Fashion. Globally, it’s a trillion dollar industry with many subsets, each filled with colors, patterns, and other aspects. Style, now that’s a different story, that’s all about expression, individuality, freedom to be creative, to say whatever it is you want to without uttering a word. Style may be a simple word, but it is one with immense power. Nevertheless it’s not always easy to get clothes that fit your style, even if you’ve defined it because fashion doesn’t always cater to style when your body is different. So what do you do when you have less choice with style? Embrace the style challenge.. Right?
Last year, I read Garance Dore’s book: Love, Style Life. Early in the book she writes “ Any body is beautiful, under the right conditions, but let’s be honest: It’s just easier to wear with what you see on the runway if you’re skinny and relatively flat chested with narrow hips. It’s boring, annoying, wrong and sucks. You know why it sucks? Because it’s not your body’s fault; it’s the designer’s fault. Most clothes are cut to look good on models, and for any other body type, it will be a struggle to make them look good. When I’m in a bad mood, I curse about it. When I’m in a good mood I see it as an opportunity to narrow my choices and edit. Less (choice) is more (style).
I loved that last part and I thought it was a great idea, don’t focus on the aspects of outfits that I liked but couldn’t wear for some reason. I embraced the challenge and got some cute outfits and it was fun to figure out how to incorporate styles when I could at first, but then I thought about it….
I realized, good mood or bad, I didn’t want to feel like Garance and be frustrated about the lack of options for something that I wanted to incorporate into my style. I didn’t want to have to embrace the creative challenge because it was so much more than that. Yes, less choices may mean putting together outfits that truly represent us and our style what we want to say with those outfits, but shouldn’t it truly be a choice that we are making? We should have the choice of weeding something out of the plethora of options in front of us, not start with a smaller selection of stuff simply because we don’t fit the standard mold.
The seated body type or whatever way your disability affects your body matters just as much as any other. Disability is a variety of things and despite the fact that most focus is on the medical aspect of it, those needs don’t negate the needs and desires of the person living with the disability. Disability is multifaceted and so is the person living with it and stylish, in whatever way that person with a disability chooses to define it, should be a part of that list.
As Sinead Burke, a writer and disability activist, said during a talk at BOF voices last year, “….At the time I wanted the fashion industry to create adaptive product. I thought if every brand had a capsule collection of adaptive product that disabled people could go into the store and buy, success. But what happens when your vision becomes ordering by design? Because by creating an adaptive capsule collection you are saying, you get this much, not all of it, just what we’ve decided is for you and it may not even be available at retail locations, you may have to find it in our website which is probably inaccessible.
Accessibility for fashion is more than the products available in retail stores, though it is a huge and important step, there is more that needs to be done. Is it as simple as wanting it to happen? Of course not because there are so many disabled body types just as there are with people who are able-bodied for starters, but realizing that it needs to happen is a big part of the issue too. There are several key parts to living a full life with a disability, medical needs are important, but they are not the only important thing. There’s fashion, beauty, work, accessibility to retail locations, just to name a few…Style consists of choices. So shouldn’t we all have them?
Lauren Hutton once said, “Fashion is what we are offered four times a year by designers, style is what we choose. People with disabilities should have the choice to pick something and style it so it works for them, that’s half the fun. Unfortunately there are times when I can’t wear something simply because of how my disability affects my body and that is when the style choices I have are limited. When I can see something I want to wear, something that is perfect for my outfit, but can’t. Less choice equals more style and a creative challenge sometimes, but what happens when less choice frustrates, alienates? Should people with disabilities just accept that fashion is one of those things?
Yes, we want adaptive or accessible fashion for work, cute outfits for everyday life, amazing looks for date night and so on. These luxury brands creating collections is great for the industry and the disabled population, but collections have a timeframe on them just like seasonal outfits, not every disabled person is going to be able to afford luxury clothes pricing to get a few adaptive fashion outfits, and like Sinead said: not every website will be accessible. All of these aspects are limiting access that people with disabilities have to fashion that works for them to create their own style.
So what can be done?
The world is already on the right track, there are more adaptive fashion brands, more representation, and more conversations, but we need to keep up the momentum or maybe even speed it up. Society needs to be willing to listen, and learn from those people they are trying to reach, to see them more than as this one thing, be it a disabled person or a consumer. Less fashion may be cool for a style challenge on social media or just something fun to see if you can do it, but to constantly have to face that is disheartening especially when we as people with disabilities have to face similar kind of challenges and uncertainty every time we try something new and worry about accessibility, doing the same with personal style would be exhausting. The fashion industry’s changes will plateau if it can’t figure out how to incorporate what they know works with changes to be made to accommodate this market that people are just starting to see.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!