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Spinal Cord Injuries

Fashion, clothing and accessories: Living with a Spinal Cord Injury

Anyone who knows me knows that shopping is one of my favourite hobbies!

Over the years, I have had to change my perspective around different styles of clothes and took my own positive actions as to how I improve my thoughts around my changed body shape. I do sometimes find it quite hard to choose clothes that I like, and that will look right on my body shape as it is now. So as much as I can do, I like to go out and physically see the clothes in the shops instead of buying online. Granted, I need to bring things home to try them on, but it is nice to see them before buying them.

It can sometimes be a bit challenging as not all shops are wheelchair accessible. There have been numerous occasions where I have had to stay outside with one of my carers while someone goes inside to see if there is anything I might like, but most shops are accommodating.

I have my favourite shops (New Look or Next for everyday wear or Phase Eight for a special event) where the staff are amazing, and I find myself frequently using these shops.

When I was designing my perfect home, one of my priorities was a ‘wheel in’ wardrobe! I wish that I had made it a bit bigger now, but I still love it. Not that I have OCD or anything, but I do like to have everything in order… skirts, tops, dresses, all hung in different areas, and I even go as far as having certain types of wooden coat hanger! To accommodate all my clothes, I have had to have wardrobes built in the spare rooms upstairs. I use them to rotate my clothes depending on the season. A place for everything and everything in its place!

So what do I consider when shopping for clothes?

My leg bag – I don’t like to have my leg bag on display, so it is something I have always had to consider when choosing what to wear. In the early days, I used to wear flared jeans, so it was easy to strap it onto my leg. But when I started to wear skinny jeans, I would hide it under a cardigan or scarf on my lap. As I began to want to wear more professional wear when attending meetings or presentations for my Road Safety Talks Charity which included dresses, a family friend kindly made me a black bag made out of stretchy material to put it in. This means that I can just hide it discreetly down the side of my wheelchair, and no one can see it.

Shoes – Shoes are my absolute favourite and I regularly find myself buying another pair to add to my vast amount of trainers, boots and sandals! In the spinal unit, I was advised to wear a size larger shoe as I wouldn’t be able to feel if they were too tight and this may have caused autonomic dysreflexia. I have found though that wide-fit shoes do the trick and they don’t make my feet look really long. Slightly larger shoes also make it easier for my carers to put them on me. On a positive note, though, I can now wear high heels all night that previously I would have had to take off on a night out as they would hurt my feet!

Wheelchair harness and seatbelt - Although these essentials aren’t the most fashionable accessory, they are really important to keep you safe from falling out of your wheelchair and to also help with your posture. As I have no core muscle control which enables me to sit up unaided, I need to wear one.

For years though I have to admit that I put off wearing my harness and seatbelt because I worried about how they would look and thought they would ruin any outfit I wore. I now have one shoulder that rotates forwards, which I could have avoided if I listened to my parents' advice about wearing it all the time in the early days.

Trousers - Due to having low muscle tone, I have thin legs and a very prominent tummy which makes it very hard to find jeans and leggings to fit me. I have found that Topshop maternity jeans fit me the best because the legs are smaller and have a great band on the waist to suck my tummy in! I need to watch out for buttons/zips and studs on the bum pockets of trousers so that they don’t create a mark on my skin which could lead to a pressure sore. As the weather gets colder, I will also start to wear my thermal leggings which help to keep my legs a little bit warmer and helps with my poor circulation. I can even wear them under my jeans if it’s really cold.

Tops – Again, due to having very low muscle tone, which makes my stomach very prominent, I always like to make sure that my tops aren’t too short. I don’t worry about hiding my tracheostomy anymore like I used to do; I would always wear a scarf to hide it until one day we forgot it, and I realised that it was my wheelchair that people looked at, not my tracheostomy! I never wore one again after that day.

Dresses – I can only really wear midi, skater or maxi dresses. I need to watch that I don’t wear anything too short so that you’re not able to see anything and they just look better with my wheelchair. If I am going to an Awards dinner or a Ball, I will spend hours looking for a dress that will be flattering on my body shape and also be fashionable too. I have been known to order multiple dresses at the same time, as I can guarantee that I will only like one of them on arrival, so I make sure I have plenty to choose from!

Coats – As my body is extremely stiff, we find it really hard having to lean me forwards and get my coat pulled around me. I often wear a cape instead of a coat as they are easier to put on or off. They look smart too, especially when I am out delivering presentations.

It is really important for me to say that an SCI may change your life, but it doesn’t mean to say that it means you are not in control of your life. There are still so many things that you can make decisions on and it is important to do so for your own self-esteem and confidence. Not only do I enjoy fashion and shopping, but I care about my appearance and by choosing to wear nice clothes and the fact that I always like my makeup done when I go out is something I can still have control over.

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