For millions of Americans with a disability, finding clothes that fit or don’t chafe is an ongoing challenge.
Most designers don’t think about the difficulty someone with a disability may have buttoning their shirt or that wheelchair users would prefer pants with a higher back to stay comfortable. At least 7 percent of the American population reports they have difficulty moving, which may affect what clothes they can wear.
Millions more with varying physical or mental disabilities would also benefit from what is called adaptable fashion, clothing that can suit different body types. The lack of affordable and accessible clothing may force some disabled fashion seekers to pay for expensive alterations or settle for unflattering wear, when designers can modify clothes to better suit the needs of a large segment of shoppers.
Frances Ryan, a columnist for The Guardian, started a thread last week asking for brands or shops that were designing clothes to be more inclusive regarding the needs of the disabled community.
This week, BBC reporter Chloe Ball-Hopkins announced she consulted for the company ASOS to develop clothing that fits the wearer whether they’re sitting or standing.
As a fashion consultant and stylist to disabled actors and influencers in Hollywood, Stephanie Thomas has seen the conversation around fashion and accessibility grow from apathy to change.
She launched the site Cur8able as a digital lookbook and style inspiration source for other disabled fashionistas. “What started as a hobby showed itself to me as my life’s calling,” she says.
When talking about her styling process, Thomas says she focuses on her clients’ interests. “I work to dress them in a way where their assistive technology is the second thing that people notice,” she says. “Not the first.”
Thomas cites a number of design examples in her TED Talk about all the aspects of style able-bodied people may not think about – like buttons, zippers or clothing tags – that can cause problems or even medical issues for disabled folks. Thomas is asking for designers to create clothes that are adjustable for little women of various heights and wheelchair users, who can’t use zippers on the back of outfits because of their risk of creating body sores.
Last year, Brown tweeted photos of herself with the hashtag #DisabledAndCute, which set off a social media wave of sharing stories, photos and affirmations.
Brown shared a few of her favorite items in her closet. “Jeans are my jam,” she says. “I try to collect as many jeans as possible.”
She cites American Eagle jeans as her favorite brand of jeans, and the Tommy Hilfiger adaptive line of clothes, which she helped consult on the designs for.
“You can’t meet the marketing or styling needs of someone you don’t see,” Thomas says. “I don’t mean literally see, I mean see them as a fashion customer.”
Thomas also warns brands to not use disabled models if their clothing line doesn’t work for that group. “People with disabilities are not props,” she says.