Disability and fashion; 5 years ago I would've never dreamed that I would be excited to blog on the subject. Even as I write this, I am questioning whether I am qualified, or indeed suave enough, for a monologue on the topic. But my blog is not intended to be based on expertise but rather on a disability positive exploration of stuff. And so, with fashion trends and style on the brain, I dive unashamedly into the world of disability and fashion.
I'll begin with how the two are connected, or at least the way I see it. Thinking about it, I see a few key similarities between the two concepts. First, both have a lot to do with appearance and perception. We are often judged by our disabilities, just as we are often judged by our clothing and style. Second, in both fashion and disability, trend setting and pushing boundaries play a major role. Lastly, both are incredibly multi-faceted, seeping into every day life in cool and unexpected ways. Fashion and disability are sometimes seen as strange bedfellows, and yet they have some great links.
But where does my personal interest come from. Well in the last 5-7 years, I have gone from an awkward and shabbily dressed student to a full out and unapologetic metrosexual. I have gone from oversized hand-me-downs to form fitting style. My love of fashion has skyrocketed in that time, from somewhere around a "Oh god clothes shopping" to a "Yay clothes shopping!" And while I can't pinpoint exactly when the high style switch happened, I can say with confidence that it had a lot to do with my disability. Let me elaborate...
In my teenage and university years, my core fashion value was ease. Function over fashion, ease over edge. As a result, my wardrobe was populated by pieces that were oversized (easier to get over spastic limbs) or worn out (probably because I didn't care). Eventually, though, I started to realize that choosing function over fashion was doing more harm than good. For one thing, I didn't feel confident in myself or my appearance. For another, I was not projecting the image that I wanted in the world, in essence a professional look. Since I've made the switch, however, I am not only more confident and happy, but my disability is perceived by others in a different, more positive way. I have a style, I rock that style and I embrace disability as part of that style.
Let me be clear. If you want to always dress super comfy casual and that is your style, then by all means rock it. But if you, like I was, are only making that choice because of the ease of dressing or because you don't think you have a right to be fashionable, don't be shy. I'll be the first to say that there are extra challenges in fashion with a disability (though this is an ideal time for a shout out to Izzy Camilleri and Iz Adaptive for their groundbreaking work to debunk those challenges, they are awesome) and you may have to get creative to find solutions. Whether it's rushed PSWs or lack of money after rent is paid out of your ODSP cheque, the difficulties are real.
But I know that I would not be the same man I am if I had not made a conscious choice to care about my look and style. It was an incredibly empowering thing for me and a hugely fun discovery to boot. So if you want to explore the world of fashion, take the disability positive approach and celebrate difference in a stylish way. You may just discover something about yourself...I know I did.
So come on, be a trend setter. Take the fashion forward view of disability and a whole new world awaits!