Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal: Fashion and Disability

By: Stacy Ellingen
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For most women, fashion is important at least to some extent.  Whether it’s their wardrobe, hairstyle, jewelry, shoes, or another facet of beauty, ladies enjoy getting glammed up every once in a while.   Women with disabilities are no different.  We have the desire to look pretty too.  For those of us who have physical disabilities, looking fashionable (or the way we want) comes with many obstacles that most people never even think about.

Fortunately, I consider myself a pretty laid back girl in terms of fashion.  Unless I’m going out with family or friends, you’ll normally find me in jeans and a sweatshirt or sweats.  Those are the easiest kinds of outfits to wear.  When buying clothes, I have to be conscious of things that don’t even cross most people’s minds.   Things such as color, style, length, size, and cut all need more consideration when I buy clothes.

Since I’m in a wheelchair, I have to be very conscientious of how shirts and dresses are cut.  Because of how I sit, certain cuts are way too revealing.  Low cut shirts and strapless dresses don’t work for me. Certain styles of tops are really difficult to get into because my arms often don’t bend very easily.   When buying pants, I have to make sure they are not too long because otherwise I slip on them while transferring.  I also have to make sure that there aren’t too many bulky buttons or rhinestones by the waist of the pants because my seatbelt on my wheelchair presses on them and irritates my skin.  Length of dresses is something else I need to be aware of.  Since I sit most of the time, many dresses are often too short; on the other hand, I can’t wear floor length dresses either because they would get caught in the tires of my chair.  It’s a balancing act. 

Color of clothes—especially tops—is another thing that I need to be conscientious of.  Due to cerebral palsy, I drool.  Certain colors of shirts and dresses show drool more.   Of course, I can’t totally avoid wearing those colors, but I do make an effort not to wear them for special occasions.  In fact, a good example of this is when my sister first started looking at colors for bridesmaid dresses for her wedding, she asked for my opinion between two colors.  Of course I said it was up to her (and I’d make anything work), but I reminded her that one of the colors would show my drool less.  I don’t think it was just because of that, but she did end up choosing that color.

Shoes present another whole set of issues.  Most of the time, I wear tennis shoes because they’re the most comfortable and the easiest type of shoe to stand in.  It’s challenging to find even tennis shoes that work for me.  I need shoes that have good grip the bottom of them because otherwise I slide all over during transfers and can’t push myself in to my chair.  It’s getting harder and harder to find ones that have good grip.  I don’t wear orthotics anymore, but I did when I was younger.  When I wore those, I needed to wear high-tops tennis shoes with them. Finding high-top shoes for little girls was nearly impossible.  We often ended up buying boys shoes for me.  It’s very rare for me to wear anything other than tennis shoes.  Finding dress shoes for me isn’t easy either. I have to have something that either ties or has an adjustable strap otherwise it won’t stay on.   Unlike for most ladies, shoe shopping isn’t the most enjoyable thing for me. I’d love to be able to wear all of the cute shoes that are out there, but that’s just not a feasible option.

My wardrobe isn’t the only fashion item my disability effects. When choosing hairstyles, I have to think about what would be easy for my care workers to do and what would stay out of my face.  My family knows I’m an extremist when it comes to hairstyles.  I like it either very long or very short.  Due to my muscle movements, many hairdos tend to fall out.   When I’m growing it out, we try clipping it back several ways until it’s long enough to be in a ponytail.  Unfortunately, like most girls, I find growing it out to be a pain.  Between my body movements and hitting my head on the headrest of my chair, I feel like my hair is never really perfect, but I think every girl feels that way!

Things like makeup and jewelry present similar challenges.   I don’t wear makeup very often, but when I do, I have to have someone else apply it.  Again, with my uncontrollable muscle movements, this can be hard.  Eye shadow, blush, and a little mascara (on the top eyelashes only) are about all I ever wear.  I also only occasionally wear jewelry.   Necklaces and earrings are okay most of the time, but bracelets and rings can be hard to wear because my hands are always moving and bracelets and rings often get caught on my chair and keyboard.

Like I said, I don’t dress up very often.  Part of is due to my personality, but I think part of it has to do with my disability.  Would I dress up more often if I didn’t have limitations?  It’s very likely I would, but it’s also likely I’d have a completely different lifestyle if that were the case.  Fashion has never been a top priority in my life.  I always try to look presentable when I’m out in public; however, I have never been to obsess over fashion!

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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