When you can’t stand up, how do you try on clothes? Betcha never stopped to consider that one. Life in a wheelchair complicates the already complex and (for me at least) already traumatic adventure of finding something to wear for an event.
Today, I went shopping for that perfect dress to wear to an event. It’s the first time since my injury that I’ve really REALLY needed to dress up. Sure, I buy clothes but work stuff is different. I’ve gotten used to life in my chair, but this smacked me in the face. So much so that I had to call a friend to talk me down while I sobbed again about what I’ve lost to my spinal cord injury. She’s been there, done that a thousand times since her own injury.
I used to LOVE to dress up. I LOVED that Cinderella moment of wiggling into a gown, stepping into the heels and looking at the up-do, make-up and bling in the mirror and seeing the completed package. I could rock a gown. And, with a 36” inseam, a mini made my legs go on for miles. But, that was a long time ago.
Like many women, I obsessed about finding the right dress. One that didn’t make me look too old, too cheap, too fat, too saggy, too … well, some of you have been there. Let me say, that’s asking a lot from a piece of fabric. Six dresses at time into the dressing room , twisting, turning, wiggling in and out, up on your toes, going from this mirror to that one trying to catch all the angles until you find The. Perfect. Dress. That moment made all the rest worthwhile. Today was more than being a few years older and a few pounds heavier. It was a new traumatic first for this broken old body.
I rolled into the store and headed into the dress aisles. I’ve not worn a dress since my injury… frumpy skirts that made cathing easier yeah, but not a dress. Wow, those racks are high. I can’t see the sizes or price tags from down here. Oh, until this second I forgot about the dresses I couldn’t get to because the racks were too close together and my chair wouldn’t fit. But, I digress.
There I sat, faced with finding something I like that will fit that I can afford that will hide all the dirty little secrets of SCI and work in a wheelchair. Another side note, a dear friend in the know counseled me that if the dress is above the knee, tying your thighs together once you’re set in your chair will prevent your legs from flopping apart and exposing all your umm “secrets.” Sigh. Oh Great! Another thing to worry about: flashing the beeve at the unsuspecting masses. Gawd will the joys of SCI never end??
I find a few things that might work and then it hits me. How do I try them on? Dressing requires hefting my butt out of my chair, bending down and grabbing my legs one at a time, throwing them up on the bed, wiggling around until I’m balanced and safe from flopping over, barrel rolling side to side to get a waist band up or down and on and on and on. It’s exhausting and there have been days that once I’m dressed, I have to rest for a bit before I can get into my chair.
But, to try on clothes, you’ve got to see how they work in the chair. That’s a lot of transfers. Transfers cost a lot of energy. Can you transfer unassisted and keep the clothes on without ripping? Can you still push? This is a real issue for women since clothes usually are cut for small shoulders and I am now built like a line backer and need every bit of that muscle to push. If the shoulders bind, I can’t move. Can you use the bathroom? Does it still look good sitting in the chair? Clothes off the rack were not meant for wheelers. Does it catch on the chair? So much to consider. At least I never have to ask if my butt looks big in this dress.
Yeah, so, back to the store… although stores generally have a fitting room large enough for a wheelchair, I can’t get on that little bench and roll around to try on clothes. I can try on tops but not dresses, slacks, skirts. Let’s not even start on shoe shopping.
The only alternative is to buy everything you want to try on. Go home. Climb onto the bed, roll around wrestle yourself in and out of the clothes and then take back the unwanted items. So, if you LOVE LOVE LOVE a dress but don’t know if you need this size or that one, ya gotta buy them both in order to try them on. Now if some wheeler chick has a better idea, I’m very open to hearing it.
Seven hundred dollars on my credit card later, me, four cocktail dresses a couple of little fun things leave the store.
At home the process begins. Brown dress with jeweled neck line…. Too tight in the shoulders. Larger size fits across the traps but the straps fall off my shoulders. Black and white sassy geometric… lovely but since my kness don’t stay together, it’s not a contender. Sweet little red number oh how I love thee. You slide with grace and promise over my head and skim all the parts that need skimming. I think I’m in love sitting there on my bed. I transfer into my chair. And there it is… that sweet flaired skirt that made me love you catches on my wheels and I cannot push around it. Damn. More tears. This is so unfair.
And so it goes. Back to the store for a refund and on to the next to start over. Of course, a large purchase followed by a same day return and then another purchase at another store the same day will cause the bank to freeze my credit card for suspicious activity and I’m certainly not carrying that much cash or paying by check.
If I bedazzle a set of black scubs, will that count? Maybe I’ll just stay home.
Next time you need help shopping, just call an expert! Happy to help!
I feel your pain on this one. I can’t buy anything off the rack. I’m 5’1.5″ with 1.5″ heels on, so shorts on most become pants on me, short skirts on some go to my ankles and let’s not talk about the weight issue.