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Friday 28 April 2017

Casual Wheelchair Fashion: A How To

A while ago I kind of bumped into a convo @Ixzianna & @mindmagicnatter were having on twitter. They were talking about how hard it is to look as fabulous as you want to in a wheelchair.
I have always thought that sitting down is the main problem, sitting is crazy unflattering because clothes are designed to be stood in. Most of the time wheelchair users don't sit ramrod straight in their chairs (for all kinds of reasons, I sit like that because it's less exhausting) which exacerbates all the problems of sitting. You can be the most stunning person in the world but still look disproportionate when sat awkwardly. So what clothes can you wear to combat the problem?

When I went into this post I thought I was going to write a 'do this, don't do that' like the hundreds of articles we've all seen on 'how to dress for your shape'. My understanding of clothes & how to dress my body comes from a thousand Gok Wan re-runs talking about bodies as apples and pears and hourglasses like something out of Alice in Wonderland. This stuff worked for me as a teenager (in the days before my chair), it built me back up from a shy, uncomfortable teenager who'd been told too often that she was fat & that her clothes were ugly into someone who was able to wear clothes as armour.
The problem is this stuff doesn't work for wheelchair users. It's not just a matter of "apples, pears, hourglasses and, oh yes, those on wheels". There's guidelines I guess, "don't wear a huge flowy satin ball gown" being one of them (satin is shiny & makes it hard not to slip off the chair & all that fabric is bound to get caught in your wheels) but I'm pretty sure there is no-one who wears huge flowy satin ball gowns for casual anyway...

I think my main problem is that these are my 'casual clothes', this is what I wear when I'm not all dressed up (& I usually only get properly dressed two or three times a month). I used to wear casual clothes, one of the things I aimed to achieve in the early days of my M.E. was getting dressed every day, but it has been a lot of years & even more flares since then. I don't even change my pjs every day anymore. I've gone back through my old posts & tagged all my casual outfits so you can find them easily but as you can see, it's been a while.

The best advice I can give you can be simplified into 4 tips:

Buy from places you can return things to easily
I get most of my clothes online (for so many reasons) & I have totally learnt this the hard way, mostly ordering clothes from America that would have cost more to send back than I would have got in the refund. I call it a learning moment (although it doesn't seem to teach me not to do it again) but it can be quite well as making your bank balance angry with you lol. Even trying things on in the shop isn't an exact science so I always like to be able to return things.

Get your clothes altered (if necessary) 
Everyone has their own personal bugbears with how clothes made for 'regular' people don't fit right (mine is skirt lengths) & most of these can be fixed. Where I live there are loads of shops that just do alterations on clothes & I think there are even places online. If you explain what you want doing they are usually more than happy to help.

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise!
However carefully you pick clothes they aren't necessarily going to look quite right in a wheelchair. There's not much you can do about it....except accessorising. You can't imagine how many outfits I have saved by adding a belt or a super cute necklace.

Most importantly...
Follow as many wheelchair users who post ootd/full body selfies as possible
Wheelchair user are massively under-represented so it can be hard to see yourself. I get a lot of my outfit inspiration from outfits I see other people wearing & it's much easier to come up with outfits that work in a wheelchair if you see outfits that work in a wheelchair. Does that make sense?

The best thing I can do now is introduce you to some wheelchair users with AMAZING fashion sense.

Let me introduce you to Cat. I think I first came across Cat back in my Tumblr days, before I even had a proper blog. It wasn't until I started following her on Instagram however that I realised how much I adore her style. Like I knew but I didn't KNOW.
I think part of the reason I love her style so much is that it reminds me of my black clothes years. I don't wear black much anymore (I don't like it much & I feel like it kind of merges me back into my chair) but I used to be a total emo/goth/scene-girl teenager. I was never as cool as I thought though & definitely not as cool as Cat Sierra.
So, in my opinion the things that make Cat Sierra's style work so well in a wheelchair is that she keeps all the 'bulk' up top (also her awesome taste in jackets). Please keep in mind that I am not a fashion expert so when I give an analysis I have no idea what I'm talking about but I think one of the important things in a wheelchair is that if you are going to have volume in your outfit, have it on the top OR the bottom, not both.
I also think that Cat makes the all black theme work, it looks super chic  it gives a look know that 'fashion rule' where you are supposed to wear the same colour of shoes as your tights? I feel like all black fashion is like the ultimate expansion of that, although the pops of colour are the coolest part of it for me, there is nothing quite as cool as a monochrome look with something bright & cool & chic like the jackets in these pictures.
These are the links to Cat's twitter, instagram, her etsy shop (where she sells really cool enamel pins) & to her GoFundMe where she is raising money for a foldable powerchair. Go follow her :)

My next introduction is Robyn Lambird. I also first came across Robyn in my Tumblr days but she's even cooler now than she was back then. Wheelchair athlete, style icon & disability activist there seriously seems to be no end to the awesomeness of Robyn Lambird. I'm focusing on her style though & seriously it is so cool. I'm pretty certain I have never been this cool and it's hard to narrow down exactly why her style is so cool. Part of it is the effortlessness, part of it is the cool androgonous...ness? of it & part of it is that it always looks like really cool active-wear street style.
Mostly though it's the fact that her style is everything I am scared to wear in a wheelchair.
I guess everyone has their fashion fears & mine is this cool, effortless, relaxed look. I place so many rules on my style because I'm terrified that I'm going to look like a sack of shit with a string tied around the middle (mostly because I do, seriously the reason I wear high waisted skirts is that underneath them it looks like I shoved a very large, very sad, bean bag under my top). It's totally a wheelchair based fashion fear, I was much more casual before I became a wheelchair user & I actually didn't wear that many skirts (pretty much just this really cool tiered tulle mini skirt from H&M that I adored, it was purple & it drove the head of my 6th form crazy) but the wheelchair changes things & it lead to me accessing a very different part of my style :) Seeing wheelchair users dressed like this makes me so happy.
So what makes her style work so well? Well Robyn's signature look is actually a wheelchair user standby - baggy tops & tighter bottoms with comfortable shoes. The thing that makes her look so special is that she injects so much personality into it; there is nothing shy about the way she dresses & that's good! It's interesting, Robyn rarely wears colours that are especially in your face or even very bold patterns but the way she puts things together impels you to be aware of her. Part of it is the clothes but I would say that part of it is 'The Beyonce Factor', just simply being awesome & knowing it. Not exactly helpful I know.
Another part of what makes Robyn's style work so well is that she breaks all kinds of 'rules'. I mean if anyone was going to write a set of Rules for wheelchair fashion I'm pretty sure one of the big ones would say no short skirts, especially not without tight/leggings. But as Robyn proves in the first picture, it's not so much what you are wearing as how you wear it.
You can find Robyn on her Youtube, InstagramTwitter & Tumblr. I totally recommend following her on as many of these as possible :)

This is mermaiddisguised. A while ago I was looking for other wheelchair users who did fashion &/or beauty blogging (I was feeling kind of like the odd one out) & I ended up coming across Beth. Just knowing Beth was out there made me feel more confident as a blogger, I wasn't alone anymore & I would credit it with a lot of the braver things I have done as a blogger.
Representation in action :)
Beth doesn't post quite as many outfit posts as some of the others but I love her style, it is the perfect combo of comfortable & cute. It's kind of my approach to casual fashion- simple-ish, classy clothes, loose tops, tight bottoms & comfortable shoes - but much MUCH cuter :) It's weird, because this is so close to what I would choose to wear it is hard for me to break it down....
The reason I wear my clothes baggy on top & tighter on the bottom is that I carry my weight in my stomach & butt so that when I gained all my I'm-comfort-eating-retaining-water-and-not-moving-that-much weight it was easy to hide with baggy tops (or high waisted skirts). It's a pretty good look even if you don't have any extra weight to mask because it tends to sit pretty well in a wheelchair.
Why Beth in particular? I don't know really...there is an element of that kind of ineffable Parisian Chic-ness to it - simple pieces worn in interesting & appealing ways. About the most helpful thing I could possibly have said huh? I guess that's just my jam today :)
Her hair is also always really cute which totally helps (a good hair cut can make a big difference).
You also totally have to check out her blog it's a lot of fun & a good read. You can also find her on instagram, twitter & facebook.

Finally Sitting_Pretty. I love Rebekah, she is the person I want to be when I grow up (possibly merged with Bianca Del Rio and Marlene Dietrich...which would also be the coolest, most badass kind of Manticore ever). One of the things I lost through my M.E. was my voice, not my physical voice but my writing voice. I was never going to write the next best seller or the next prize winning piece of investigative journalism but I wrote really good essays & it is this skill that I miss the most, more than walking. reading & getting dressed by myself. I lost the voice my brain spoke in & it feels weird every day. Partly that is why I love Rebekah's feed so much, for every single selfie she posts there is a wonderfully crafted pocket memoir, essay...I don't know what to call it, a wonderful piece of writing that blurs the lines between poetry & simple exposition.
Don't get me wrong though, Rebekah's style is also super cool. It's got that great ModCloth geek t-shirt vibe (if that makes any sense to anyone but me). This is yet another style that I ADORE but would never wear - mostly because these cool geeky t-shirts usually come in high neck styles that make me look 90% boob &/or they don't come in big enough sizes to get past my the sad beanbag that is my stomach would be way too visible. However there is something really cool about wearing something as simple as a t-shirt & making it look put together & pretty. Plus there is nothing better than a really cool geek-y t-shirt.
Whilst it is really simple (& I'm sure Rebekah didn't spend an hour putting her looks together) there are a few little tricks being employed her that make it work especially well.
First, the t-shirts are over-sized. This is subtle, 'womens' fit t-shirts are usually designed to be worn skin tight but these are maybe a size bigger than that, possibly two? Perfect sizing because it sits better in the chair & honestly it's also a lot comfier than form fitting clothes.
Second, she tends to pair them with tighter bottoms. Yes I have gone on about this one a bit, it's not a required wheelchair user fashion thing but it really does look good & makes putting together outfits easier.
Finally, she carries it all with confidence. Rebekah always seems to be ready to take on the world & honestly she could wear one of those big yellow IKEA bags & she would still look amazing because she presents as being so confident.
Find Rebekah on her instagram, on her website & on many guest posts around the web.

To sum up: 
Wheelchair fashion, much like all fashion, is subjective. It depends on your tastes, your body shape & your personality (as well as how forgiving your bank balance is). As with many things in life there are no hard and fast rules, what you like & you feel good in is going to work better than anything I recommend.
However what I have gleaned from looking at many MANY wheelchair users' ootds is as follows:

  • Cute hair styles help, as does liberal application of hair dye
  • Larger tops & tighter bottoms (in a clothing sense, my mum has a dirty mind & made this sentence seem gross)
  • Dress for you, people who say crap things are saying more about them than they are about you
It can be hard being confident in who you are & what you are wearing, especially when so many people feel they need to talk shit. My Grandma (mum's mum) is a total bitch about this, she's been telling me I'm too fat for as long as I can remember & it got even worse after I got sick & started using the wheelchair, she has said some truly unforgivable things. Her words really used to chip away at my confidence & self esteem making me feel disgusting.
I would say it wasn't until I started doing outfit posts that I managed to develop some confidence in myself & my body & I would totally recommend it to anyone, wheelchair user or not, who is not feeling body/style confident. The internet is not a 100% positive place but it does contain a lot of wonderful, supportive people & there is very little better than the friends you can make online & the support they can offer.

Other people to follow:

Erin Clark: Instagram Website Twitter
Ruby Allegra: Instagram Twitter (I wish I had known about Ruby when I started this post because I 100% would have included her, she's amazing!)
Elianne Speksnijder: Instagram Youtube Twitter Facebook
Claire Freeman: Instagram 
Rachel Marie: Instagram Blog 
Michelle Roger: Instagram Blog Twitter Youtube
Jacqueline van Kuilenburg: Instagram Blog Twitter Facebook
Jillian Mercado: Instagram Tumblr Twitter Youtube

The wheelchairfashion hastag on instagram (which has grown so much since I first used it, it used to be like two or 3 people & a lot of disability aids, now there are so many people using it it is amazing).

P.S. the top in the first image is from Scarlett & Jo.


  1. I absolutely love this post. Thank you so much for including me and being so lovely. I definitely want to do more outfit posts this year. Just need to work on feeling more comfortable in front of the camera. Loose tops and tight bottoms is definitely where its at. I carry all my weight in my stomach too so that's definitely how I feel more confident. I do love how incredible you look in your outfit posts. I should probably make an effort and dress up more often haha
    Beth x

    1. I feel so uncomfortable in photos, it's why I dress up. If I know my clothes are so amazing I can't possibly look bad I freak out much less often :) Looking at my photos you wouldn't believe how many times I end up crying in the middle of taking photos :) xx

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I will show it to my husband, so he'll understand I have to dye my hair. ;-)
    And I'm going to follow all the people you mentioned, I could use some inspiration!

    1. Lol :) I'm so glad you commented, I can't believe I forgot to include you! I'm going to have to correct that instantly! x

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I will show it to my husband, so he'll understand I have to dye my hair. ;-)
    And I'm going to follow all the people you mentioned, I could use some inspiration!

  4. Thank you for including me in your to follow list. There are so many fabulous people on the wheelchairfashion hashtag these days it is so exciting. :)

    1. Isn't wonderful! It's such a wonderful resource for fashion inspiration :) x

  5. Hi dear! Thank you for including me in your post! You've got great blog, I will be back :)

  6. Your writing is so witty and clever - I really enjoyed reading this! As someone who's adjusting to a new life on wheels, I really appreciate your perspective and analysis. I think it does make a difference to put in the effort - even if it takes an hour to get ready when it only took 20 minutes before : )

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