Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor
Years ago, finding adaptive clothing that was both functional and looked good could be difficult. There were specialty catalogs that carried some items, but mainly they were geared toward senior citizens, not so much toward children and young adults. Often, people that needed adaptive clothing creatively modified regular clothing themselves or enlisted the help of someone with skills in using a sewing machine or in clothing design.
Fast forward to present day, it is exciting there are now several options when it comes to finding fashionable clothing for people of all ages and abilities.
What is adaptive clothing?
It is clothing specially designed for people with a disability that includes modifications to make it easier to take on and off for the individual or a caregiver. The type of modifications needed are unique to each person and their levels of independence, mobility, sensitivities, and dexterity.
Several popular clothing brands and mainstream stores have adaptive clothing lines. There are professional clothing designers willing to make adaptive clothing and smaller home-based businesses where a family member or individual is able and willing to showcase and share their creations. The internet has made it easy to find smaller companies that specialize in creating adaptive clothing.
As someone who uses a wheelchair, I am in the seated position a lot. Wearing pants that have a comfortable waist, not a lot of tags, and seams that are flat, rather than bulky, are important to me. Also, having fabric that stretches, isn’t tight on the hips and knees, as well as pant length, are all key factors. My arms are tight in the elbow and don’t straighten out all the way, and for this reason, many shirts can be difficult to get my arm through the opening if the fabric is too stiff. Sure, buying a larger size would fix this issue; however, the length and width of the shirt would be far too big and baggy. It is understandable why so many people that have difficulty with typical clothing rely on wearing sweatpants and basic t-shirts. These items are comfortable and are easy to take on and off. Sweatpants are a great choice, but what if you want more variety and options, fabrics, or styles, such as a pair of nicer pants or collared button up shirt? Luckily, you don’t have to look that far to find multiple selections of Adaptive wear in clothing stores and online.
Helpful clothing adaptations include examples such as the following list:
- Magnetic closures on shirts and pants, replacing buttons
- Velcro or zippers on the sides of pants or shirt arms
- Larger neck openings on shirts
- Magnetic zippers that can be connected with one hand
- Zipper pulls that are longer and easier to grasp
- Clothing that is shorter in the back for those who use wheelchairs
- Shoes that slip on, have Velcro, or zippers
- Elastic for adjustable cuffs and waists
- Snaps for adjusting size width and length
The following companies design and promote adaptive clothing with a focus on the unique needs of individuals:
Zappos Adaptive– Offers single and different size shoe options. You can buy a single shoe or buy a pair that are two different sizes. A quick search of the Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) friendly option came back with over 50 choices! When I was younger, it was always difficult and limiting when shopping for shoes to fit AFOs. It is amazing to see shoes with zippers that go around the entire front of the shoe. They also carry an entire section of colorful covers, belts, and pads related to G-tubes, insulin pumps, tracheostomy tubes, and more.
Tommy Adaptive– Promotes magnetic buttons on shirts and pants, that look like traditional buttons, but they easily connect and close. Easy open necklines, longer zipper pulls, one handed zippers, drawcord stoppers, pull up loops on shorts and pants, seated wear with Velcro closures in the back or side seams, and sensory friendly clothing. Jeans with Velcro and magnetic closure, which replace the button and zipper… that is awesome! It’s impressive that a popular brand like Tommy Hilfiger has a section included right on their main website for adaptive clothing.
JCPenney– Online catalog includes adaptive clothing and accessories with many features such as hook and loop fasteners, tag free, flat seams, easy shoulder openings, wide neck openings, pull on loops, adjustable waistbands, hidden abdominal access openings, magnetic buttons and zippers, adjustable leg openings, etc. They have their items separated into collections, including easy on and off, sensory friendly, seated wear, adjustable features, bodysuit closures, etc. They have so many clothes to choose from in a range of prices and even have a big and tall section.
IZ Adaptive– A fashion forward company creating clothing that is stylish and comfortable. Izzy Camilleri is a fashion designer that has created custom adaptive clothing since 2009. Her mission is to make great looking and well-fitting clothes accessible to everyone. The focus this company has on inclusion and the detail put into their “Game Changer Seamless Back Pants” is captivating. These are not just a pair of pants – to this company, they are a part of independence and self-expression.
Etsy– A quick search for adaptive clothing and you’ll find several handcrafted custom-made pieces such as pants and shirts with side openings, Velcro, magnets, etc. This is a great place to find small businesses who will even customize and make clothing to fit more specific needs.
BILLY Footwear– This footwear was developed by a person who is paralyzed with a goal of seeking to find ways to get dressed more easily. This brand uses a FlipTop Technology zipper shoe where the entire front of the shoe opens to place your foot inside.
Nike FlyEase– These athletic shoes include easy open or close, step-in heel, and adjustable straps. I personally wear the version with the wraparound zipper with a hook and loop strap on most days. The ease of sliding my foot into the shoe and zipping it up saves time and eliminates having to bend my foot in an odd position.
Aside from practicing dressing skills in real time, there are ways people can brush up on their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination through dressing skills tools and supports. Products designed for practice can be helpful for both children and adults. Some examples of tools used for practicing these fine motor skills, that can be found on the School Health website include; Manual Dexterity Learning Vests, Manual Dexterity Learning Boards, Dressing Board Set, Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board, Dr. Pooch Dressing Pet Pal, and Learn and Play Teddy. There are also many “do it yourself” tutorials on YouTube for creating even more practice opportunities.
These are just a few of the many companies out there now highlighting adaptive clothing as part of their offerings. There are many, many more clothing designers and companies focusing on this type of apparel, and it is much easier to find and purchase adaptive clothing than ever before. In addition to all of the creative openings, closures, magnets, and pockets that makes the clothing unique, there is a notable increase in companies including people with disabilities in their advertisements as well. Not just in the section for adaptive clothing, but throughout different parts of their websites.
“Adaptive clothing expands inclusion with each stitch” ~ Gabriel Ryan