Adaptive Clothing: Fashion’s New Frontier


Photo from Runway of Dreams Facebook


Promoting inclusion for persons with disabilities has broken through a barrier, the fashion industry. An individual’s sense of style can be as varied as one’s abilities, and in the past there were few resources for consumers to construct a personal fashion statement.

Most adaptive clothing, footwear, and accessories are geared toward the elderly, usually in drab colors, fabrics, and old fashioned designs. While many of the same issues are presented for both elderly and people with disabilities, such as closures and comfort by design, there hasn’t been much improvement in fashion sense until recent years.

The fashion needs of the disabled community being addressed are featured by several internet bloggers as well as mainstream media. One example is an article written about a disability advocate with cerebral palsy who comes to terms with the availability of fashionable shoes other than standard durable sneakers. Hunting down a more stylish professional looking Mary Jane shoe was quite a task.

Another blogger, Karin Hitselberger, says on Bustle, We may think of fashion as a very surface-level thing, but it gets to the core of how you present yourself to the world,” Hitselberger later tells me. “Just because I’m physically disabled doesn’t mean I don’t have my own style, and fashion can’t be something that I care about.


Designer Tommy Hilfiger, partnering with Runway of Dreams, and one of the first designers to enter the adaptive fashion market, is now offering a successful line of adaptive clothing for children and adults with disabilities. Tommy Adaptive highlights stylish Hilfiger clothes with modified closures and adjustable features.

“Inclusivity and the democratization of fashion have always been at the core of my brand’s DNA,” Tommy Hilfiger said in a statement. “These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves for fashion.”

Retailers Target, Kohls, Belk and WalMart have entered the market which allows people to have an opportunity to shop the styles, feel the fabrics, and try on the garments.

The pioneers of adaptive fashion use their skills to create solutions to the unique needs of dressing without hassle. Maura Horton, who developed a line of shirts with magnets (MagnaReady) in response to her husband’s Parkinson’s disease is quoted in New Mobility, “The system not only helped him feel independent and accomplished, but it also helped him save time and energy for other battles he might fight in the day.”

Stylist Stephanie Thomas of Cur8able has researched clothing trends for people with disabilities for over 26 years and believes that this sector of the clothing market is catching the eye of retailers over the world.

NBZ® Apparel created a line of pants for men and boys (which women and girls can also wear) to address the difficulty of zipping and buttoning. NBZ=No Button/Zipperless pants which allow the person to enhance their independence by easily dressing themselves.

“NBZ® Apparel doesn’t sell clothes. We provide dignity, confidence, and independence. We empower and we heal.” – Karen Bowersox, Founder.

Along with fashionable clothing comes interesting accessories and one of the leaders is The Girl with the Purple Cane, Liz Jackson, who campaigns for mainstream retailers to carry her colorful canes as a fashion accessory. She also spearheads Inclusive Fashion Design Collective (IFDC) to increase the impact of beautiful, functional products in our everyday lives and in the global economy. Within the organization is The Disabled List which are people who collaborate on projects, ideas and products to change the perceptions of those with disabilities.


Liz Jackson, The Girl with the Purple Cane


One of the largest untapped markets is poised to explode into the mainstream. Individuals with disabilities of all varieties are showing up on runways and print ads, as well as in the television and film industries. Progress is being made for fashion inclusion, especially in the ability of people with disabilities to present themselves to the world with confidence and pride.



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