Lack of Clothing Options in Disability Fashion Gives Me a Fit
Let’s talk about disability fashion.
Word on the street is Gen-Z killed skinny jeans. The ritual of stretching your pant legs over every contour of your thighs and calves before leaving home is apparently over.
I’m not shedding any tears.
I’m just one guy with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) in a large and diverse community, but I’ve always found the trend of skinny jeans somewhat frustrating. To me, they always seemed a bit antagonistic toward anyone who may wear ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs).
And I wonder if these feelings are not all that uncommon for many of us in the disabled community. We encounter reminders that typically, disability fashion is not a priority. We end up having to choose between how we might want to dress and wearing what is easier to get into.
I generally hate shopping for clothes and avoid it whenever possible. However, upcoming events have forced me out of my shell, out of my home, and into the clothing racks, with each excursion reminding me how much CMTers like me contend with fashion and clothes.
Preparing to return to AFO life
One event I’m preparing for is the return of AFOs to my life. To get ready, I changed my workout routine and frequency, and I’ve begun buying knee-high socks. I’ve also begun making sure every pant leg has enough room to accommodate an AFO.
And, of course, I had to get new sneakers because wearing an AFO requires a larger shoe size. My orthotist suggested I try a wider shoe, which many AFO users are now wearing. They provide greater support and can be worn longer, but I confess I was disappointed to learn the “orthopedic” section only carried three colors: all black, all white, or all brown.
Looking good for my friend’s wedding
Later this year, my best friend is getting married, and I will be his best man. I enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror wearing a suit that had been tailored just for me. I felt good-looking. Perhaps, I’ve never looked better. In my new suit, I looked strong, clean, and professional.
Still, I got the feeling the tailor hadn’t seen many people who wear an AFO. Apparently, the “slimmer-cut” pants and suits are more stylish? And “high-end” dress shoes are just normally narrow?
So, I’ll have to walk carefully and move more slowly because I can’t wear AFOs with the outfit. The price of looking good is being weaker and more unstable, apparently.
I guess I’m lucky my CMT symptoms are mild enough for now to go fairly long periods without needing assistance or support. Being there for my friend at such an important time in his life is worth it.
Part of me feels guilty complaining about my small struggles with accessibility and disability fashion. I know that in many ways, I’m privileged as a cisgendered guy who, despite his disability, is still able to go a long time without needing mobility support.
Not being able to choose a sneaker color I find “cool” and “sexy” is perhaps a silly complaint. And maybe some of my complaints and fears come from some form of internalized ableism.
I’m still processing this topic. However, at least for now, I’m glad to leave that last pair of skinny jeans in the back of my closet.
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