Fashion Tips for Professionals who Use Wheelchairs
Are you a wheelchair user that dreads trips to the malls? Do you need a new outfit for your big presentation at work but can’t find anything to fit your body type? Do your clothes at work leave you feeling bunched up or wrinkled from sitting in your wheelchair all day?
Like many wheelchair users, finding a professional, affordable, and comfortable wardrobe that fits both their style and work environment can be a real challenge. Sitting in a seated position all day can leave clothes wrinkled and a lot of creativity is sometimes required to tailor your wardrobe so you project a professional image at work. For others with genetic disorders that result in a nontraditional body shape or physical appearance, finding the right look can be a real challenge. Check out the tips below to create your most professional look from the seat of your wheelchair.
For the Boys
If you work in an office environment, belonging to the boy’s club around the office can be an important social and professional aspect of your day to day work. How you present yourself can truly shape how your coworkers see you. Your attire can help others see past your chair and get to know the true you and the skills you have to offer.
Tip 1: Define who you want to be
First ask yourself, how do you want to be perceived at work? Strong? Powerful? Innovative? A Leader? Depending on the dress code, choose pieces that will help reflect the image you want others to see.
Tip 2: Trouser Talk
When looking for pants, make sure to look for fabric that doesn’t wrinkle and won’t shrink after washing. Look for cotton over other fabrics like linen which will leave you wrinkled before your first morning cup of coffee.
Pants tend to ride up when you’re sitting. To ensure optimal comfort, buy one size larger than your normal rise. i.e. if you normally wear 38 x 28, look for a pair in a 38 x 30. This will give you more room to feel comfortable and allow your skin to breathe during the day.
Look for elastic or expandable waist and keep your eye out for button-less or zipper-less closures which can be difficult to fasten if you have mobility impairments. If you are required to wear dress pants at your day job, look for comfortable alternatives that will still give you the dressy look. Some elastic workout pants in black or dark colors can look just like a dress pant but more comfortable.
When shopping, look for the “flat front” label on dress pants. Many men’s dress pants come with pleated fronts which not only look dated, but also add bulk and can make you look even more bunched up when sitting.
Tip 3: The Right Jacket
The jacket can make or break your look. If you buy the wrong shape or size it can leave you feeling uncomfortable, looking hunched up in the shoulders from a seated position, or fighting to avoid the fabric from getting caught in your wheels.
Try on lots of different options. The size you are measured for may not always be the size that fits right or sits right in your chair. Keep an open mind and try on a size or two up or down from your measured size.
Look for jackets that are shorter in the back and that have slits in the sides. The shorter back will keep from getting caught or bunched up behind you and the slits in the sides will easy glide over your legs instead of getting caught in your chair.
If you find a jacket that fits well in the shoulders, but is a little too long to lay right in your lap or avoid your wheels, you need to consider tailoring to get the perfect custom fit.
Tip 4: Tailor, Tailor, Tailor
Tailoring may seem like an additional chore, but once you have the perfect fit, it’s worth the investment for pieces you’ll wear every day and that may help you advance your career.
Tailor jackets to make them shorter in the back to avoid sitting on them. If you are buying a longer rise pant to give yourself increased comfort while sitting all day you will probably need to have the hem tailored so they are not too long and look bunched up on top of your shoes.
Consider asking your tailor for more tips for what they think will work best for your body type. They may even offer custom clothing that they can make for you from scratch if you are having trouble finding manufactured clothes made for mass body types.
Tip 5: Boxers or Briefs?
Your undergarments are perhaps your most important item of clothing that no one will ever see. For sitting all day, you’ll want comfort and you won’t have to worry about lines showing through your pants. Most boxers are made of a lightweight, cotton material with stretchy waist bands, making them the most comfortable choice. A light undershirt that you can easily slip on and off will help keep you cool and dry and help you avoid sticking to the back of your chair if your work environment gets sticky.
Tip 6: Sleeve Length
When choosing professional shirts, sleeve length is important to pay attention to. While you want a sleeve that hits you naturally at the end of your arm, you may consider going one sleeve size smaller than your normal measurement so the buttons don’t get caught in your spokes and the cuffs don’t end up dingy from your wheels before the day is over.
If you have a more casual work place, consider purchasing only short sleeved shirts or roll the arms of your dress shirts up to avoid tangles at work.
Tip 7: Accessorize Smart
If you’re investing in jewelry pieces that you’ll wear every day, shop smart. Watches and rings that don’t scratch. Think about going old school and consider a pocket watch. They look classy and you can keep them neatly tucked in your shirt pocket without worrying about scratching it on your wheels.
For the Fashionistas
Just because you’re a professional wheeler woman, it doesn’t mean you have to leave your style at the office door. You can still have fun with fashion while projecting a positive, professional image that can help shape your personal brand on the job.
Tip 1: Let’s Talk Tops
Fabric should be the number one factor you look for in your work attire tops. You’ll want to look for non-wrinkle fabrics like cotton and flowing fabrics that lay easily across the body, don’t pull, tug, or cling to areas you don’t want to highlight.
Flowing silhouettes that button up the front will ensure you always look neat even after hours of sitting. You want fabrics that are flexible so when trying on tops, sit back in your chair and give yourself a couple of pushes around to make sure the fabric and style move with you and won’t constrain your movements throughout the work day. You have more important things to worry about at work than your shirt not allowing you to move your arms.
Tip 2: Bottom Options
Thankfully women have much more bottom options to choose from than men.
Leggings have been all the rage for the past few years in the fashion world and are a great, versatile option for the professional woman who uses a wheelchair at the office. Stock up on several pairs in different colors.
They easily fit most body types as they are made with stretchy fabric and elastic waistbands so you can easily pair them with blouses, jackets, or even under skirts in the wintertime to stay warm.
They are also easy to get on and office when making quick bathroom trips in the office, in case you have mobility issues with your hands and arms.
Many dress trousers that are work appropriate come in stretchy styles to provide comfort for all day sitting at the office.
Ensure your tailoring is spot-on. You want to fit a pant that doesn’t ride up on you when you sit down but still hits you at the top of your shoe. In the dressing room, try on several styles and sit in your wheelchair to see how they hit you from your typical seated position. If the leg length is too long, go up a size in leg length.
Look for regular fit over a skinny style. Front pleats or seams down the front can offer more room. Trousers with large front pockets also typically come in a more relaxed style and offer easy access to carry around a little cash, your work id badge, or a debit card so you won’t have to worry about carrying around a large tote or purse.
A-line skirts are perhaps the most flattering shape on all body types, able-bodied or disabled. A skirt with a slight flare at the bottom will gently glide over your legs while sitting without fabric pulling across your legs or having so much flowing fabric that you worry about getting tangled in your front wheels.
Pencil skirts are a great option to look for. Most have a loose-fitting, elastic waistband so you can keep a professional, tailored look while staying comfortable.
Tip 3: Dresses
Dresses are the most versatile options you can have in your wardrobe. Even casual dresses can be paired with sweaters or dressed up accessories to make them professional and work appropriate.
Look for front fastening styles with large buttons or zip closure front for easy dressing.
Avoid belts and fitted waists for optimal comfort.
Try on dresses that hit you below the knees so it doesn’t become too short when you sit in your wheelchair.
Soft fabrics will fall across your body more naturally than stiff, structured styles which tend to not bend at the waist and may look lumpy. Try to find a happy medium between a dress style and fabric that’s too soft and flowing (which may have no structure) and one with too much structure.
What's your biggest fashion concern at work?
Tip 4: Work your Accessories
Accessories are an important part of your outfit to help reflect an important, professional image. For wheelers, however, we have to plan out not just accessories to accent our outfits, but accessories that will work with our everyday movements and our mobility equipment.
Bracelets and Watches
Look for soft, fabric style bracelets or watches and avoid metals that could easily scratch or dent as your wrist-wear will likely bang or knock against your wheels as you travel throughout the day.
If you have difficulty maneuvering small earring or jewelry clasps, consider shopping for jewelry with magnetic closures. Even high end designers are offering magnetic styles so you will be sure to find a variety of earrings, necklaces, or bracelets to go with most any outfit.
Scarfs are a very versatile option especially if you find it hard to latch small clasps on necklaces every day, but still want a sophisticated, finished look. An infinity option is a great style to start with, as it does not have long ends that could potentially unwrap and tangle around your wheelchair.
Watch the video below for 15 ways to tie a scarf.
Tip 5: Undergarments
Wide leg styles will ensure comfort throughout the day and will help you avoid feeling bunched up from your chair.
Cotton or breathable fabric will also offer maximum comfort when your start feeling warm in your chair.
There are several crotch less options including soft body suits to make toiling away from home easy and help you avoid having to wrestle with your clothes in the restroom several times a day.
If you have a more formal dress code at work, stay away from pairing nylons or hose with skirts which can be tight around the waistband and non-breathable. A more practical yet still stylish option are knee-high and thigh-high stockings which are much easier to put on the morning.
Are you a professional who uses a wheelchair every day on the job? What other tips do you have to manage your professional brand through a wheelchair friendly wardrobe? Share in the comments!