I had an email request about looking stylish in a wheelchair. Since I don’t know much about this subject, I thought it would be a marvelous time to reach out to Shannon who I know from my Your Color Style group to get her opinions and thoughts.
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Quote of the day: “Teaching is successful only as it causes people to think for themselves. What the teacher thinks matters little; what he makes the child think matters much.” Alice Moore Hubbard
I love this quote because I think it relates to clothing and style as much as other things. Just because one person has ideas about looking stylish in a wheelchair or anytime for that matter, doesn’t mean it’s universal. We are all so unique that one “rule” does not apply to all.
Yet, it can be helpful to hear what works for others to gauge how it might work for us.
When Kathy reached out about this subject, I asked her what her struggles were for looking stylish in a wheelchair.
Kathy said that it is “very difficult to wear a skirt as it will ride up and more will show that you want. If I wear a mid-length I look like I am drowning or get stuck in wheels so mostly stick with capris or pants. Also in warmer climates, the back of the chair is black so the heat is magnified/airy tops work best.”
What I have learned in this research is that looking stylish in a wheelchair is just as varied as clothing advice in general. Each person has their own preferences.
I also found some other articles written by women in wheelchairs that could be enlightening if you are interested in more information on this. One thing that came through is how one woman remarked that she wanted to “make sure people see you and not just your wheelchair.”
“I have a son who is 27 and I work as a cancer registrar having done medical transcription in the past. New York is where I’m from and where I have lived I have mostly lived except for 6 months in MA in the late 1980s. My disability is spinal cord injury. Receiving compliments about my outfits is something I love, but I don’t like being called an inspiration for doing things like just going to the store or leaving the house, or having a job.
People with disabilities are just regular people with good and bad days, good and bad moods. I think the inspiration comments come from low expectations that maybe people expect we are crying in front of the TV all the time. So if we smile or laugh, people make a big deal and it’s not. If we are not in a good mood, people assume it has to do with the disability and it might not. We are not here to make other people feel grateful they are not like us.
We are not one monolithic group though. There are some disabled people who don’t mind or enjoy being called inspiring or brave, etc. Disability terminology that I use is disabled, disabled person or person with a disability, or wheelchair user when necessary to describe that I have a disability which usually it is not. I do not like the terms wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair, handicapped, handicapable, differently-abled, or physically challenged.”
I asked Shannon some questions about looking stylish in a wheelchair from her perspective and she also gave input about the outfits shared in these photos.
1-Tell me about your overall style? Are there things you don’t wear for any reason?
I would say my style is a combination of feminine/classic/vintage and I appreciate a novelty print at times. The sporty style is not something I love, but I definitely like dresses and have since I was a little girl. The colors I like are bright colors plus black, navy, white and gray. Then I also like most patterns especially floral, plaid, stripes, and polka dots.
Things I specifically don’t wear:
1. Jumpsuits and rompers. I don’t like having to take them down to use the toilet. If I really loved them I would be willing to do that, but I prefer a dress, pants, and top or a skirt and top.
2. Skimpy bikinis, particularly the bottoms. I have a flat bony butt and flabbiness (not so much fat but flab) around my hips and thighs where I can’t use the muscles. I like high waist full coverage bathing suit bottoms.
3. Capri pants. I don’t think there is a standard length for what you would call a capri pant, but a lot of them hit me in a place that looks very awkward to me, a few inches below the knee or in the middle of the calf. Since I have fairly long legs with a 31-inch inseam and pants do ride up a few inches when seated. I will wear pants with a 26-27 inch inseam for a cropped look. in warm weather. They will land several inches above my ankle. I don’t really like this in the winter, to me it just looks like I am wearing highwaters. For winter I like at least 29 inches and preferably 31-32 inches. Boot cut pants are good. My pelvis is tilted from years of spasticity which makes one leg look longer than the other and this shows when I am wearing shorter pants. I see it in photos and don’t like it so I find that I am always tugging down one pant leg.
4. Ultra-short shorts. If I wear these, when sitting down it appears like I am wearing underwear. I like shorts at least 4 inches, 5 inches is great. I do like Bermuda shorts because they almost look like regular shorts on me. They don’t go all the way down to my knee which I would not like. I guess I would not wear an ultra mini dress or skirt for the same reason. But I do wear short skirts.
5. Spiky heels. I do see some women in wheelchairs wearing these. I could make them look ok for a photo but my feet would be falling off the footrests all the time. Instead, I wear block heels and low heels.
6. Long blazers, coats, and cardigans. These are designed to look great standing up. They don’t hang the same when you sit and the material just pools around you and falls over the sides of the chairs. I do have a few longer cardigans but I much prefer short ones.
7. It’s not a never wear, but I don’t wear a lot of athletic wear as I don’t wear special clothes for exercising in and it’s not really my style. I have a few pairs of leggings and some sports bras and sweatshirts and jogger pants but they are not usually things I go out in.
What are some of your favorite clothing pieces to wear?
1-Dresses. I will wear short and midi dresses. I don’t prefer maxi dresses. It’s no problem to wear them, I just don’t prefer them. Wrap-style dresses are especially flattering I think. I don’t like true wraps because it’s more fuss putting them on. Not because of the wheelchair, it’s just more fuss. I like body con dresses although I worry about my stomach looking poochy but don’t most of us. I love a vintage-style dress.
2-Skirts. Pencil skirt, A-line skirt, mini and midi skirts, just above the knee-length skirts.
3-Denim jackets. These are usually short and I prefer the close-fitting ones.
6-Sweaters in the winter.
7-Tights with my skirts and dresses in the winter.
8-Boots, mostly ankle boots, in the colder months.
9-Sandals and cute sneakers in warmer weather.
Where do you live and how does that affect what you wear?
I live in New York so we have hot summers and cold winters. Spring tends to be quite cold until May. Starts getting cold by October usually. I wear sweaters a lot between November and April.
While I do love summer clothes and have a lot of them, the time to wear them is limited to about 3 months plus parts of May and September.
Warm winter outerwear is definitely a requirement.
Common issues with certain clothing and a wheelchair?
Pants, skirts, and dresses riding up. What length you are comfortable with depends on the person, but you have to account for about 2 inches in the ride up and buy accordingly. This is more annoying to me personally with pant hems than with skirts or dresses. Especially as I have that issue with one leg looking longer (not everyone in a chair has that).
There are many wheelchair users who like wearing dresses and others who won’t wear them. Just preference. Some find it easier to use the toilet with a dress because you don’t have to pull your pants up and down. With some dresses, though, it’s possible to dip them in the toilet while moving from toilet to chair if you aren’t super careful.
We are all different but I don’t love oversized clothing or anything that pools around the waist. I think it adds bulk where you don’t want it and makes you look shapeless. Already I feel that I look a bit squished in the middle because of sitting so it looks better to wear fitted clothing and things with a waist. Not that a flowy top can’t work if there isn’t a ton of excess material.
Long coats/blazers/cardigans not hanging right while sitting. Material pools around the chair and may even get caught in wheels or fall over the wheels.
A very common problem that most wheelchair users seem to have is that pants going down too low in the back possibly showing the butt crack. For this reason, many of us prefer high-waist pants. Stretchy materials are often appreciated for pants and other clothing as being more comfortable/easier to get on and off. I don’t avoid nonstretchy materials but I do prefer stretchy materials for pants and skirts. I have heard that some ladies wear maternity jeans (I haven’t). Back when low-rise jeans were the fashion, it was not a good look for me. I like my hips and stomach covered by my pants.
Bulky winter coats because they aren’t very flattering. For years I had bulky jackets that just didn’t look good. I look for more slim-fitting coats and not too long as that’s a lot of material to sit on.
Jeans with rough material/seams/back pockets can be irritating to the skin especially if there is no sensation and can even cause sores. I really love jeans and think they look great. But I have to watch as the seam down the middle of the butt is not good for the skin. Some people in chairs like to size up on their clothing but I do not. I don’t like baggy legs.
There is such a thing as adaptive jeans which don’t have the seam/back pocket problem and are cut higher in the back. I tried a pair of pants like that once and found them cut too low in front. Some of these (IZ Adaptive for example) are very expensive.
Shoes: Some of us have a problem with heels and some don’t. Some of us have swelling feet that make it harder to fit into shoes (not me). Slippery soles can slide off the wheelchair foot plates. Heels can make our ankles roll in.
As I cannot control my feet my shoes need to have enough straps or structure to hold them on. Ballet flats and slides for example don’t work for me as they fall off my feet. Wheelchair users who can move their feet (which is most wheelchair users because most are not paralyzed and many can walk some) may have different experiences with shoes than I do.
Blazers: I am not sure about everyone else but blazers often do not fit me right. They are too long or look awkward when buttoned and if unbuttoned fall too much to the sides and don’t hang right. I look for cropped blazers mostly. I know that for men in wheelchairs, suit jackets usually need to be tailored to look nice because they are too long for someone sitting down.
There are some things I have heard other wheelchair users say but I haven’t noticed for example that clothing fits too tightly around the shoulders and arms and at the stomach area which makes it uncomfortable to push the chair.
Some people don’t wear long or poofy sleeves because it interferes with pushing/getting dirty. I do it anyway. They do get dirty but not much you can do about it. I have to wash some of my jackets after using them, especially light-colored ones.
Some people won’t wear white jeans. I do it anyway and usually, it’s fine. I probably would not if I were going someplace all day where I was pushing the chair on dirty sidewalks like NYC.
Other issues some wheelchair users may have that I don’t. Ambulatory wheelchair users (there are many) need their clothes to look good sitting and standing. I am not sure if this is a big problem or not. Some have problems using their hands, difficulty with buttons, zippers, etc. Some need assistance to dress/undress which may affect their clothing choices. Protruding belly from no muscle control in the stomach can affect clothing choices. I don’t have this to any great degree unless I gain weight. Some use appliances such as leg bags to collect urine which can affect clothing choices.
I wear most clothing items and for the most part am dressing for what I think looks good on my figure, not just the wheelchair. The advice I see frequently for those in chairs is to wear plainer/darker colors on the bottom and more detailed/brighter/patterned clothes on the top to draw the eye up. I don’t really follow these as I have lime green pants, or patterned tights, because I like them all. Of course, it would be rude if someone stared at/studied my legs but this doesn’t usually happen. If it does I stare back.
Where do you shop for clothes?
I shop in a lot of places. Right now I am buying a lot from two online boutiques, Freckled Poppy (the owner does a good job of advising people on jeans fit), and Pulse Boutique.
I like to shop for vintage-style clothes online, especially a company called Heart of Haute. I look for bargains on Poshmark and also sell clothes on Poshmark.
Other stores I shop quite often shop from are Macy’s, The Loft, J. Crew/J. Crew Factory, Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic, and Express. I also use clothing style boxes Stitch Fix, Trendsend, and Wantable. This is not because I don’t like shopping or am bad at picking clothes but just for the fun of it. I have also learned about some brands I never heard of before using the boxes. It’s so convenient to tell them what colors and styles I like and see what they come up with. Even though I love shopping in stores in person I just don’t do it as much anymore (nothing to do with the wheelchair).
“I am wearing shorts and a tank top from Pulse Boutique. See how it looks a lot better if I tuck or tie the tank top at my waist. The other way makes me look frumpy and bigger around the hips and stomach.”
In Final about Looking Stylish in a Wheelchair
Since I know that Shannon is in my Your Color Style group, I asked her about it.
“I joined the color style group with already a good idea of what color type I would be in their system which is cool bright deep which is like clear or bright winter in a season system. It’s just fun to share photos and see the ladies try to figure out their color type. I am not worried about wearing the wrong color sometimes or clearing my closet of everything that doesn’t fit in my palette. For instance, I like wearing pastels sometimes.”
Thank you Shannon for all of your time with these questions and for giving us such a great insight into looking stylish in a wheelchair.
I love how you are such an equal opportunity shopper at all kinds of stores, and how you wear what you like including white jeans and colorful pants and colors that aren’t always “your” colors.
All photos are Shannon’s
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