Whether it is classy or casual, plain or flashy – people are not just expressing their current disposition, but also their personality with their clothes. The choices on the market are many, since it typically offers something for everybody. But is this also true for people with disabilities? What do they expect from today’s fashion?
Lukas Seidel prefers a clean, classic style, while Volker Westermann likes flashy clothes. Laura Gehlhaar prefers black clothes, while Tanja Kollodzieyski bursts in color.
People dress as differently as there are different personalities. Most people however are perfectly aware that clothing portrays a certain image. "I definitely notice that people around me perceive me very differently when I pay special attention," explains Cinderella Glücklich. "The clothes I wear also always make me feel a certain way – elegant, determined or relaxed for instance."
Comfortable and accessible please
Many people express their personality through fashion and thus create a piece of their own identity. It boosts their self-confidence and gives them a positive body image. This is also the result of great wearability. "Above all, fashion needs to be practical," believes Laura Gehlhaar. "For me this means clothes shouldn’t pinch or poke me, because I sit all day. That’s why I prefer to wear pants with elastic waistbands or drawstrings."
The wheelchair user doesn’t resort to special clothing for people with disabilities. She really doesn’t like those pieces. "Besides, I know my body and needs very well and know exactly where I can find things that might look good on me."
The fact is shopping in big department store chains or smaller stores isn’t always easy, and this is something Cinderella Glücklich criticizes: "In many stores, the aisles are typically too narrow for wheelchair users, the dressing rooms are too small and the items can often not be reached from a seated position." Accessibility therefore still plays a subordinate role in the clothing industry. Online retail offers an alternative of course, but this is definitely not in the spirit of an inclusive society.
Laura Gehlhaar likes fashionable black. "You really don’t have to bother much in the morning. You can’t go wrong with black. But: loud, crazy, slightly ugly sneakers are an absolute must for me." Otherwise, she does not think much about fashion. "I really like to buy clothes for myself. But I never know if I follow some trend in that moment or if I unknowingly commit the next fashion blunder."
From elegant to focused – clothes always give a certain feeling to Cinderella Glücklich. "This is why fashion is my invisible-to-all-helper in any situation." The value-for-money-ratio is especially important to her. "Unfortunately, I am still looking for the right provider regarding this. Of course fashion should please me when I wear it. But in my eyes a lot has to be done for people with disabilities here in particular: This involves design and style as well as display and retail of fashion."
Lukas J.G. Seidel
Lukas J. G. Seidel calls his style deliberate, "maybe a little bit conservative-relaxed: a shirt (white or black) and a corresponding scarf (sometimes). Jeans. Also well-known gents’ shoes with it." His motto is: It is only a perfect outfit if your suit trousers drop on good shoes! "I am really able to buy off the shelf, but I take care to buy very simple clothes. Be it unicolored or with a little more color – but without Micky Mouse style badges or images, please."
Above all, fashion adds to Vanessa Franke’s confidence. "First of all I expect quality and classy design from fashion. Aesthetics is more important for me than the practical aspect. Clothes for people with disabilities should ideally unite both aspects. Premium materials are important to me but fashion should always match the kind of person wearing it. Every person, with or without disability, should be able to live out their own fashion style. They should not (inevitably) have to have to adapt their fashion to their disability."
Ninia LaGrande loves sneakers, exceptional shirts and sweaters as well as beanies and hats of all kinds – important is that they are cozy but stylish nonetheless. "Basically, I am a hipster, I can’t deny it." Fashion helps her to express her moods and to play different roles. "I like to dress brashly and exceptionally. People will look at me anyway. This is why I think I should give them something to look at."
Tanja Kollodzieyski describes her own style as colorful and very experimental. The student wants her clothes not only to be cozy and warm but she also wants good value for her money. But usually, this is not the case. "Moreover, I criticize that the fashion industry continuously delivers smaller and smaller sizes. I usually like to buy clothes one size larger. This makes for more comfortable sitting." Addressed at manufacturers of fashion for people with disabilities she adds: "Please also consider the look! Foot muffs, rain ponchos and others don’t always have to be black or grey!"
"My style is colorful – this is just how I see my own life," says Volker Westermann. The anchorman likes to dress elegantly on occasion but this is always combined with one of the nearly 50 pairs of his converse chucks. "Maybe I really have a shoe quirk." Clothing expresses his attitude towards life and emphasizes his personality, says Westermann. "I really like that beauty, physical feeling and sexuality have become natural topics in the 'emancipatory' movement of the 'disabled scene' (I deliberately chose these words). Fashion contributes greatly to this. It is not only our right but also our duty to show that we do not need to hide and others don’t have to hide us! At this point I would like to see more courage from people who have not yet dealt with this rewarding topic."
For Anastasia Umrik it is important that fashion does not change ones personality, but emphasizes it. Therefor she often has the latest fashion in her closet. "But fashion can also be a political statement. Fashion is communication. I can express my moods and purposes." Also fashion should be cozy and not imply the feeling "that you are 'too fat' or not made for it". Her ideal conception? "Every fashion piece should have the potential to become THAT favorite piece. In reality this is not always possible, I know."
When it comes to fashion, the wheelchair also has advantages for Elwira Szyca. "I think that I can dare more things and grab even deeper into the jewelry box." For her it is also important not to be what other people expect from a person with a disability: "Only because I cannot walk, it does not mean that I do not adhere to my body with self-confidence. And clothes make it possible to celebrate my body." That's why Elwira Szyca does not want to distinguish between fashion for people with or without disabilities. "Like every other woman as well, I want to feel comfortable, act sovereign, be attractive, and appear competent – in every situation and according to my mood. Clothes should help me to express myself and still stay who I am. I am so much more than disabled."
Dennis Meier likes to dress sportingly and functionally. "Fashion is important to me when there is an occasion to which it needs to fit. Since I am an artist, clothes are important to me at a vernissage." In everyday life, Dennis Meier values high wearing comfort. "This means light clothing because of my muscular disease. It is also important to me that my lower back is covered very well."
Asun Kramer loves beautiful dresses: "It doesn’t matter whether short, long, tight, loose, elegant or sexy. But wearing a dress is not always very smooth in the wheelchair and a lot of times it is also too cold." Modern, appealing clothing is very important to her, nevertheless, just like one other thing: shoes. "I already have a drop foot. Thus, I really always wear high heels! I love them and they are really much more comfortable for me than flats because of my feet’s shape. I actually don’t own any flat shoes anymore. The good thing is that I don’t have to walk in my shoes and thus my feet don’t hurt from wearing them."
Creativity beyond the norm
People with visible impairments still stand out on the street. This is precisely why many of them play with other people’s expectations even more. "I use fashion very deliberately to deal with the public’s attention to my disability," explains Tanja Kollodzieyski. "This is why I dress to where I deliberately challenge pedestrians to look at me." This exposure helps the student to free herself from the passive role of being stared at by acting proactively.
Ninia LaGrande takes a similar approach: "I like to dress in flashy and unusual fashion. People look at me anyway, so I might as well give them something special to look at." At 4 feet 5 inches (1.40 meters), the social media manager is considered a little person.
"Fashion is standardized and made for bodies that typically don’t exist in that way. This is why you need to learn to be creative when you are unusual." That is why she buys many pants and leggings in the children’s department for example. "They fit me better and are also cheaper. I can also customize many items by hemming and cutting them or by making other minor alterations," she explains.
Whether they are in a wheelchair or affected by another physical impairment – many people with disabilities get creative when it comes to fashion and sometimes need to be resourceful. This bothers some more than others. A lot still needs to happen however before inclusion takes place in people’s closets. "I expect fashion to be for everyone. Unfortunately, this is still not the case," Ninia LaGrande sums up the situation.