MS Life: Adaptive Clothing and Fashion Hacks
Last updated: September 2023
One of my favorite reality shows is Project Runway. I love watching these designers, under the crunch of limited time, materials, and budget, create beautiful garments literally from thin air.
A favorite episode challenged the designers to create outfits for Paralympians.1 I wondered then, and still wonder now: what are my MS friends wearing?
It’s not a silly question.
Types of adaptive clothing
Today, adaptive clothing companies serve the needs of people with physical disabilities, taking things like access, comfort, ease of movement, and style into consideration.
Three categories of adaptive clothing for people living with MS include:
- wheelchair friendly clothes
- cooling garments
- undergarments for incontinence
Wheelchair friendly clothes
Adaptive clothing describes fashion with both style and comfort in mind. These garments sport roomier shoulders and bottoms with higher backs for secure fit. Quality adaptive clothes:
- eliminate irritating care tags
- provide ample stretch and give
- use breathable fabrics
- skip the buttons
- make zippers more generous in allowance and easier to operate
- enlist Velcro and magnets for closures
You can now find coats or pullovers that can be taken off or put on with only one hand, or hands-free, for people with tremors, spasticity, and muscle weakness. Backless designs remove the bulk while preserving the warmth and ease of access.
Adaptive fashion is mostly found online by companies that offer generous return and exchange policies. They recognize that even adaptive garments may not fit perfectly. Still, these custom pieces cost more, so it’s up to you to decide if they’re worth the price.
Many with MS can’t handle extreme heat and humidity. One fashion strategy — choose lightweight, stretchy, loose-fighting clothes that wick away moisture.
Also, cooling garments can help us maintain normal core body temperature. Wearables designed to help keep you cool include:
- bra pads
- torso wraps
- wrist or ankle cuffs
Undergarments for incontinence
If you deal with urinary or fecal incontinence, you’ll probably want to wear bottoms that can:
- be quickly removed
- wick moisture
- resist odors
- conceal soils
The days of wearing adult diapers are fading: the market now offers incontinence panties and briefs that are smooth, thin, and washable. They feel more like underwear than bulky, noisy disposables.
If you use a catheter with a leg bag, you can now seek out clothing designed to accommodate this additional part of the MS “ensemble.”
Other clothing hacks if you live with MS
Here are some additional wardrobe tips:
I always pack extra underwear and other garments in anticipation of heavy sweating and leaks. Damp skin is an unpleasant, unhealthy outcome of clothes that have absorbed too much sweat or put skin in contact with urine or fecal matter. Changing from soiled, damp clothing feels so good, besides!
Customize “street” or “athleisure” wear
At mainstream department stores, you might find clothes you love that simply need more room. Going up a size isn’t uncommon, nor is adjusting button positions, adding zippers, using zipper extenders, or “upgrading” to Velcro as needed.
Remove pressure points
Clothing that rubs or puts pressure on the skin can cause pressure sores and skin discomfort. If the seams or rivets from back pockets dig into your skin, remove them: nobody will notice if you’re in a wheelchair. You should loosen tight elastics for the same reason. Skip heavily structured or stylized clothes for softer, stretchier, less-structured garments like:
- yoga pants
Cheat with maternity pants
Sitting changes your posture, and causes the belly to bulge. This creates discomfort where the skin meets the waistband. But maternity pants, including jeans and structured trousers, include a soft pouch above the pelvic area that lacks a zipper and button. Et voila! No discomfort!
Default to skirts and dresses
Skirts and loose dresses are the epitome of easy access and comfort. Great news for women, but men can wear kilts! Meanwhile, fashion has begun to cater to the gender-neutral crowd. Clothing designed as androgynous, unisex, or non-binary reimagines pullover tunics, long shifts, and simple elastic-waisted skirts to appeal to people of all genders.
Know your measurements
Keep a record of measurements across your shoulders, waist, hips, inseam, and more. Adaptive clothiers construct clothing that’s different than ordinary street clothes in both shape and cut. Make sure you match your measurements against adaptive size charts for the best fit.
Don’t forget shoes!
Slip-ons, zippered ankle boots, clogs, moccasins, loafers, booties, and slides represent footwear that stays on securely while being easily removed. Do your favorite tennis shoes need lacing? Replace shoestrings with corkscrew elastics or no-tie laces to keep them on your feet instead.
Avoid tripping hazards
Some folks use arm braces, rollators, and canes. Beware of clothing loose ends coming into contact with these (or wheelchairs). Also, consider the kinds of sleeves you'll want to wear while using arm braces.
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