I hate uncomfortable clothing and have never understood the ‘hurts to be beautiful’ adage. Anything (pants, underpants, socks, whatever) I put on that bunches, creeps, or stretches too tight during my usual day of biking, walking, playing, and working will quickly find its way to the local thrift store!
Much of Western fashion tends to be designed for standing bodies without much consideration for people using mobility devices like wheelchairs and often favours form over function and comfort, too. I have to admit that in the past I didn’t think about how most of the clothing sold today would be SO uncomfortable for people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. I should have figured this out sooner, as I know that certain clothes do not translate well when I ride my bike – shirts that are too short and low cut pants mean my back ‘bits’ are routinely exposed to the elements!
This is why I’ve been so inspired by Izzy Camilleri’s work, particularly her “Designs for Sitting”.
I saw her show “Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting,” at the ROM last summer and was blown away by how beautiful–and sexy–the clothing is. It really inspired me to think critically about the relationship between fashion, mobility, and accessibility. It’s not surprising at all that her exhibit won The Richard Martin Exhibition Award by unanimous decision!
Others tackling this issue include Gary Markle and Glen Hougan from NSCAD University who is working on a clothing line that meets the needs of older people as well as those with mobility challenges. The line is called ‘Worn Well’ and is concerned with designing for dignity for a population often unconsidered in the fashion market. Read more about the clothing line project here.
“I don’t dress to be stared at. I dress for myself.” – Iris Apfel
Meet Iris Apfel.
Iris is a highly successful and eccentric 94-year-young American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon who has recently gained celebrity fame. Iris is also the founder of Old World Weavers, a textile company that she launched with her late husband Carl Apfel. Through their textile business, they travelled around the world and participated in unique design restoration processes, including work on the White House for several presidents. Her bold approach to layering big jewelry and her oversized round glasses make a lasting iconic impression that landed her a star role in a documentary by Albert Maysles about her incredible life and career.
I recently watched this delightful documentary – Iris – which included several segments of Iris using mobility devices including a cane, walker and wheelchair.
What struck me immediately when viewing these segments was the stark contrast between Iris’s ‘over the top’ accessorizing – on herself, her house and even her husband and the mobility aids that were left completely untouched! Not a splash of colour, not a jewel or bead, nothing… I have to admit I was disappointed… and couldn’t help thinking, “REALLY?! IRIS?!! You of all the people would have the know how to “pimp your ride”!
Unconsidered OR Unacceptable?
I believe one of two things are going on here. Either,
- These devices are ‘unconsidered’ – i.e., it doesn’t occur to Iris (or those around her) that it’s even an option to accessorize these devices…or, and I imagine more likely…
- The devices are ‘unacceptable’ – meaning Iris (like others) just can’t reconcile herself with these medicalized impersonal machines and as such wants to distance herself from them. The way these devices look, feel and are understood in our culture in other words, is completely unacceptable to Iris and as such she does not want them to – in any way- be a part of her.
“There’s no how-to road map to style. It’s about self-expression and, above all, attitude.” – Iris Apfel