I think I’ve written about this, or at least touched on it before, but when you are disabled, there is an assumption that you don’t care about your appearance. But appearance is about far more than looks, it is a way of communicating to the world about who you are.
I am still working on getting back to my own sense of style in terms of my body. I’ve cracked it with my flat and one of the nicest things someone has said was that my flat basically looks like my soul! This is despite the boxes of food for my peg, despite the equipment and the wheelchairs and the bed raiser and the trolley and the… Well, you get the picture.
But my body is harder. You can’t get around needing to wear splints, using a wheelchair, having a tube in you and needing comfort from your clothes. What I want to do with this post is share with you some people who are doing this (seemingly) well and my own little hacks that I’ve found to help me out.
First of all, a bit about the importance of style for your mental wellbeing:
This entire post was prompted by an article on Disability Horizons so do check that out as well.
I’ve always had a very individual sense of style. I was the teenager who didn’t care what other people were wearing. I loved bright colours and was the only person in my sixth form to have DMs, let alone DMs with epic-ly long coloured laces and over the knee stripey socks.
I lost my sense of style at various points in my life – when I started working for example and when my depression was incredibly severe. But the most acute and painful lose of sense of style, and sense of self, came when my disability started to interfere with how I appeared to the world.
For me this was a gradual process. I started wearing wrist splints, then finger splints, then knee splints and ankle splints. Then came the crutches. Then the wheelchairs. And alongside this I was having to wear ever more practical clothing. My beautiful satchel was replaced by a functional rucksack. I stopped being able to wash my hair very often. And I stopped being able to do anything with my hair. I’ve never worn much make up but that was no longer an option. And then I stopped being able to wear trousers, tights and leggings because I couldn’t pull them down to go to the toilet.
It was this, the loss of my iconicly me tights, that hit the hardest. I had a huge drawer filled with all different colours and different thicknesses. I was known for my tights. And I lost that. That hurts more than not being able to wear my beautiful black boots or my much loved DMs. Even as I sit here, I still feel these losses. It’s like losing a part of yourself. My DMs and my tights were so much a part of me and how I expressed myself to the world…
But. Slowly I am working my way back to myself. My wrist splints are hidden by arm covers which come in a fantastic array of designs and have the added advantage of stopping the velcro from sticking to everything. These are the ones I have on today:
To overcome the unwashed hair, I obviously turned to dry shampoo, lush being my preferred choice – it’s more expensive but lasts forever so it’s a good investment and it smells yummy and isn’t a spray which I find difficult to use and also not great for my allergies. I also turned to hair bands and headscarves. When my hair hasn’t been cut for a while my fringe annoys me and these have the advantage of a) covering the unwashed hair and b) keeping my hair out of my eyes. Soft fabric hairbands are really comfy and you can get whatever colour or pattern you want online but I also like the headscarves and hairwraps that cover all your hair and I’ve got mine from ebay.
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard has some great tips for hairstyles when you have limited mobility:
So, working down, we come to clothing and here comfort is really important to me. I’m either spending a lot of time sitting in my bed, in my riser recliner or in my wheelchair and my clothes must accommodate that. As I can’t do trousers or leggings I wear a lot of dresses. I love tshirt style dresses, jumper dresses and knitted skirts. But this doesn’t mean boycotting style. What I tend to do is stock up when they’re in fashion or when I find a dress I really like, I’ll buy it in a couple of colours.
And you can always accessorise. I feel like I’m very unqualified to be telling people about any of this but this is my experience.
Splints… There is no getting round the fact I wear them. As I said, I cover up my wrist splints but that still leaves fingers, knees and ankles. I’ve not found a way of making my knee splints any more stylish but my ankles tend to be hidden because I love wearing boots. I have to buy them a couple of sizes bigger to accommodate the splints and I can’t wear DMs any more because I can’t get my feet in them easily enough with the splints. What I’ve found works best for me is ranges with a wide option and boots with a full zip down the side. Unlike putting a foot in a boot, a splinted foot doesn’t have as much give so you need the shoes to do the hard work.
When it comes to my fingers, I was always covered in beautiful silver rings with stones and patterns and then the splints came along and they were replaced by pieces of NHS beige plastic. You know the colour… And then I found silver ring splints. Mine were from a company which no longer ships to the UK but again, etsy has a wide range and there are other people who sell them. When I’m out and about, even when I’m in hospital, people compliment me on my rings, thinking that they’re just decorative and that is such an empowering feeling. They are complimenting me not commenting on my disability.
I am very aware that this post is getting to be pretty long but bear with me…
Next to the matter of my tights, or lack of them… Instead of tights and leggings, these days I wear very long socks. All the joy of warmth without the difficulty of pulling them down when you go to the toilet. I get mine from Sock Dreams in the US because they have a fantastic range and, crucially, give you detailed information about length and width at the top. A lot of long socks assume your legs are the same width all the way up which is obviously not the case for most people! I also have to wear compression socks from time to time and was very excited to get an email from Sock Dreams this week about their new range. I’ve also had some great pairs from Compression Sock Shop including a pair of purple spotty ones! There is no need for compression socks to be boring, let your style shine through them!
I am not always the tidiest of eaters, especially as I can’t always use cutlery… This of course means sticky fingers and I am starting a small collection of lovely, reusable napkins. I think they are underrated – most of us grab a piece of kitchen roll if we need to – but resuable ones are obviously better for the environment and plus, I’m allergic to paper… Again, I turned to ebay as well as etsy and there are so many great designs out there these days.
Hmm… What else did I want to say… I don’t remember! And to be fair, I think this is probably long enough…
In addition to the links through out, check out:
- Beth at Mermaid in Disguise who always looks great, even on her bad days and even when she’s chilling out in pjs. She also has reviews over on her blog about makeup which can be an important part of your style.
- Blue Badge Style
- Jessica Kellgren-Fozard on YouTube
- I Feel Beautiful, Even With My Feeding Tube part of BBC3’s Living Differently