Fashion’s newest frontier? According to the New York Times, it’s people with disabilities

Erin Hawley talks fashion.

Erin Hawley talks fashion.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I’d draw the kind of dresses and chic ensembles that I wanted to wear — outfits that I would probably never see in stores for people like me. Finding accessible styles that worked with my body shape and wheelchair use was always a problem.

As an adult, I still have trouble finding age-appropriate clothing that fit my small frame and appeal to my personal style. I’m 32 years old, and I don’t want to wear Elsa and Anna t-shirts (even though I love Frozen).

While I never realized my dream of fashion design (my professional interests lead me elsewhere), I still hold on to that desire of making clothes that work for me. And not just for me, but for thousands of other people with disabilities who have trouble accessing fashion. A recent New York Times article examines some positive trends in the design world. The article explains how designers are only recently taking notice of the need for accessible, stylish fashion for people with disabilities. An excerpt:

Solving for the disabled and the displaced has in many ways been the final frontier.
Though advances in medical technology and legislation have created situations in which people with long-term conditions are increasingly able to be part of the work force and quotidian life, the implications — they need clothes that allow them to do so while also accommodating their physical reality — have taken a while to sink in.

Modified clothing has been out there for some time, but the styles are usually expensive, hideous, in limited production, or a combination of all three. It’s hard to find items with magnetic snaps, comfortable seams, elastic waists, or sensory-friendly wear.

Folks with disabilities and their loved ones are sometimes forced to come up with fashion hacks to make styles work for them. But those work-arounds expose ways big-name designers can make their designs for a broader audience. I believe it is important for us to showcase those adaptations, and for designers to reach out into the disability community for ideas.

What we need are commercial styles that appeal to a wide-range of personal clothing preferences; this desire was highlighted during Easterseals Thrive’s disability and fashion chat on July 20.

Our discussion that day on what it means to be a fashionista in a society that doesn’t always consider the accessibility of style was eye-opening and clear in its overall theme — people with disabilities want to look and feel good in what we wear and how we express ourselves. We should have the ability to share our personalities with the public in what we put on our bodies, but right now, we are limited in our choices.

What I took away from that New York Times article is the way industry is slowly including accessibility seamlessly into their work. Designers should consider disability not as an afterthought, but as an integral part of their design process; I made the same case in my Pokemon GO blog post last month about accessible technology.

While certain stores or designers understand this need, there is still a long way to go before we see accessible styles in every mannequin display. I hope one day fashion will truly be for everyone.


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