Health and Wellness: Dress to Feel Your Best
by Shelley Peterman Schwarz
I’ve always taken pride in the way I look. Perhaps it is because my mother and my grandmother did too. There was even a family joke that no matter what ailments my grandmother had in her final years, whether hospitalized or sick in bed, she always put on lipstick, earrings, and a pretty bed jacket.
Even today, at 85, my mother doesn’t leave the bedroom without “her face on,” and I’ve never seen her wear a sweatshirt or sweatpants. Me? Every day I dress as if I’m going to work or to a meeting; a fashionable outfit, makeup, and jewelry. You’ll never see me in a pair of torn jeans and a faded T-shirt. Psychologically, if I look “schlumpy,” I feel “schlumpy.” When I am confident about my appearance, I just feel better.
For 20 years or more, as a result of strength and mobility issues with MS, I’ve needed lots of help getting dressed. I’ve had to make compromises and adaptations to the way I dress to make it easier, safer, and less tiring. To follow are some of my personal, energy-saving tips, which you may find to be helpful.
Dressing Tips to Make Life Easier
Assess your morning rituals. Is it easier to get dressed before or after you take your medication, shower, or eat breakfast? Everyone is different, so experiment with the order of your morning routine to find what works best for you. For me, I always drink a glass of juice before my husband helps me out of bed. This gives me the little energy boost I need to get dressed.
Make sure your home thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature when you get out of bed. Avoid getting overheated from a house that feels too warm, or becoming stiff and clumsy from a house that feels too cool.
Each night, select and gather all of your clothing items for the next day. This will not only save time and energy in the morning, but if you need assistance with buttons or zippers, you may be able to enlist the aid of a family member before he or she leaves the house.
Choose what you wear based on the day’s activities. If you plan on swimming, for example, choose an easy-on, easy-off outfit with few buttons, zippers, or ties. If you will be traveling, wear something that is a little looser, in a smooth fabric that makes it easier for you to change positions or get in and out of an upholstered seat.
Dressing in front of a mirror can be of assistance to some people. It may help you to find the sleeves and match-up buttons with buttonholes. Also, if you button garments from the bottom up, you’re less likely to skip a button. If your balance is an issue, sitting on the edge of the bed or on a chair can be of help when dressing.
For individuals with strength or mobility problems, dressing the weaker arm or leg first is a good idea. When undressing, the garment should be taken off the stronger arm or leg first.
Easy-on, Easy-off Clothing
Loose-fitting clothes, particularly those made of knit fabrics, are easier to pull on and take off. When I find a garment that I like, in a style and size that fits, I try to purchase several in various colors. This can save a lot of time and trouble.
I also recommend wearing lightweight clothing. Heavier fabrics may actually wear you out just putting them on.
Some individuals may find that wearing nylon underwear, instead of cotton, helps with pulling slacks on and off. For the same reason, when purchasing wool slacks, I always make sure they are lined.
Clothing that opens in the front is easier to put on and take off than garments which open in the back. One strategy is to partially button the lower portion of a shirt, and then slip it over your head. If you choose clothing that slips over your head, make sure it has enough stretch to make it easy to get on and off.
Once started, zippers can be easier to use than buttons. If you have trouble grasping a small zipper pull, enlarge it by attaching a decorative charm, bead, or key ring.
Wearing shawls instead of coats or jackets can make life easier. Pre-knotted ties are helpful as well. In general, I try to find clothes and accessories that make dressing easier. Try not to worry so much about what is in style; you can create your own style.
If you are less active, then you may be more likely to feel cold. Dressing in layers will help to give you better control over your body temperature. The spaces between the layers of loose-fitting clothes trap warm air, and you can take off or put on layers as needed to stay comfortable.
If you use a wheelchair or spend a great deal of time sitting, you may want to consider purchasing garments which are one size larger than you normally wear. Clothing is more comfortable for sitting, and easier to get on and off, if it is not too snug. Wearing clothes that are too tight may actually cause you to feel tired.
Individuals who wear an orthotic device may try slipping a section of nylon stocking over it before getting dressed. This can help clothing to slide on more easily.
Some people may find a dressing stick to be helpful. This extends your reach, and may be made from a wooden hanger. To make one, I first remove the hanger hook on top, and then screw a small hook into one end of the stick, while putting a finger thimble made of rubber on the other end. The hook may be used to grab onto garments, and the rubber tip can help to slide clothing into a comfortable position. You may also make a dressing stick by untwisting a wire coat hanger with a pair of pliers.
Earlier, I mentioned attaching a decorative charm, bead, or key ring to a zipper tab to make it easier to pull up. Of course, you can’t do this with every zipper. To pull up a zipper on a pair of trousers, you can slip a large paper clip through the hole in the zipper tab. Once in position, you can remove the clip and keep it in your pocket when not in use.
To locate adaptive equipment (such as reachers, dressing sticks, and buttoning aids) in your community, you may contact the hospital or clinic’s occupational therapy departments, medical equipment and supply stores, and pharmacies. These businesses may also carry other helpful dressing aids, which include: sock aids to help you put on and take off socks or stockings; long handled shoe horns; and elastic shoe laces that allow you to slip shoes on and off without tying and untying them.
No Need to Shop’Til You Drop
Even when I still had the strength and energy to try on clothes, I shopped at small clothing stores. Large department stores were too overwhelming and impersonal. In addition, I always found that in small stores, clerks helped coordinate outfits and helped me in the fitting room. The clothing may have cost a bit more, but for me, the special service was worth the added price.
Shopping on weekdays and early mornings can help you to avoid crowds and long lines. Surveys indicate that Tuesday is the least busy shopping day of the week. When the women’s or men’s department registers are busy, I always pay for items in lower traffic areas – such as the infants’ department or the cosmetics counter.
At large department stores, checking out the floor plan and plotting your course is a good idea. You may want to stop by the service desk for directions or to get a map of the store. At shopping malls, the information center will have a map to help you locate the stores you’re looking for as well as rest areas, food courts, and accessible bathrooms.
I try to conserve energy by sitting in a chair in the dressing room whenever I try on clothes. If there isn’t a chair, I ask the salesperson to get one for me. If you do not have the energy to try on clothes at stores, make sure that the store does not have any limits on returns. Some stores may only offer credit rather than a cash return for certain items. In smaller boutiques, I ask to take the clothes home “on approval,” so I may try them on at my leisure. I have even shopped with a friend who is about the same size as I am. By asking her to try on the clothes, I can get an idea of whether or not the garment will work for me.
Wearing classic styles rather than the latest fad helps to keep the number of shopping trips (and the need to try on all those clothes) to a minimum. Then I simply update outfits by changing jackets, blouses, and different accessories, such as jewelry, scarves, belts, purses, and shoes.
Buying outfits, as opposed to buying a pair of slacks here and a blouse there, makes it easier to build a well-rounded wardrobe. I try to choose coordinated garments that provide greater flexibility; you can purchase different tops and bottoms and mix and match different style garments to suit your needs.
If you know exactly what you want, you may be able to call ahead and ask the store to have it ready for you. One option is to pay for the item(s) by credit card and have someone else pick up your purchases at his or her convenience. This can save much time and energy.
I also like to take advantage of extra services that some stores offer, such as personal shoppers and bra fitters. Once they know your personal preferences and sizes, these store employees can save you a great deal of time and energy by pre-shopping before you arrive at the store.
Resources for Modified Clothing
People with active lifestyles, and who are looking for ready-to-wear garments that have been designed with easy dressing in mind, need not despair. Today you can find a multitude of store, catalog, internet, and TV-shopping sources that carry modified clothing. You’ll find everything from sleepwear to evening wear, and shoes to accessories, for men, women, and children. To follow is a list of a few popular sources:
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s (MSAA’s) Equipment Distribution Program offers a number of items to assist individuals with MS who are experiencing strength and mobility issues. These are provided at no cost (certain income and distribution limits apply). Dressing aids offered by MSAA include button hooks, dressing sticks, sock aids, and metal shoehorns. An application may be requested by calling (800) 532-7667, extension 130, or by visiting www.mymsaa.org
Professional Fit Clothing purchases regular clothing from manufacturers and adapts it for people with disabilities. They will custom fit and alter almost any item to fit your needs. Shop online and order by phone. Professional Fit Clothing; (800) 422-2348; www.ProfessionalFit.com
American Health Care Apparel works directly with manufacturers to design traditional and adaptive clothing and footwear, which are both functional and attractive. These provide dignity and comfort without sacrificing style. Call for a catalog or order online. American Health Care Apparel, Ltd.; 302 Town Center Blvd; Easton, PA 18040; (800) 252-0584; www.ClothesForSeniors.com
Wear Ease® offers bras, loungewear, and other garments for women who have trouble dressing due to wrist injury, arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injury, paralysis from stroke, or other disabilities. These products can help enable individuals to return to independent dressing and reduce the amount of work for caregivers. Wear Ease ® Bras are constructed with Naturexx® fabric, which transfers moisture away from the body. They are designed to be cooler in warm weather and warmer in cold weather. The bra offers full back support and an adjustable fit, in a pullover shirt design, which requires only a one-hand grasp to remove. They are cold-water washable and available in a variety of band and cup sizes. Wear Ease, Inc.; P.O. Box 8831; Boise, ID, 83707; (866) 251-0076; www.wearease.com
Dressing Tips and Clothing Resources for Making Life Easier is a book which offers additional tips for shopping and making dressing easier. Numerous resources are listed by category, making your search for adaptive shoes, clothing, and wheelchair accessories easier. This book may be ordered from Attainment Company; PO Box 930160; Verona, WI 53593-0160; (800) 327-4269; the book may also be ordered by visiting www.AttainmentCompany.com and doing a search for the book’s title
AdaptiveOutlet.com offers discount prices on everything from clothing to wheelchair accessories, including options for people with more severe disabilities. To keep prices lower, their catalog is only available online. Adaptive Outlet; 1701 E. Hennepin Ave; Minneapolis, MN 55414; (866) 331-1122; www.adaptiveoutlet.com
Silvert’s, who has been providing adaptive clothing options for 78 years, offers a full line of clothing and accessories especially designed for people with limitations and disabilities. Shop online or call for a catalog. Silvert’s, 3280 Steeles Avenue West, Suite 18; Concord, Ontario L4K 2Y2 Canada; (800) 387-7088; www.silverts.com.