Adaptive Clothing for Disabilities and Body Differences
Check out the latest in shoes and clothes designed for people who use wheelchairs, have trouble with buttons and zippers, need discreet port access, and more.
May 31, 2022
Subtle design elements can go a long way toward making clothing accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have trouble getting into and out of conventional apparel.
Photos Courtesy of MagnaReady (2); Maya Fuhr/IZDAPTIVE; Canva
When you live with a disability or body difference, small daily tasks can become difficult or even insurmountable. I know this from personal experience with rheumatoid arthritis: When I have hand pain, everything from chopping vegetables to zipping up a pair of jeans is a challenge!
Fortunately, there have never been more options on the market for adaptive clothing and footwear. Adaptive clothing is simply clothing designed for people with a disability or body difference to be able to use with more ease, independence, or comfort without sacrificing style.
Adaptive clothing includes a wide variety of innovations including:
Magnetic closures for those who have difficulty with muscle strength, tremors, or grasping
Specially designed pants and tops to conform to a seated position in a wheelchair
Shirts that allow for easy access of medical devices such as ports
Tagless clothing to be tolerable for those with severe hypersensitivities to tactile sensation
Compression clothing for those with hypermobile joints or swelling (edema)
Footwear that can be put on and taken off hands-free
Special clothing for use with prostheses that has reinforced areas, extra room around the joint, and zipper access to the prosthesis
This article surveys some of the brands and styles of adaptive clothing that solve a variety of disability-related problems. It’s intended as an overview of what’s available, not an endorsement of any particular brand or clothing item.
Shoes and Foot Wear
Adaptive footwear includes shoes that are easy to take on and off, can accommodate ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) or custom orthotics, are available as singles for people with lower-limb amputations, and more. Here are some brands and examples you might want to check out:
Zappos Adaptive promises “functional and fashionable products to make life easier.” It has an easy-to-use interface for you to quickly check out options for the category that applies to you, from orthotic-friendly shoes to those that are particularly easy to take on and off. For example, Ugg Universal boots are classic Ugg boots and with an added zipper so that you can more easily get your foot into and out of them.
Nike FlyEase is a collection of adaptive shoes that was designed in conjunction with the disabled community. The Nike Go FlyEase has no closures and is easy to take on and off hands-free, and the Nike Dynamo Go Lil Fruits is the child-sized version of a hands-free, easy-on-and-off shoe.
Anodyne Diabetic Footwear is designed to be particularly friendly for individuals with diabetes. Diabetes can cause lack of sensation in the feet, which can make it harder to notice friction from a shoe or sock, or pebbles or other items that may have gotten into the shoe — either of which can lead to an open wound if not addressed in time. The Anodyne shoes are designed with extra comfort features and materials to avoid chafing and extra room to allow for foot swelling.
Billy Footwear was developed by Billy Price, who has quadriplegia and wanted shoes he could manage independently. On Billy Footwear, a zipper goes along the side of the shoe and around the toe, so the entire top of the shoe can be opened up to slide feet in or out. The collection includes boots, sneakers, and sizes for kids and toddlers.
Easy Closures for Clothing
Photos Courtesy of MagnaReady (3); Canva
Simply putting pants, shirts, and other clothing items on and taking them off can be difficult if you have hand pain, weakness, lack of sensation, an amputation, or other challenges. The following clothing items feature innovations to make putting on and taking off clothing easier.
Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive offers a variety of “easy closure” options, including a men’s formal Custom Fit Striped Shirt that has concealed magnetic closures, women’s Skinny Fit Distressed Jean with a Velcro closure and magnetic fly (which looks on the outside like a traditional button and zip fly), and various children’s clothing options.
JC Penney Adaptive similarly offers a variety of adaptive clothing solutions including easy closures. The John’s Bay Plus Women’s Sleeveless Adaptive Regular Fit Button-Down Shirt has Velcro closures rather than buttons, and the Stafford Men’s Adaptive Classic Fit Suit Pants also features Velcro closures. JC Penney even has socks that are designed to be easier to put on and take off.
Magna-Ready provides a variety of casual and work-appropriate men’s and women’s clothing that uses magnets or Velcro for closures. The Lainie Full Magnetic Zip Up Knit Jacket has a magnetized zipper system that makes independent dressing easier.
Silverts offers a variety of accessible men’s and women’s clothing and sleepwear, some of it intended for individuals who can dress themselves independently, and some intended for people who need help from a caregiver to get dressed.
Authored Apparel is patient-founded company with clothing that is not only easy for the wearer to take on and off, but also easy for a caregiver to take on and off. The Dress , for women, has two neckline zippers that make it possible to pull the dress up from the bottom if putting it over your head isn’t possible. The Men’s Adaptive Double-Zip Pullover uses the same concealed zippers for easy accessibility.
Clothes Designed for Comfort and Style While Seated
Photos Courtesy of MagnaReady (2); Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive; Canva
Most clothing is designed for people to wear when standing rather than for prolonged seated wear. For a wheelchair user, clothing designed for seated use can be much more comfortable and functional on a daily basis. For example, pants designed for seated use tend to have a shorter rise in the front, which reduces fabric bunching in the groin area, and a higher rise in the back for full coverage. They also generally do away with back pockets and lumpy back seams — or any back seam — for added comfort.
Tops designed for wheelchair use often include snap or hook and loop closures at the back of the neck to make them easier to put on and take off over the head, or they may have hook and loop closures along the entire back, to make it easier for caregivers to get the shirt on and off the person wearing it.
Here are some examples and brands that have designed wheelchair-friendly clothing.
Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive has range of seated wear, including a Seated Fit Jegging , which is aesthetically pleasing, as well as several shorts options. The Seated Fit Flag Regatta Jacket has front pockets at the right height for wheelchair users, and the Seated Fit Stripe Signature T-Shirt has a Velcro closure along the back length of the shirt.
JC Penny Adaptive offers the Mutual Weave Adaptive Seated Denim Men’s Straight Fit Jean , which features stretch fabric, hook and loop closures on either side of the abdomen, a higher back rise with an elasticized back waistband, and loops to help pull the jeans on.
Alter UR Ego sells “jeans for everyone” that feature pockets on the thighs of the pant legs rather than at the hips, an elasticized back waistband, and loops to help pull the jeans on.
IZ Adaptive is a truly fashion-forward line of disability-friendly clothing. Here you’ll find jeans, sweats, chinos, and leggings, as well as fashionable tops, capes, coats, dresses, and suit jackets.
Ministry of Supply offers a stylish line of adaptive men’s and women’s suit pants that are designed with the wheelchair user in mind.
Rollimoden is a German company that specializes in seated jeans, men’s business wear and underwear, and accessories such as wheelchair gloves and hand protectors.
Clothes for Amputations and Prosthetics
People who use prostheses not only may need some of the adaptations to clothing that assist with dressing and undressing, but they also have the additional challenge of the prosthesis changing the size of the limb at the joint (particularly the knee), as well as also significant wear and tear where the prosthetic joint rubs on the clothing.
Here are some options to consider for people who use prostheses or have amputations:
No Limbits men’s and women’s pants are designed for comfort with soft fabrics, extra space where needed for prostheses, and hidden zippers that allow accessing prostheses during the day as needed. They are also strategically reinforced to withstand the wear and tear caused by mechanical parts.
Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive offers some items that may make dressing easier for people with amputations and prosthetics, such as the men’s Regular Fit Colorblock Shirt With Removable Sleeves and the men’s Seated Fit Classic Chino , which has internal pull-up loops to make it easier to get them on and Velcro closures for easier access. In women’s wear, the Colorblock Denim Jogger has an elastic waistband and zippers along the lower legs to accommodate leg braces and prosthetics.
Buck & Buck sells men’s and women’s adaptive clothing for a variety of needs. For people with amputations, they can alter clothing as needed. For example, the company will modify the sleeve length of shirts and dresses, modify the leg length of pants legs, or insert zippers or snaps into pant legs for easy access to the leg.
Easy Access for Medical Devices
If you use a medical device such as a port or a feeding tube, apparel that has openings to allow access to these devices is much more convenient than conventionally designed clothing. Here are just a few of the many examples of clothing designed for easy access to medical devices.
JC Penny Adaptive offers a variety of clothing options with hidden abdominal access, including this Arizona Adaptive Men’s Long Sleeve Hoodie .
Unhidden specializes in clothing with discreet port openings and other accommodations for medical needs. The women’s Unhidden Silk Shirt has concealed sleeve and chest openings for ports, and its Seated Twill Trousers have an adjustable front wrap to allow for changing stomach size (because of bloating or a colostomy bag) and an elasticized back waistband. The trousers can be further customized by emailing the Unhidden team. Similar items are available in men’s sizes.
Target Kids has an “abdominal access” line for infants through boys and girls, including pajamas. The Kids Adaptive Abdominal Access Pajama Jumpsuit and the Baby Boys’ Adaptive Jumpsuit — Cat & Jack Black are just two of many options.
Underwear and Intimates
Finding bras, underwear, and other intimates that have adaptive features while also being aesthetically appealing has historically been almost impossible. In the past two decades however, a variety of options have come on the market that are both stylish and functional for a variety of needs, including difficulty with closures and fasteners, weakness, and other potential barriers to putting on and taking off underclothes.
JC Penny Adaptive has a variety of adaptive intimates including the Slick Chicks Front Fastening Adaptive Bra , which closes with hook and loop tape, and the Slick Chicks Adaptive Hipster Panty , which opens on the side.
AnaOno specializes in bras and other undergarments for women who have had mastectomies or other breast surgeries. They have a variety of bras designed for mastectomy , lumpectomy , flap reconstruction, and other needs. For example, the Molly Unilateral Plunge Bra has nonmolded cups, which are designed to make sure the bra lies smoothly on the mastectomy side, while also offering support for the other side. It can also be used with a breast form insert.
Intimately has a collection of bras and underwear for women that have such features as magnetic and front closures for bras, side openings for panties, and grip loops on both for those with hand dexterity limitations.
Zappos Adaptive offers various sensory-friendly seamless bras including the Under Armor Seamless Low Long Bra . It also offers some breast surgery-specific bras such as the Anita Lynn Mastectomy Bra , which has removable foam cups and breast form pockets on both sides.
Patti + Ricky has men’s adaptive underwear as well as women’s underwear . To put on the men’s briefs or boxers, the waistband is first wrapped around the waist and fastened in front with a Velcro piece, then the front panel is pulled through the legs and attached at the sides with Velcro.
Sensory-Friendly Clothing for Texture Sensitivities
People who have chronic pain and those who identify as neurodiverse often are highly sensitive to sensory input, particularly from clothing textures. Tags, seams, and rough fabrics can be very irritating or impossible to tolerate for some individuals. In the past decade, however, more brands are offering “sensory-friendly” clothing, which is made from soft materials, doesn’t have tags, and is designed to fit comfortably. Here are just a few examples:
Target Kids’ sensory-friendly collection includes many options, including the Boys Adaptive Printed Short Sleeve T-Shirt — Cat & Jack , which has flat seams and no tags for added comfort. It also offers sensory friendly socks, such as the Toddler Girls Adaptive Crew Socks — Cat & Jack , which feature a fine toe seam and are designed with no heels to reduce textural irritation on the feet.
Primary offers tagless clothing in comfortable fabrics and styles for children and adults, including their Signature Classic Kids Legging .
Compression Wear for Hypermobility, Chronic Pain, Body Awareness, Swelling, and More
Photo Courtesy of Spio; Canva
While some people are hypersensitive to tactile input, others find that compression clothing, which “hugs” the skin, to be more comfortable than standard clothing. Compression clothing promotes blood flow and circulation, which is particularly helpful for those with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Additionally, compression clothing can serve as an orthoses and support joints so they don’t slip out of place.
Compression clothing can also be very useful for people with diabetes, cardiac issues, or swelling following surgery for breast cancer. However, people with these conditions should check with their doctor before using compression clothing; it may not be recommended in all instances.
Interestingly, while some with chronic pain are hypersensitive to tactile input, others find that compression garments offer a degree of comfort and even pain reduction, which is why for example I personally use compression gloves to help minimize hand pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
Regardless of disability or health condition, many find gentle pressure to be calming, from infants who enjoy swaddling to adults who enjoy a weighted blanket or tight clothing. Here are some of many examples of compression clothing.
Jobskin specializes in dynamic compression garments which, according to their website, “increases sensory and proprioceptive feedback,” and they also feature “reinforcement paneling to improve musculoskeletal stability and alignment.” In layman’s terms, these garments are helpful for people with hypermobile joints, or joints that move too much, which can lead to pain and discomfort. Some garments can be purchased ready-made, and others can be personalized to your measurements.
Spio offers compression shirts and tights for children and adults, which are customized to the individual’s measurements. Various product options can help with postural stability as well as body awareness and calming.
Jobst Stockings offers a variety of compression socks, pantyhose, and gloves. The innovative Jobst Ulcercare Therapeutic Open Toe Knee High 40 mmHg Compression Stocking with Zipper and Liner features a side zipper for ease of taking the socks on and off.
Where to Learn More About Adaptive Fashion
In spite of all of the examples we’ve offered here, we’ve only scratched the surface of adaptive fashion! There are also stylish options for carrying or covering medical accessories, for example, such as insulin pump belts, PICC line covers, wheelchair backpacks, and more. If you’re interested in learning more about accessible fashion, check out the following links.
Cur8able offers adaptive clothing consultations and reports on adaptive clothing developments. You can stay up to date on fashionable adaptive clothing by following Cur8able on Instagram .
Fashion Dis is Canadian TV makeover series that focuses on identifying fashionable options in the adaptive clothing space, while also helping the featured guests develop their personal style. Hosted by Ardra Shephard, who can no longer wear high heels because of multiple sclerosis (MS) , the show is uplifting, inspirational, and a lot of fun to watch.
Open Style Lab is a nonprofit organization with the mission of making stylish clothing accessible to people of all abilities. It partners with companies that want to make their products more accessible as well as design schools to create inclusive designs.
Runway of Dreams “empowers people with disabilities to have confidence and self-expression through fashion and beauty inclusion.” The organization has a variety of initiatives, including adaptive runway shows and scholarships. You can learn about the origins of Runway of Dreams in a video clip from The View .