Some tips for how to dress your best in a wheelchair
Being a wheelchair user can significantly limit your fashion choices. While there some designers working on adaptive lines, they are still rather few in number. So, how do you put together a comfortable and stylish look given the limited choices?
Sunita Sancheti, a disability rights activist, has been using a wheelchair from the time she was 16. Always dressed tastefully, her interest in fashion started early, but never in the sense of keeping up with the trend.
"I always feel that if you are dressed in something that's comfortable, it makes you more functional", says Sancheti. "I feel that whatever you wear should be soothing to you as well as to the person who sees you. Dressing up for me is not just following what is latest in trends, but something that adds value to your personality. Whatever I wear, I end it up with a smile on my face!"
However, as was Sancheti's experience too, arriving at an ensemble that is classy and comfortable takes some effort when you are a wheelchair user. For Jasmina Khanna, a senior systems engineer in Mumbai, palazzos have emerged as a favourite outfit, although she longs for some traditional wear options for people in wheelchairs.
Since I find it difficult to wear a dupatta or a ghaagra, I don't find anything in traditional wear. There is nothing specifically designed for wheelchair users. There are times when I want to wear certain clothes but cannot because I have to be lifted. I would love to wear a saree someday. - Jasmina Khanna, Wheelchair user
Comfort is a major factor for everyone, and even more so for wheelchair users who spend long hours sitting through the day. For disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra, customised shirts have been the preferred choice for almost a decade now. Readymade shirts with their full length buttons are not his cup of tea, but it took him a while to figure a way out.
"I love to dress formally but hate to wear the regular shirts for long hours. I get my shirts customized, so they have just three buttons, and it becomes easier to sit for long. My mother went to a tailor in Noida, Manmeet Khurana, and he designs my shirts. I team it with track pants".
Malhotra is happy to see the growing number of choices when it comes to adaptive fashion. Of late, many Indian designers have been seriously looking into clothes for people in wheelchairs, which means more fashion choices in the future. One such designer is Shalini Visakan from Chennai, whose brand Suvastra Designs is making quite a name.
Visakan has made a name for adaptive wear in traditional designs, especially sarees, which are much in demand by wheelchair users as well as well as the elderly. Which means Khanna's desire to finally wear a saree may be just a phone call away!
Shalini's muse is her husband, Visakan Rajendiran, who is a wheelchair user. She decided to work on adaptive clothes when she saw how her husband, who likes to dress well, had such limited choices.
"The clothing available in the market lacks functional value for a differently abled person", says Rajendiran. "The toilets are always inaccessible and this makes it even more difficult. As such the only adaptive clothing is via online and there is no store where one can feel it or wear it. More importantly, it's not available in Indian attire. I do not see any options when it comes to functional and fashionable clothes other than Suvastra Designs. I am not saying this because it's our brand. It is a fact!"
For Sancheti, her go to designer is her sister-in-law who understands her tastes and needs.
My casuals and Indians are designed by my Bhabhi. She loves designing and does it professionally so I am blessed that my wish of dressing up well gets fulfilled - Sunita Sancheti, Disability rights activist
Globally, brands like Tommy Hilfiger and ASOS have realized the huge potential for adaptive fashion and are reaching out to people in disabilities in a major way. Time Indian designers woke up to the market here, especially for traditional wear.