When you're a wheelchair user shopping for an outfit to wear, you have to make so many compromises on style to achieve comfort. But Asos - that clever little mare - is one of the first online stores to, not just design clothes with a wheelchair user in mind, but to use a wheelchair model to showcase them. Without being gimmicky or using it as a publicity stunt, but by actually practicing genuine inclusivity, Asos makes me feel as if there’s a real change on the horizon in fashion.
Created as a collaboration between Asos Design and BBC reporter Chloe Ball-Hopkins, this tie-dye, all-in-one waterproof jumpsuit can be worn by both wheelchair users and ye lot who walk on two legs, and with a waterproof zip which turns this one-piece into a two-piece, it’s adaptable fashion in every sense. The top part of the jumpsuit comes with a longer back because when wheelchair users wear clothes designed for non-disabled people, the rolling motion causes our tops to ride up…. and down, which is no bueno. The jumpsuit is lined with a soft jersey material, so there will be no uncomfortable chafing or catching, and the cuffs are also adjustable so you can change your sleeve length depending on what suits you. Surprisingly, a lot of jumpers and jackets can be difficult to roll up over the elbow so if you’re out and about on a rainy day in a wheelchair, your hands and arms really suffer with chafing. Soggy arms are never a good look. This colourful jumpsuit is screaming to be worn to a festival, and priced at €69.13, it’s a relatively affordable buy too.
While our very own Sinéad Burke is working with the likes of Burberry to make the fashion industry more inclusive, and Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri’s “perfect fit” IZ Adaptive clothing line is available to buy online, the fact that Asos, one of the world's largest online retailers, has introduced adapted clothing to the mainstream is huge. Thanks to the price point and the fact that this jumpsuit is available to buy now and is delivered right to your door, there is nothing "exclusive" about this inclusive fashion. As it is, clothes shopping in a wheelchair can be downright disheartening.
Like many women, I’m currently in the depths of wedding season, but unlike them, shopping for dresses and jumpsuits that don’t mesh with my wheelchair has left me feeling very deflated and questioning what it means to feel feminine and stylish as a disabled woman. With my chair and my curved spine, clothes just sit differently on me. For a long time, I thought it was because I needed to lose weight but - surprise, surprise - no woman can change the shape of her bones. Even if I work out and slim down, the shape of my spine will always mean that I need a size 16 dress, even though my arms, legs and waist are a size 12. I shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that. In fact, I don’t, except when I’m trying on a dress with a mouse-sized zip in a claustrophobic changing room with unflattering lighting.
Shopping for jeans is a hellish nightmare for anyone. Huffing and heaving in a changing room is part of the new jeans boogie, but if you’re in a wheelchair, there are extra considerations. You know how a pair of skinny jeans tried on for the first time can cinch at the waist and slip down to reveal a builder’s bum? Imagine that all of the time - like, all of the time. That might be about to change, however. I haven’t had the chance to try these out yet, but Dr. Denim is selling a pair of jeans that have been specifically designed for those in a seated position. A collaboration between Dr. Denim and Swedish designer and wheelchair user Louise Linderoth, the Loui Jeans come with a stretched waist, thereby cutting out the pain, the discomfort and the unwanted movement that jeans often cause. Once Dr. Denim’s Loui Jeans are available to buy through zalando.com, they're expected to cost €70.
With Asos leading the way in inclusive fashion, there are no excuses for Topshop, Penneys, Dunnes Stores or any other high street not to get on board. Accessible fashion shouldn’t only include one-off pieces or high-priced buys. To keep this ball rolling, we need Asos to introduce long coats, dresses, shoes and jackets, all of which fit wheelchair users comfortably.
Wheelchair users want a seat at the fashion table. We already come with our own chair, so all you need to do is make room. So, do it. Clear the space and make it happen.