If you can’t stand up, stand out.
By Lisa Cox
I was really upset when my leg was amputated but having to give away my collection of heels and most of my long jackets was pretty heartbreaking too 😉
Hello, my name is Lisa Cox and like many people reading this, I too have disabilities and chronic illnesses that have impacted my fashion choices somewhat.
So I don’t bore you with the long story, here’s a condensed version of what happened.
I was in my early twenties when I had a brain haemorrhage while waiting for a plane at Melbourne airport. I spent over a year in hospital (but have returned many times since for more surgery) and during that time my left leg, all of my remaining toes and 9 of my fingertips were amputated. I also had heart surgery twice and a total hip replacement. I mobilise in a wheelchair all the time now.
Just some of my invisible disabilities include vision impairment (I’m over 25% blind), epilepsy, chronic fatigue and an inability to properly regulate body temperature – so I’m often feeling the heat more than others.
Up until then, I’d been very active with sport, got my university degrees and enjoying my job in commercial advertising. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with fashion or had dreams of becoming a fashion blogger, but I did appreciate beautiful fabrics, cuts, lines and fits of the clothes I saw either in shop windows, on strangers in the street or in my own wardrobe.
I may have lost my leg but I haven’t lost my love for fabulous clothes!
Realistically though, all of this has effected the sorts of clothes I can wear. But like so many things in my life these days, it has just been a matter of adapting and finding clothes that work with what I CAN do, rather than what I can’t.
Everything happened about 15 years ago and although disability and chronic illness isn’t just a ‘passing phase’, I’ve had time to adapt. So here are just a few of the things I’ve learnt along the way.
Zips and buttons: I try to avoid these where I can. The buttoned shirts that I do have in my wardrobe are all the sort that I can pull on over my head and keep a top button undone.
My missing fingertips are what make buttons and zips difficult. I can do up the ones on my jeans (and I love wearing jeans) but it just makes an extra 30 seconds.
Speaking of jeans, I’m so glad the high-waisted styles are back! If you also use a wheelchair, you’ll understand why we need a few extra ‘modesty inches’ at the back 🙂
TIP: Buy trousers/skirts longer than you think you need – If you are seated, everything will always be much shorter once you’re down. I have a skirt that comes to my ankles (when I’m standing) but rides much higher when I’m sitting.
Jackets: Long jackets are definitely out for me these days. I have a trench coat in my wardrobe that I just love and can’t bear to part with.
I used to be 5’11” tall but now I’m closer to 4” and am usually the shortest person in the room. Because of that, everyone is usually looking down over me (if they are standing) and I have to dress accordingly and make sure the bust lines are higher and closer to my skin.
I have a large scar from open heart surgery plus another at the base of my neck/throat. There are plenty more but these are some of the most obvious. Society’s beauty standards tell me I should be ashamed of my imperfections and flaws but I’m proud of them – they saved my life!
Shoes: I can’t wear heels any more and don’t plan to. Some people in wheelchairs can do it but I have one prosthetic leg with an ankle that doesn’t move and makes it impossible for heels. One foot (the prosthetic one) is a size 9 and the other one (without toes) is about a size 5 so shopping for shoes takes me a while.
TIP: If you’re after a ‘flat‘ sneaker then Converse is a great brand. Cheaper shoes (from K-Mart for example) can also be a good option. The reason is because they don’t have all the extra contouring inside the shoe which prosthetics don’t need.
For the above reason, it can also be easier to fit an AFO or other brace/orthotic in the shoe if you need to wear one (I did for a while).
I’ve accessorised a few of my own shoes to make them more functional. Í need straps on all my shoes to keep them on but some of the options with straps would be great if I was 90-years-old.
TIP: But a pair of ‘ballet flats’ and about a meter of the same coloured ribbon from Spotlight. Cut the ribbon and glue it to the inside of the shoe then tie the ribbon however you would like to keep it on the leg or prosthesis.
Trying on clothes in the shop: I tend not to do this. Either the store won’t have a changing room to fit a wheelchair or the process of physically getting dressed just takes too long and is exhausting! For that reason, I’ve had to get good at spotting something that will fit or only buying from the brands where size is consistent.
One of my biggest challenges with fashion was finding ‘really nice’ things (like corporate wear, a party dress or evening gown for an event) that I could work with my body.
A lot of the adaptive clothing is just a bit… um… how do I say this diplomatically? It’s a bit dull and assume that all disabled people only wear t-shirts and tracksuits.
Now I love comfy clothes and spend a lot of my day in active wear. POPfit Clothing aren’t a disability brand but I love their stuff and it works well with my needs.
Hello Yello Clothing has been such a game-changer for me because finally great clothes are accessible. I still love working from home in my gym gear but like a lot of people with disabilities, I also get out and about when I can. For work, for events, for dates or something else and it’s great being able to dress independently and not have to ask someone (usually my husband) do up the button at my neck.
So that’s just a peek inside my wardrobe and I hope a few of the tips help some of you.
Below: This is me in the Hello Yello Clothing Samantha top at a bar in Sydney. The button has inconspicuously been replaced with a magnet!
You can follow Lisa on Instragram at @lisacox.co