The state of fashion is changing. In the past, inclusive, durable, and stylish apparel was nothing more than a wish and a list of brands that wouldn’t interfere with your prosthetics that your doctor gave you. And that’s if you were lucky.
I spent much of my teen years jealous of the heels I was unable to wear and patching up the elbows on sleeves where they’d worn thin because of my crutches. Though I was fortunate enough to wear a uniform during school hours, it was still difficult to put on things like tights and knee-high socks.
In recent years, however, more designers have begun to take notice of the limitations of mainstream fashion. They’re now creating clothing for the one-fifth of the consuming public not often represented by the industry.
Events like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s third annual Design for Disability Gala and Parsons, an annual 10-week course for rising designers to learn the latest techniques for creating inclusive garments, points to how the industry is altering its view of adaptive clothing.
People with disabilities deserve the choice of self-expression using fashion. But for that to happen, we need all the snaps, zippers, and functionality possible to work with the mobility devices we use every day. Here are some of the brands that are currently making this possible.
Style: classic staples
Price point: $$
When a mainstream fashion brand gears an entire line toward customers with disabilities, you know you’re onto something good — which is exactly what Tommy Hilfiger did.
The collection first began in 2016 as a line of clothing for children with disabilities. The following year, Tommy Hilfiger branched out to include adult apparel. For its spring 2018 collection ad campaign, Tommy Adaptive featured well-known figures from the disability community, such as model and blogger Mama Cax and Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Campbell. For those of us from the disability community, this move felt like we were on the cusp of achieving the representation we deserve.
As for the clothes, much like they did with their collaboration with Runway of Dreams, the designers for the newest collection relied heavily upon the feedback from people with disabilities. The innovations made reflected detailed attention to those comments.
True to its heritage, the line is classic Americana coupled with accessible features for easy dressing. The line includes magnetic and Velcro closures, adjustable waistlines, and one-hand zippers. Prices are reasonable, too. Items are only currently available in the United States — but I suspect people with disabilities from across the globe will begin to clamor for access to this collection.
Style: polished and on-trend
Price point: N/A
Since 2008, the Russian brand Bezgraniz Couture (“bezgraniz” means “without borders” in Russian) has sought to “rebrand disability” by using fashion to change the way audiences see disabled agency and bodies.
The brand facilitates forums and classes in accessible design. They also host contests for the most innovative in adaptive designs. This fashion house is internationally acclaimed as well. In 2017, they hosted a show at Moscow’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. They’ve since made their way to Los Angeles’ fashion week. The brand also features local influencers with disabilities in each of their shows.
It’s not simply that Bezgraniz Couture wants to make more designers think about accessibility. Instead, they look to facilitate a surge in artists for whom inclusivity is their calling. As it stands, the brand functions as more of an outlet for advocacy and awareness. Despite their well-known status, little can be found about their distribution. For now, their sleek moto jacket and easy pull-on jeans will have to exist solely in my dreams.
Style: gender nonconforming and experimental
Price point: $$-$$$
Full disclosure: I modeled for Rebirth Garments in 2017 at Sarah Weis’ installment of Minimalist Bedroom during Paris Fashion Week. Their work is about creating a “QueerCrip” fashion culture through clothing that represents the wearer, regardless of gender, size, or ability.
The brand’s creator, Sky Cubacub, who identifies as a Spoonie, noticed that there was a gap in what people with disabilities could wear and what the industry was willing to make. So, Cubacub created a line that represented all bodies.
Rebirth Garments’ shows are like living artistic installations. The shows often feature queer and plus-size people with disabilities as models. As a plus-sized, disabled “qween,” I found their clothing fit me well without losing the integrity of the design. The clothes are a mix of bright colors and nontraditional hemlines and cuts. All pieces are handmade and can be custom ordered.
Price point: $
In 2017, Target announced its intent to delve into the accessible fashion arena. Part of this initiative included input from designer Stacey Monsen, whose daughter, Elinor, has autism. Monsen realized all the garments she was buying for Elinor were either too big or just about function with no style.
After talking with internal design colleagues, Monsen decided to address the problem head on. The line — part of the Cat & Jack collection — later expanded even further to adaptive apparel for children living with disabilities. The end result were pieces that address needs for both those with physical disabilities and neurodiversity.
Tops feature a flat seam to avoid skin irritation. Pants and bottoms have easy closures for those with limited dexterity. This particular line features nearly 40 pieces. Prices average at about $20 a piece, making this the most affordable accessible brand so far.
Style: functional and on-trend
Price point: $-$$
Zappos. Yes, you heard that correctly. Zappos has an entire line of accessible fashion dedicated to diverse body types.
While managing to create several garments with easy closures and adjustable waistlines, Zappos has ventured into hospital wear as well. The brand has created clothing that can be opened at the collar for treatment and active loungewear for recovery.
Most impressive, though, is their line of adaptive footwear. As someone who wears combat boots out of necessity to events that call for heels, this is an exciting development. Shoes can be opened via zippers, making it easier to slip your foot in and out. Pricing is reasonable too, with many clothing items under $50 and shoes under $100.
Zappos still functions as a catch-all for several different brands, but this is what makes it such a wonderful resource. I was shocked that so many options existed all in one place. It’s worth the time to investigate for your own fashion needs. For years, my closet has been haunted by sneakers and combat boots for every occasion. But with Zappos, I feel like I can blend in other styles when I want to and even experiment a bit more.
Finding your style as a person with disabilities can feel like trying to catch a butterfly with your bare hands. I’m hopeful, though, as I watch the fashion world begin to include us. A rise in accessible fashion educational programs at design schools also offers hope for fashionistas with disabilities in the near future.
I implore everyone to find the style and personality that they’ve always wanted to show the world. Use every sidewalk, ramp, and elevator as your runway.
Imani Barbarin has a Masters in global communications from the American University of Paris and is a disability blogger who focuses on disabled representation. You can find more of her work on her website and follow her on Twitter.