Adaptive Clothing & Why It Matters

Photo posted by @slickchicksonline on Instagram

Most of us have probably heard of the saying about putting your pants on one leg at a time. But have you ever thought about how that might change for you if you had a disability or otherwise limited mobility? Here’s where adaptive clothing comes in. 

The simple task of putting clothes on is a luxury that many may take for granted. We hardly have to think twice about how we’ll put on a pair of pants when we put them on. But according to the Center for Disease Control, “one in four adults in the U.S. (26%) live with ‘some type of disability.’” Despite about 25% of the U.S. population having some type of disability, popular fashion is not reflective of differing clothing needs to accommodate this large percentage of adults. Adaptive fashion, however, is gaining momentum and becoming more accessible in popular stores like Target and Aerie by American Eagle. 

Photo posted by @Aerie on Instagram
What is Adaptive Clothing?

Adaptive clothing is slowly becoming more popular among brands including Aerie, Tommy Hilfiger and Target, but options are still quite limited compared to what would be considered “normal” clothing — items that are not made with consideration for wearers that may need different accommodations. 

Most adaptive clothing aims to look as typical as possible, just with features that make it easier for people with disabilities to manipulate the items and dress themselves. For example, lots of adaptive clothing includes features like these: magnetic buttons, velcro closures, open necklines, wide-leg pant openings, flat seams and zippers that can be manipulated with one hand and seated wear pants designed for people who are wheelchair users. A lot of items are also tag-less and made of softer materials for extra comfort on the skin. These features are virtually invisible but make a world of difference for people with disabilities. 

Photo posted by @Slickchicksonline on Instagram
Representation at Aerie

Aerie is especially trying to become a more inclusive brand through their #AerieREAL campaign. Launched in 2020, the campaign aims to represent real women by hiring diverse models and not editing photos of those models. Since the launch, Aerie’s campaign has positioned them as one of the leading brands in terms of representing the disability community. In addition to hiring models with disabilities like Brenna Huckaby and Ali Stroker, Aerie has also added a collection in collaboration with Abilitee Adaptive Wear and Slick Chicks. The collection includes products like ostomy covers, insulin pump belts and underwear/ bras for people with disabilities and other medical needs. 

Their message: that all women, regardless of disabilities or other physical constraints deserve to feel confident. 

Photo posted by @Aerie on Instagram
Why It Matters

Accessible fashion is not only important in terms of representation of people with disabilities in an ableist society, but also in terms of ensuring the same comfort and confidence the other 75% of the U.S. population gets from their clothing. Even more than style and functionality, adaptive clothing allows for people with disabilities or just differing clothing needs to maintain the dignity that comes along with having the freedom to dress themselves. 

After all, clothing is a form of self-expression, but this could become extremely limited for people with disabilities that limit the types of clothing they can wear. Representation plays such a crucial role in empowering people to feel their best and to feel fully included in society. Adaptive clothing is so much more than flat seams and magnetic buttons; it’s inclusion, it’s confidence and it’s independence. 

Tell us about your favorite inclusive fashion finds! Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, on Twitter to let us know.


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