Finding clothes that fit and look good when sat down in a wheelchair can be a struggle. This is made worse with ever-changing fashion trends, making it difficult to keep up with the latest styles that will work when sitting down. Often what’s currently in fashion, no matter how much I love the look of it on the model (who is standing up), it just won’t work for me at all. Even after all these years as a wheelchair user, it’s still one of my biggest pet peeves. So I thought I would share my fashion likes and dislikes as a wheelchair user including a few wheelchair fashion tips.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a fashion expert. This is just my personal opinion of what I’ve found works and doesn’t work for me.
The Pros and Cons of finding fashionable clothes as a wheelchair user
I tend to wear things that I find most comfortable especially because I’m sitting down all day. Jumpers are super comfortable. They also keep me warm which comes in handy when living in Scotland. I also tend to feel the cold a lot more so cosy jumpers and knitwear are my go-to. Personally, I think jumpers, sweatshirts, cardigans are so versatile that you can literally dress them up or dress them down to suit different occasions.
I don’t buy tops that are long, oversized or ‘boxy’. The boxy fit has been in trend for a while now, but it’s one I avoid. Anything that is oversized will allow the extra material to gather up around my body and make me look bigger than I really am.
However, I do like tops to be a little longer at the back so they can be tucked down. This keeps my back from getting cold, but also stops my tops from creasing which can cause irritation and pain.
Due to my condition, I have weak arm muscles and I’m unable to lift them up. I move my arms by dragging, sliding or shimmying them across a table surface. For this reason, the type of sleeves a top has is so important to me.
Tops or jumpers with wide (balloon) sleeves are a big no-no because there is too much material that gets in the way and makes it difficult (and too heavy) for my arms to move. I always look for tops with tight-fitting sleeves and tight cuffs. There is nothing more frustrating than baggy cuffs.
I’ve lost a lot of muscle tone in my legs so I find getting trousers that look good and fit well on my legs difficult. In particular, my thighs are flatter due to muscle wasting. I will mainly wear skinny jeans because I like the way they hug and shape my legs. Jeans or trousers that are baggy tend not to look good on me as the material ruffles and creases when I’m sitting down, which makes me look untidy and shapeless.
As much as I love wearing my skinny jeans, they aren’t the most comfortable and can become annoying as the day goes on, especially around the waist area. High waisted jeans can be a good option for hiding those pesky lumps and bumps that we all get when sitting down.
Also, jeggings are a good alternative to jeans as they look the same but more comfortable. The pockets on jeans and other trousers can cause pain and discomfort when sitting all day so cutting the pockets off the back can prevent pressure and skin irritation.
I love these jacquard-patterned leggings because they are comfy all over with an elasticated waist and slim legs. Perfect! I loved wearing them with this cosy purple jumper and white converse.
For me, my stomach is one of my main concerns as it is for many other wheelchair users. I know I’m never going to have a flat tummy, so I don’t like to draw attention to it. I try to avoid clothing that has too much material as it will gather up and make me look bigger which in turn makes my top not sit as neat on me.
Jogging bottoms is the perfect example of this. I live in jogging bottoms when I’m at home due to pure comfort and ease. However, the pockets on jogging bottoms bunch up creating lots of excess material around my stomach and hip area. I recently went on a mission to find jogging bottoms that had slimline legs, cuffs at the ankles and no pockets. It was a nightmare.
Shirts and Dresses
As much as I love the look of shirts and dresses on others, I’ve never really felt comfortable wearing them myself. Although I did wear a dress to a friend’s wedding a few years ago, I spent months hunting for that dress to ensure it looked good on me when sitting in my wheelchair.
What I found worked for me was this Pleated Maxi Dress which didn’t have lots of flowing material. It was slightly stretchy so it fitted me neatly but was still comfortable and flattered my body shape sitting down.
It really depends on your shape and size too, and not just your wheelchair. A dress that works for me may not work for another wheelchair user. Generally, shorter dresses can work best as there is less chance of the material getting caught up in the wheels of your chair.
Jackets are my least favourite clothing item, but I live in Scotland where it’s mainly cold, so I need to wear them even though I don’t want to. Putting jackets on can be a little painful when my arms are bent back to go in the sleeves, which is worse when my arms muscles are tight. Jackets also feel very restrictive to my already weakened arms. Wearing jackets just makes moving my arms more difficult.
I can’t wear long coats and jackets, so I always try and find one that is shorter so it will sit neatly around my hips. I also like the jacket to be able to tuck comfortably down my back without the rest of the jacket feeling too tight.
My feet can be a little swollen so I find converse and ankle boots the most comfortable and easy to put on. I pretty much live in converse shoes and ankle boots all year round. They are casual but can be dressed up so they look good with everything.
When I’m at home the only thing on my feet are fluffy socks and my ankle slipper boots. Comfort and warmth over fashion I’m afraid.
Heels! I’d love to wear them, but I don’t for a few reasons. Number one, wearing heels puts my feet/legs in a stained position as well as putting pressure on my hips. Number two, my footplates are set at the correct position for the length of my legs, but if I wear heels it will cause my knees to rise up which will also put pressure on my hips and thighs.
My Fashion Likes And Dislikes As A Wheelchair User
So there we have it, some of my fashion likes and dislikes as a wheelchair user. Although I feel like I know what works and doesn’t work for me, I often feel like I haven’t truly found my style yet. It’s a constant battle and there is so much I would love to wear but can’t because I’m sitting. But I do believe a lot of that is down to the fashion industry not having models who are in wheelchairs modelling the clothes. This would enable wheelchair users to know straight away how something would look sat down.
I hope this can help you, even just a little bit and give you some ideas as to what might work for you. Please remember, we are all different so it’s important to wear what you feel most comfortable in. Fashion is a great way to express yourself. Hopefully, brands will take note and start showing clothing worn on models sitting down which will help us all. It would also be fantastic if adaptive clothing was more mainstream and easily accessible.
Please share your fashion likes, dislikes and tips for finding fashionable clothes as a wheelchair user?
How to Feel Confident in a Wheelchair
What is Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (and how does it affect me)?
Wheelchair Fashion: Finding the Perfect Dress
Why I’m Feeling Nervous About Getting a New Powered Wheelchair