What should the moderately vain working wheelchair woman wear? A web search uncovered a lot of sites providing “adaptive clothing”, for which the major selling point appears to be ease of cleaning and dressing for a caregiver – not exactly what I’m looking for in the career world!
Rolli-Moden comes a little closer, providing nice business wear, mostly for men. And then there’s Beautyability. Tiffany Carlson’s site is definitely worth a look, even if you’re not particularly interested in enhancing your “ta-tas”.
Over the years, I’ve managed to establish a few rules of thumb for buying clothes that will work in the office and in the wheelchair.
Colors: As a wheelchair user, I inevitably get road dirt on my clothes – if not directly from the wheels, then from my hands. Grey is a really good color that doesn’t show the dirt, and it goes well with black!
Hands: The well-dressed manual wheelchair user has to have gloves. The palms of your hands function as brakes and need to be protected. There are gloves out there specifically for wheeling (try Harness Designs and Hatch Wheelchair Gloves), but I find bicycle gloves adequate, cheap and readily available. Look for a glove that has good reinforcement and padding across the palm and around the space between the thumb and index finger. Year round I use half finger gloves, when it’s really hot in the summer I get the mesh-back kind, and in the winter WindPro gloves really keep my hands warm and dry.
Tops: Like so many women, I had a closet full of long jackets and tunics (slimming vertical lines, don’t you know) but sitting, the fabric bunched up around my hips and waist, and it was hard to keep looking neat. Now I look for 3/4 length sleeves that don’t get dirty and foul on the wheels, and for waist (or at most high-hip) length, closely fitted jackets that don’t crumple up when sitting. Knits are great, they drape so much better than wovens. I always tended to dress in black – my wardrobe is veering into dark and light grays – the road dirt that I inevitably get on my clothes isn’t as noticeable. White is absolutely out! When I went to see The Matrix: Reloaded last weekend, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair on the other side of the theater. She was wearing a beautiful white flowing blouse with trumpet sleeves that fell well onto her hands. There’s a woman who does not push herself, I thought, and at the end of the movie I saw that I was right.
Bottoms: Jeans are very difficult. They have all sorts of stiff bumpy places that dig into your skin, and they’re hard to get on and off. Knit pants work much better for me (Ann Taylor has nice ones). I get them extra long so that they look right when sitting. Knit skirts are the best, if it’s not too cold. I like a skirt that hits just below the knee when standing, just at the knee when seated – longer ones tend to look dowdy, and shorter ones are, well, for younger women.
Stockings: Pantyhose and tights are hard to get on and off. Thigh-highs can be hard to find, but work well, and thigh-highs with an elastic waist knit skirt make bathroom trips much easier.
Shoes: Shoes that cover the toes are a must, especially with reduced sensation in the feet, because your toes are pretty much the leading body part. I had to give up my beloved Birkenstocks when I first developed foot-drop. Using a wheelchair should be the perfect excuse to wear killer high heels without the pain and agony, but I’ve found that when I wear heels either my knees are too high to fit under desks and tables, or the heels drag the ground. Flat slip ons like loafers work well.