I believe that all people should have access to clothing that makes them feel good. It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t find clothes to fit over your bulbous thighs or find tops that camouflage a tummy. But imagine what it would be like to search for clothing if you used a wheelchair, had physical limitations, special needs, sensory challenges or you were hitting an age where the simple act of buttoning a shirt was difficult.
I certainly don’t mean to shame you. After all, it’s human not to appreciate the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. And it’s true, we all have our own challenges, challenges that nobody should feel they need to minimize because someone else is worse off. However, I think we can all agree, figuring out how to make your thighs look thin compared finding clothing for physical challenges and disabilities is a walk in the park.
Dressing with Dignity: Adaptive Fashion for All Types of Special Needs
I have worked with clients who use wheelchairs, have helped clients navigate finding clothing for physical limitations and have also been asked to assist clients who have children with their own special needs. Yet, despite this, I know I have a lot to learn. Given how far the adaptive fashion industry has come, the learning curve for me is great. After doing much research, I have compiled so much information that I want to share, I am going to do my best to sort it all in a digestible manner that is useful to everyone.
Adaptive Clothing is all encompassing
Call me naive, but when I thought of adaptive clothing, I immediately thought of clothing for those confined to wheelchairs or who have physical or mental limitations either due to permanent physical injury or how an individual was born. Rarely did I consider adaptive clothing for the elderly or people with temporary physical injuries. I am embarrassed to admit this.
It was the all the resources out there that really opened my eyes to just how all encompassing adaptive clothing is. This is good news. The market has broken open and it is my hope that it continues to grow so it enables everyone to dress with a sense of ease and dignity.
Adaptive Clothing Resources
This is where the hard part comes in, figuring out how to list all these amazing resources for adaptive clothing in a non-overwhelming way. Originally, I was going to group things by need, then I was going to list by age and then I considered listing by the features of the clothing. However, the bigger my list got, the more I realized that these needs often overlap. Take magnetic closures, for example. A feature like this can be helpful for the elderly, people with amputations and individuals with Down Syndrome. I finally decided that just listing them with a quick and easy to digest description would be best.
In no particular order, here is what I have found. If I have overlooked any, which I am sure I have, please let me know in the comments.
Silvert’s easy access adaptive clothes are garments and footwear specially designed to be easy to wear and reduce the struggle of daily living and dressing if you have any physical disabilities. Features in their clothing provide people with clothing options with less difficulty than regular apparel. Some clothing features of Silvert’s include magnetic buttons, seated position clothing, back snap clothing and so on.
Izzy Camilleri Adaptive Clothing
IZ Adaptive was born of creative passion, love, and the recognition that there was a great need in the world for stylish, well-fitting, comfortable clothes for people who were living with physical disabilities.
IZ Adaptive Clothing caters to men and women and primarily focuses on the needs of individuals in wheelchairs. Their clothing is more fashion-forward and the collection has been seen at Fashion Week.
Able2 Wear, proudly calls themselves the UK’s leading supplier of wheelchair and adaptive clothing, working closely with wheelchairs users, carers and professionals over the past 25 years to develop a range of disabled clothing to meet specialist needs.
Able2 Wear’s carries clothing for men and women has been skilfully designed to bring confidence, style and comfort to the wearer. They offer waterproof jackets and fleeces, to dropfront, elasticated waist trousers, and more.
Adaptations by Adrian
Formerly known as Adrian’s Closet. Adaptations by Adrian customizes individually made adaptive clothing for special needs. They strive to ease dressing challenges, of those working within physical limits, to help make daily lives more convenient and easier. Wheelchair users have dressing challenges, such as uncooperative hands or legs, stiffness, or needing help adjusting clothes while toileting. Circulation problems create cold, swelling feet. A constant seated position creates pressure problems, sensitivity to seams, and the inability to wear store clothing.
Adaptations offers clothing for men, women, and children and cover the basic needs in classic ways.
Target has done amazing things for Adaptive clothing. Their Universal Thread line for women has sensory-friendly and adaptive clothing for women. Their Cat and Jack line expanded to offer a special selection of sensory-friendly pieces. Following that, Cat & Jack adaptive apparel made especially for kids and toddlers living with disabilities was launched. Based on current brand styles, Target’s internal design team created the latest assortment with features like side and back snap and zip closures and hidden openings for abdominal access. All can be viewed here. For men, the offering includes sensory-friendly shirts and joggers.
Buck and Buck
Buck & Buck has been around since 1978. Family members and caregivers have relied on them as their source for clothing styles that make dressing easier. Whether you need clothing that promotes independent dressing, or styles that make dressing a loved one easier.
Buck & Buck’s primary focus is on seniors, both men and women, and offers clothing for independent living and those who need assistance.
Born with cerebral palsy, Matthew Walzer worked hard his whole life to master every aspect of living on his own. One thing he couldn’t do was tie his own shoes. As a junior in high school, he was frustrated and embarrassed at the prospect of needing someone’s help when he went to college. He wrote to Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, explaining his problem. Nike listened. And created the FlyEase.
FlyEase is Nike’s design solution to help millions of people who struggle with this often overlooked task. For children and adults who live with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue or wear braces, the act of steadying the shoe, maneuvering the foot in and then the motor skills required to tie them can be difficult or even painful.
FlyEase has a wide assortment of styles for men, women and children and can be found on sites including Zappos.
Under Armour isn’t specifically marketed as adaptive clothing, but many of its styles include adaptive apparel features, like sensory-friendly materials and tagless designs.
Individuals with autism and sensory challenges have many issues when it comes to clothing tags, exposed elastic bands and itchy fabrics. Under Armour offers soft tagless clothing for men, women and children.
Independence Day Adaptive
Independence Day Adaptive all started with a mom wanting to find a solution to help her son with autism get dressed on his own. The company then grew to addressing problems many autistic kids have with wandering. ID Clothing now allows peace of mind for all those looking for independence. Everything they do aims to reflect that goal and purpose. ID styles are all equally meted at key areas so they fit perfectly “frontwards” or “backward,” soft fabric with just the right amount of stretch and flat seams make their clothing sensory-friendly. They are designed with comfortable compartments for personal tracking devices and placed discreetly and strategically and can’t be felt on the body.
Independence Day Adaptive primarily focuses on kids, tweens, teens and young adults with cognitive, physical or sensory issues, but their compartments for personal tracking devices can also be helpful for an elderly person with dementia. Independence Adaptive can also be found at Zappos.
Billy Footwear utilizes universal design and innovative FlipTop Technology. They changed the game by smashing fashion with function, blurring the line between adaptive and non-adaptive. Intended for the masses, the zipper shoes of BILLY Footwear revolutionize how footwear is put on and taken off.
4Ward caters to the challenges with getting dressed, have sensory issues or just want super soft and reversible clothing with great styles. The name represents three underlying concepts: 1) The idea of providing a garment that fosters independence and inclusion for those who need it most so they can move 4ward in life 2) The idea of being fashion 4ward, and 3) The physical nature of the clothes being 4way reversible (front, back, inside, out).
Zappos is the exclusive home of 4ward Clothing, catering to children and adults
Reboundwear’s founder experienced life after surgery for her children, friends, and parents. She watched the pain and stress of her loved ones struggling to get dressed and go to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy in conventional clothing which hindered the recovery process. These experiences inspired her to design a line of clothing that solves dressing issues for the millions of people with limited mobility, with an emphasis on style and comfort.
MagnaReady® was created when the founder’s husband, a football coach, was diagnosed at an early age with Parkinson’s disease. One day after a game he was trapped in the locker room unable to button his shirt. He got help from a player that day but worried about future situations on the road when alone.
MagnaReady® is a provider of magnetic fastening clothing, including adults and children’s apparel. MagnaReady®’s technology can be found in MagnaReady®’s retail products, including Lands’ End.
NBZ Apparel Founder and President, Karen Bowersox originally entered the clothing industry because one of her grandchildren, Maggie, was born with Down syndrome and created Downs Designs. As Maggie grew, Karen saw firsthand that “traditional” clothing did not fit individuals with Down syndrome. It didn’t take long to discover that there were no special needs clothing options for these individuals with Down syndrome. Today, NBZ Apparel International sells jeans and pants to men and boys under the NBZ brand name.
Although There is no NBZ Brand option for women, many wear the Downs Designs line of clothing. NBZ Apparel plans to offer a complete line of pants and jeans for women in the future. Never forgetting their original mission, NBZ Apparel will always continue manufacturing our Downs Designs brand. NBZ Apparel will continue its transition from a special needs clothing line into a truly inclusive clothing line.
Care + Wear
Care + Wear began when the founders’ friend started undergoing chemotherapy through a PICC line and was told to wear a tube sock to protect and cover his PICC site. This ugly, bulky sock made his experience even more uncomfortable and constantly reminded him and others of his illness. Realizing existing solutions were only focused on function and not on how they look or make people feel, they set out to change the status quo.
Using a comprehensive design thinking approach, Care + Wear works in conjunction with patients, clinicians and designers to create products that provide the highest quality, function and experience for adults.
Etsy is a resource few would immediately consider for adaptive clothing, but the site is filled with unique clothing and accessory options for many adaptive wardrobe needs.
Alium Adaptive Apparel
Alium Adaptive Apparel was founded in 2017 to address the growing need for better functioning clothes for seniors and their caregivers. Alium Adaptive Apparel manufacturers soft, stretchy, and durable garments in the U.S.A. that hold up to the rigor of community use. Alternate openings have been constructed to assist with donning and doffing garments while providing modesty to the wearer. Each garment is thoughtfully constructed to address a number of physical issues people face as they age.
You can shop for Alium Adaptive Apparel on their site and on Etsy.
Dignity Pajamas was created after the founder helped her parents retain their dignity while traveling through the end journey of their long lives. Luxury Cotton Elderly pajamas for men or women sleepwear/nightgown with back velcro closure and fine detail trims/print. Great for at home care, nursing home, hospital wear, hospice or rehab.
Zappos has a vibrant offering of adaptive clothing for women, men and children, including slip-on shoes, sensory-friendly clothing, pull-on pants, magnetic closures, reversible clothing, wheelchair friendly, post-surgical wear, and more.
Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive
Tommy Adaptive considers that one in five Americans living with a disability, something as simple as getting dressed each day can be a challenge. Inspired by their experiences, their design team committed to think in new ways and uncover new solutions.
They offer clothing for men, women and children, all with the iconic Tommy Hilfiger look.
Myself Belts was created by two sisters, Talia Bahr Goldfarb and Danielle Bahr Eason, and are belts kids can fasten themselves with one hand. The story doesn’t have adaptive roots and was merely a solution story that began when Talia’s toddler became potty trained. Her son’s pants kept stretching out at the waist from being repeatedly pulled down when he used the bathroom. Together with her sister, they design and produced a patented, innovative belt for kids, which is child-friendly and promotes independence.
Now, these one-handed closure is now offered for individuals of all ages, including adults. Their easy to fasten belt closure can also help teens and adults with special needs, hand dexterity challenges, amputations or other limitations to help regain independence.
Special Kids Company
Special Kids Company’s adaptive clothing has been specially created with younger and older children with special needs in mind. The range has been designed to meet the individual needs of every child, with different items available to meet exact needs. They have five different fits of special needs bodysuits, bibs, swimwear, underwear and so much more, that are available in a range of sizes and colors for both boys and girls.
SmartKnitKIDS® patented seamless products are perfect for children experiencing sensory processing differences, hypersensitivity or who simply can’t stand seams. Their super soft socks, undies, under-tees and bralettes for sensitive skin will not wrinkle or bunch, have no-heel design and are proven to reduce irritation.
Kozie Clothes offers therapeutic clothing and products for the Pediatric Special Needs community. They have a wide range of sensory engineered clothing and solutions for kids of all ages, as well as products designed for toddlers, newborns, and preemies who require ongoing medical care.
Founded by Susan Donohoe, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with a Certification in Sensory Integration, Sensory Enrichment Therapy, and SIPT testing, the technology and therapeutic principals incorporated into each design, provides proprioceptive and tactile sensory input, comforting children with highly sensitive nervous systems. In addition, Kozie Clothes has developed product solutions designed for newborns and preemies and children undergoing serious medical attention, providing easier ways for guardians and medical staff to care for them.
World’s Softest Socks
World’s Softest Socks offer over 40 sock styles for men and women and are perfect for individuals who are sensory sensitive and require soft socks. For the World’s Softest Sensitive Collection they started with their Classic socks, using the same comfy cushion and world-class softness. They covered all ends of the spectrum: from a wide fit to a supportive fit, a thick cushion to a lighter weight cushion, crew-length to over the calf. All designed to stay up without binding, all with a smooth, low-irritation seam, all accepted by the American Podiatric Medical Association.
NoNetz creates bathing suits for men and boys with no lining or net. The fabrics are very soft, the waistband is lined, the stitching is flat, the liner does not have a hem and all the fabric is highly water resistant so it doesn’t cling – all common pain points for the texture sensitive. They test every model with the autistic community to ensure comfort.
Lands’ End Universal Collection
Lands’ End Universal Collection replaced buttons and zippers with super-strong and easy-to-manage magnets made with MagnaReady® technology. And you can still toss them right in the wash. Easy rip & grip closures to keep the waistbands and hems of our adaptive chino pants and shorts secured. The seams of the adaptive polo shirts and oxford shirts are smooth and the labels are heat-transferred or soft satin for comfort, and they’ve We even added magnets at the leg openings of their chino pants so they can easily be worn over leg and foot braces.
I am sure this list is just the beginning and doesn’t cover just how unique each individual’s challenges can be, but I hope it’s a start. For me, this was a wonderful research project to really learn and gain knowledge of Adaptive Clothing and the amazing strides being done so all people can dress with dignity.