some of the problems with the paralysis fashion world! However, I don’t want to leave you thinking we are victims of the fashion world! We have learned a few things along the way! There is hope beyond sweat pants and t-shirts!

Some helps:
– Stretch denim pants, knit skirts, and elastic waists!
– Leggings with longer tunics over them.
– Soft cardigans or knit suit jackets that stretch and move for our arms.
– Soft, silky blouses that lay in soft folds instead of big bulk.
– Cute flats, Sperry’s, Converse tennis shoes in adorable colors, Ugg boots for warmth in the winter, riding boots, and for those who
can without spasming….heels that can be tucked behind a footplate. Just don’t hit too many bumps! 🙂
– The knowledge that women with disabilities have already overcome many things. We will conquer fashion too!

Let me give a shout out to my friend, Priscilla Hedlin, who models her fashion as “The Stylish Gimp” on her blog, The Wheelchair Mommy. Go see how she overcomes her fashion crisis and makes a statement!

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