Our mindset matters. Some years ago, I wouldn’t have believed a statement like this, but it’s the truth. Our mindset impacts everything we do from, from picking out the clothes we wear for the day to achieving long-term goals. As people with disabilities we have take into account how something that is such a part of us, meshes with the rest of who we are as we make these decisions day in and day out. As a wheelchair user who loves fashion I can tell you that there are some days when my disability doesn’t even factor in when I’m planning an outfit, other days it seems as if going in one direction solves one problem, but illuminates anotheraffecting my disability mindset. When adaptive fashion carved out it’s section of the industry and proved it was here stay, I was hopeful that it meant changes all around, and while in someways that was the case in others, not so much.
I can’t help but think back to one shopping trip when I was a preteen. We were shopping for back to school clothes and she was helping me pick out stuff from the racks and she picked up these jeans that I loved at the time and a shirt to match, and even though I loved the shirt too, I told her not to buy it because people wouldn’t see the design on it because it was at the back.This was my first experience choosing one thing over another because I had to consider how it would look and fit in my wheelchair, somehow even then, I knew it wouldn’t be the last and that was disheartening.
The Psychological Aspect of Fashion
I learned then that I would always have to decide between what fit my style as a person and what worked for me as disabled woman. My wardrobe now is a mix of things that fall into one category or the other and the few items that can meet in the middle. This reason is one of the many as to why I launched the Sitting Beauty Diaries a few years ago. I was excited about the endeavor and when I discussed fashion with other women with disabilities, the responses surprised me, I found that a) they wanted more fashion options then adaptive fashion currently provided and other style tips, hacks, b) fashion wasn’t really something they were interested in, and dishearteningly in addition to surprisingly c) they didn’t care about fashion because it was too hard to find items that worked for them and and people weren’t looking like that at them anyway because they were disabled.
This is far from true obviously, still the way in which society treats us, reacts to us, perpetuates this idea, therefore affecting the disability mindset some people with disabilities have especially with adaptive fashion or beauty. Adaptive Fashion is more than a concept hanks to people speaking up and demanding change, however, as adaptive as the industry may be trying to be, the niche leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to style. As of writing this article, I don’t own one piece of adaptive clothing, not because some of it wouldn’t be helpful to me, but because it doesn’t fit my style at all. I would rather get clothes that fit my style, that I’d have to struggle with a little than buy something that doesn’t make me happy or feel like I want to feel wearing it, even if it is made easier for me to put on, especially if some of the adaptations would most likely have the opposite effect for me. I can’t remember how it felt the first to realize that the concept of adaptive fashion would be more than just a fad, only to realize that what was now made for people with disabilities still mainly focused on the adaptations, not how I’d want to feel while wearing these outfits. I was disappointed yes, but it was aligned with “rule” in terms of how society viewed disability. Sadly, I was reminded of the responses I had received when talking to others about, even though it was made for people with disabilities, there is still work to be so that is truly the case.
Nevertheless, looking at what the adaptive fashion market was presenting to us didn’t do great things for my disability mindset where fashion was concerned. Why is it that Adaptive fashion seems to completely forsake style, at least for some brands? Well as I said before, it goes back to how society treats us and the fact that there is some psychology in fashion. In one Forbes article on the topic, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, , founder of Fashion Is Psychology states that ‘On the macro-level, societal constraints, culture and work industries are the top external factors influencing what people decide to wear. These factors then impact consumer behaviors on the micro-level. For example, stores create a certain atmosphere within the brick and mortar that encourages shoppers to buy certain products…’ Forbes Bell goes on to say ‘When we encounter other people, we do make snap judgments of them, We all operate on this thing called heuristics, which is like a mental roadmap of things that you associate with. People will operate based on those heuristics. So if we have experience of someone who’s dressed down, we associate that with maybe something really cool or edgy, or something that’s like streetwear and very authentic. We have that association already in our head based on our previous experiences based on culture, society, etc’
Based on society’s view of disability, brands are creating adaptive fashion products that value function over style instead of finding a way to make them equally part of the design. Adaptive Fashion is necessary, yes, but in order to get people with disabilities happily wearing the clothes style needs to meet function. I don’t want to choose between giving up how a certain piece of clothing makes me feel whatever I want to feel when I bought it just because I’m a wheelchair user.
I hoped the goal of adaptive fashion would be to shift perspectives in addition to creating clothes thare are easier for those of us with disabilities to put on, but after reading Forbes-Bell statements, I have to wonder if that’s really possible through the industries especially if people with disabilities don’t have a seat at the table. As Forbes-Bell states people already have an idea in their heads based on society and other influences. If those infliuences are more of the same ideas that have led society to treat people with disabilities the way they have, where the disability is first and the person and their personality is second, then it’s easy to understand how adaptive fashion is more about function than style. Unfortunately, it also continues the cycle and has people with disabilities wondering if fashion truly has a place for us.
Shifting Society’s Perspective, Disability Mindsets, & Having Fun With Fashion
Adaptive fashion holds an important place in society, not only because the concept is important, but because the brands doing so have the power to help society see people with disabilities differently than how they’ve viewed them in the past, changing the disability mindset of those with disabilities and those without. Fashion… style is supposed to be about self-expression and fun, but how can people with disabilities truly do so if the adaptive fashion pieces are focused maily on function? Creating adaptive fashion pieces that enable both style and function opens the door for conversations and shifts in perspective for the better.
I learned over the past few years that continously shift perspective and doing the work to maintaining a positive mindset about whatever topic is difficult, but it wasn’t until recently I realized that there were different aspects to a disability mindset. You can be positive about one thing and struggle to maintain a positive disability mindset about something else. It’s easier to maintain that mindset about daily living with a disability now as an adult, that said, that’s not always the case when it comes to certain industries such as fashion and beauty because there are still misconceptions, In order to have society shift their perspectives, people with disabilities have to represented and seen in fashion in a way that shows people with disabilities care about style in addition to function. Hopefully when that happens members of the disability community and society will see that the inclusive aspects aren’t just about designing for their disabled bodies, but for them as people with various personalities too.
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