First and foremost, you don't have to dress like a "cripple." So why would you? I suppose there are some people who wear their disability like a badge of honor. I'm reminded of the line from an Elton John song, " ... wears his war wound like a crown." Unless you’re trying to look pitiful, there's no reason you can't dress like a "normal" person. We have to make minor adjustments to our clothes, but for the most part we can dress like anybody else. Let's start from the bottom and work up.
We don't have to be stuck wearing the goofy, white T.E.D.® Hose. Jobst® makes compression socks for men (and, I suppose, women) in various colors. You can have them custom-made for perfect fit, or get them online in standard sizes (you just need to be measured). Ladies, Medi® makes sheer support hose too. I am a customer of the very reasonable Support Sock Shop, which sells both men's and women’s products. To be fair, T.E.D. also makes knee length compression socks in black, tan, and white.
In case you're not aware, compression socks or hose are essential for those of us who sit in a wheelchair all day. They keep the blood from pooling, and your ankles from swelling. Before I obtained tight enough compression socks, my feet swelled so much that I went up at least two whole shoe sizes, and compromised the skin on my feet (stretched skin breaks down more easily).
You can wear most any shoe you want to. They just need to fit fairly snugly, and not dig in to your feet or ankles. The nice part about shoes for people in wheelchairs is they last a long time. I came up with a trick to keep my feet and shoes on the wheelchair. Whenever I get a new pair of shoes, I take them to my cobbler at Overland Park Shoe Repair (Henry is a great guy). He puts a piece of leather on the bottom that sticks out in front of the heel to create a hook to keep my shoes on the bar that is the foot-rest of my wheelchair. [see photos on left]
Don't know what you wheeler ladies do, but I found cotton "boxer-briefs" to work very well. They offer support without binding, and keep the catheter in place, without kinking.
Because I get adjusted in my wheelchair by the waistband of my pants, I need to wear a belt with dress pants (anything other than jeans or durable khakis/cargo pants). In rehab they originally told me I could never wear jeans. They said the back pockets cause too many skin problems. But I've been wearing jeans for years with no problem. I first used to take the back pockets off (no one sees the back anyway). But then, after experiencing no problems, I tried jeans off-the-rack. You may need to experiment, and try different things, based on your skin integrity. The one thing you need to be keenly aware of is the existence of buttons, rivets, and snaps. Have them removed from any part of your pants you'll be sitting on. They are surefire catalysts for pressure ulcers. I even had the braces/suspenders buttons removed from the inside of dress pants. There's no need for suspenders when you don't stand up, and there's no reason to take the risk of unnecessary buttons digging into your skin. Another thing I discovered not too long ago is the wonderful functionality of cargo pants (my hip sister says they’re stylish too). The pockets on the side of the legs make a great place to put my wallet, cell phone, etc. I don’t wear shorts, because I'm vain enough to not want to be seen in public sporting my compression socks, white skinny legs, and a leg bag for the world to see. Besides, I don't feel heat in my legs, so long pants are just as comfortable.
I can wear about any shirt I want. I don't wear tight shirts because they’re not comfortable. But I've found no reason I can't wear anything. Just pay attention to avoid wrinkles in the back.
Suits and Sportcoats
In the Fall and Winter I wear a sport coat or a suit coat regularly, simply because they help keep me warm. I used to buy custom-made suits and sportcoats, thinking that perpetual sitting would require special tailoring. But I soon found that custom coats don't fit any better than off the rack stuff. I just have the back vent closed and the sleeves shortened about an inch at a tailor or alteration shop. Even though I'm fairly tall, I order suit coats and sportcoats in the 'regular' cut. That's because I'm always sitting, and my shoulders are now sloping. I've become a big fan of Land’s End® clothiers. I can buy suit separates and sportcoats online because I know my size. They make good quality stuff at a reasonable price. And you really can't tell the difference between the expensive suits just by looking. As hard as I am on clothes, it's nice to have found a good value.
I generally don't wear a winter jacket, even when it's cold. They're just too much hassle to put on and take off. I don't stay outside long when it's cold. But I do have a full-length winter Cashmere dress coat for special occasions. My tailor simply cut out the back panel and hemmed the bottom, so I don't sit on coattails.
Everyone probably has their own routine. But while in rehab, I learned a handy method for putting on shirts and coats. Whether I'm in bed getting dressed, or in the chair putting on a jacket, my nurses reach up from the end of the sleeve, grab my hand, and pull both sleeves – one at a time – up my arm. Then they pull the bottom of the shirt or jacket (without bunching it up) over my head, and down in the back. By the way, when I’m getting dressed, we have a near universal rule that there is no bunching of the clothes (we jokingly refer to it as a "No-Bunching Zone"). It is counterintuitive to not bunch clothes when pulling them on (especially for mothers who have dressed a baby), but it works much better to keep the clothes flat and straight when sliding them on (except at the bottom of the pants, over the feet).
Ladies, if you have any helpful hints to pass along and help others, please send me Feedback. I'll try to put it up. Thank you.