The Challenge Of Looking My Best

Shh, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I like dressing up. It seems like I rarely get to these days so whenever I’m given the opportunity to put on a nice shirt, a slick tie and flex the fancy pants muscles of my wardrobe I jump at it. After all, every girl’s crazy for a sharp dressed man. Take a look at this picture and you can see that when I went to a wedding last fall I incorporated a pocket watch into my formal attire. I don’t mess around! But living the sitting down, wheelchair using, spinal cord injury quadriplegic lifestyle, I do often find it a challenge to look my very best when it comes to my clothes and/or my appearance, whether dressing up or going casual. And there are a bunch of interrelated reasons for that.

The first challenge of looking good rocking some sweet threads is finding clothes that fit, and in the vast majority of cases for me that issue revolves around pants. Bottom line: pants aren’t designed for sitting down so many wheelchair users like me have a tough time shopping for ones that work (this site helps though). If I were to wear a pair of jeans that are perfectly tailored to my body while standing up in my Evolv standing frame, when I sit back down the waist Buying clothes, spinal cord injury life.band would be tight, part of my butt might hang out the back, the crotch would be really tight, and my ankles would have that “high water” look to them. So I always get pants with a wider waist and longer inseam. Unfortunately, those particular dimensions have proven to be a rare combo so more often than not I haven’t been able to buy the pants that I want. And when I find good pants that do fit, I load up! Right now my closet has three sets of duplicate jeans. So finding pants that look good and fit well can be tricky.

Because I need help getting dressed I am always at the mercy of others to assure that my clothes get put on straight. There have been countless times over the years where by the time I finally move from the bed to my wheelchair the fly of my pants is over on my left hip. The reason for that has typically been two-fold: 1) the person helping me out is too focused on getting my pants up as quickly as possible without a care as to whether they are crooked or not, or 2) the act of me transferring into my chair via slide board shifts them crooked. Aggravating either way, especially if I don’t have time to get back into bed to fix them. There’s nothing worse than spending your day wearing crooked pants. Over the years I have acclimated to staying in bed until my pants are suitably straight and I’ve learned to leave baggier pants slightly off center to counter battle the shift resulting from the transfer.

Usually the pants I start the day wearing are the ones I am in all day because the logistics of having someone come back to help me change can be too much a lot of the time. So when I have unexpected lap spills, which can be quite common in my world, I either have to try to scrub it out myself, scramble to get help changing, or just deal with dirty pants the rest of the day. That said, days that I have something really important going on (e.g. job interview, work meeting, party, date) I spend most of the time leading up to the event with a hand towel across my lap to act as an unexpected spill shield. But sometimes I have no choice but to venture out with a stain on my pants, and that always sucks when you’re trying to make the right first impression. And cut from that same vein, there have been plenty of instances where I’ve had to wear jeans and sneakers to places/events more suited for nicer pants and shoes as well.

What to do with shirts that need to be tucked in has always been an issue for me too. In fact, post SCI I’ve never tucked in my shirt. While I’m sitting the waistband of my pants tends to sit a little higher than normal, so as a result tucking in shirts makes me look either too high waisted or like I have a shortened torso. It’s a bodily imbalance that I’ve always found unpleasing to the eye on other quads and I don’t want myself to look that way either. Instead I’ve always folded the bottom part of my nice shirts up underneath themselves to make it look like they’re tucked in. But the perpetual problem with that is that with some shirts it looks normal and others not, some shirts stay in place and others require constant readjustment. I went on a first date last month and I spent a good twenty minutes going back and forth about whether I should do my roll tuck technique or leave my shirt down. I ended up leaving it down because the roll in the shirt looked too bulgy and weird, but I spent the night nervously hoping that I wouldn’t lose “date points” for looking sloppy or that I didn’t care about my appearance. In the end I doubt it even mattered.

Wheelchair related things can mess with my overall appearance as well. There’s been a few times that I’ve gone out sporting some quality threads at a fancy event only to discover later that I forgot to have someone clean off the mud that kicked up on my chair’s frame from rolling through rain puddles some time prior to that. That’s embarrassing. For a bunch of years one of the footrests on my chair was higher than the other so it made it look like my feet sat crooked. I would see pictures of myself and cringe. So those kinds of things always factor in too.

Living a wheelchair lifestyle there is always a hidden battle going on between me, my clothes, my wheelchair, and my appearance, and it can make it challenging to look my best when I really want to. Of course, through it all I might be the only one who actually notices all that stuff, but the ultimate goal is to look so pimp that nobody else notices either. And it’s a good thing that I clean up so well…

What clothing challenges do you have?

3 replies
  1. Kate
    Kate says:

    Dressing sharp is hard work! Maybe this would work better than that rollup thing you’re doing: wear a belt and tuck the bottom part of the shirt in between the belt and the pants, instead of only folding it. That way you can pull it quite low but it will stay put all day long.

  2. Nina
    Nina says:

    Well, it’s nice to know I’m not the only wheelchair user that stresses (at varying degrees) over dressing everyday. I was diagnosed with a type of muscular dystrophy nearly 20 yrs. ago and after a major fall was in a wheelchair for about 1 1/2 yrs. then not again until 6 yrs. ago, shortly after another bad fall. So, these past 6 yrs. have been frustrating for many reasons, but sometimes just dealing with the hits and misses of finding what fits, what is easy to put on or not, etc. For the last 4 yrs. I’ve been able to dress myself but to do so I have clothes in various sizes just to be able to get them on. I have no idea what I weigh anymore because neither of my dr’s offices have a wheelchair scale. Since most of my clothes are loose-fitting, I think my rheumatologist believes I’m heavier than I really am. Since I’ve never been strong enough to “bridge” while in bed, I have to dress myself while sitting in my wheelchair, which is the main reason I buy my clothes at a larger size than I really could wear. Whenever possible I also look for clothing, especially pants with some stretch fabric included, usually for cold weather seasons though because for Vegas summers that material is too uncomfortable to wear. We hit at least 107 degrees today and I had on jeans, because I need to go shopping for some lightweight pants. Oh joy. I had enjoyed wearing capri length pants during the summer, until I saw a picture of my legs while sitting in my powerchair and realized they’ve become very thin from the knee down. Not very flattering at all so I only wear that length when I’m staying indoors. If I really didn’t care how I looked none of this would annoy me so much. Oh well, such is life I suppose.

  3. Shawn Dean
    Shawn Dean says:

    Thanks for reading, glad it was subject matter that others can relate with. It sounds like we have a lot of similar clothing issues. One thing that I left out of the post for word limit reasons is that I tend to wear size 2X shirts, not because I have a 2X body type but because they are a lot easier to put on and take off. So I deal with overly baggy clothes as well.

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