Most of us want to wear clothes that look good and feel comfortable. Personally, I feel better about myself when I am wearing clothes I enjoy. But for people with physical, cognitive, or sensory limitations, finding comfortable, stylish clothes that are easy to put on and take off can prove difficult. Fortunately, there are many companies making stylish, adaptive apparel to help those who struggle with traditional clothing designs. Adaptive clothing (also referred to as “inclusive fashion” and “accessible clothing”) has come a long way and may provide solutions for yourself or a loved one.
What is adaptive clothing?
Adaptive clothing is a broad term used for clothing and shoes that are designed to serve the needs of a particular group of people. In many cases, these clothes provide ease and comfort, while looking like typical clothing.
Certainly, we’re all familiar with maternity clothes and nursing bras. And we all know that pants can come in different inseam lengths to accommodate a range of leg lengths. Similarly, you can find dress shirts with longer tails for tall men, and others with shorter tails for shorter men.
However, adaptive clothing can assist with a wide range of needs. For instance, some clothes have magnets or hook and loop closures to help you or a loved one get dressed. Additionally, there are clothes designed to help those who are bedridden, in wheelchairs, or with other physical limitations. And there are clothes that make people with sensory issues more comfortable, and others that make access for medical treatments easier.
Interestingly, some adaptive clothing is considered “inclusive fashion”, designed with features the general population would enjoy, while benefiting those with limitations.
Simply put, adaptive clothing not only makes it easier to get dressed quickly, but it can also allow people to dress independently while also making it easier for caregivers to dress others.
Who can benefit from adaptive clothing?
Whether you or a loved one are dealing with a temporary or permanent struggle with clothing and shoes, adaptive clothing can make life easier.
People who can benefit from adaptive clothing include the following:
People with physical limitations.
Physical limitations can make it hard to get dressed. For instance, physical limitations can make it impossible to raise one’s arms to put a top over the head or to stand up to pull on pants. Additionally, those with tremors and other impairments may not be able to manage buttons, zippers, or laces.
Additionally, people with physical limitations must consider how clothing will impact their ability to perform daily living tasks, such as toileting. And of course, clothes need to feel comfortable.
Adaptive clothing can help those with permanent physical limitations due to a long-term disability, disease, or simply the aging process. Additionally, adaptive clothing can help those with temporary limitations, such as after surgery or an injury.
Patients who are bedridden.
It can be very challenging to dress and undress people who are bedridden and unable to move. For example, it can be hard to get a traditional shirt over the head of a bedridden patient, and it can be tricky to get pants on and off. Additionally, traditional clothing can make it hard to access and change incontinence products.
Adaptive clothing can make life easier for bedridden patients and their caregivers.
As we age, we accumulate injuries, wear and tear, and other physical changes that make daily life a bit more challenging. For example, seniors can find it hard to lift their arms to put tops over their heads and/or bend over to pull up pants can prove difficult.
Additionally, seniors with cognitive issues can have a hard time getting dressed and undressed. For instance, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients may be confused by buttons and zippers, making hook and loop closures an easier option. Additionally, these people may find it easier to avoid over-the-head tops or other garments that could be difficult to put on and take off.
For many seniors, adaptive clothing can help them remain independent longer. For others, adaptive clothing can make assisted dressing quicker, easier, and more dignified.
People in wheelchairs.
It can be hard for people in wheelchairs to put on and take off traditional clothing. Additionally, traditional clothing can bunch and gap, which doesn’t look good and can be uncomfortable. Finally, rivets and seams on the rear can cause discomfort and may even lead to potentially dangerous pressure sores.
Adaptive clothing can make it easier for people in wheelchairs to get dressed and undressed, while also making them comfortable and safe throughout the day.
People with sensory issues.
People with sensory issues, such as some people with autism, may find that tags, seams, and itchy fabric can be unbearable. Those with sensory issues may find adaptive clothing more tolerable.
Just because you, or your loved one, cannot easily or comfortably wear traditional clothing, doesn’t mean style doesn’t matter. Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, and that includes their clothing. In fact, clothing can profoundly alter our mood, attitude, and confidence. And our clothing can influence how others respond to us.
Jimmy Zollo, founder of adaptive clothing company Joe & Bella, states “What we wear is an expression of our identity. Physical changes shouldn’t prevent someone from wearing the styles that they’ve always worn.”
Fortunately, an increasing number of companies are creating adaptive clothing that is stylish and functional.
Where can you find adaptive clothing?
Below, I’ve provided information on companies creating and selling stylish adaptive clothing.
Importantly, many of these items use magnetic closures which can interfere with medical implants, such as pacemakers. Speak with your doctor before purchasing any item with magnets.
Silverts and Buck & Buck have each been selling a vast range of adaptive clothing for decades. Both companies carry clothes for a wide variety of needs, including (but not limited to) clothes for the following groups:
- Bedridden patients.
- Incontinent patients.
- Muscular dystrophy patients.
- Patients recovering from surgery.
- ALS patients.
- Alzheimer’s disease patients.
- Parkinson’s disease patients.
- Wheelchair users.
Although these companies are major sellers of adaptive clothing, there are plenty of other great companies selling helpful, stylish adaptive apparel. Below I’ve included other options for adaptive clothing, listed by category.
Clothing for seniors, bedridden patients, and those with physical limitations.
For those who can’t dress on their own or have pain that makes it difficult to put on traditional clothing, there are many options.
For instance, you can buy tops, dresses, and other garments that fully open in the back, allowing wearers to simply slide their arms through the arm openings without raising them over their heads. These open-back garments have overlapping flaps in the back which are usually secured with shoulder snaps. Open-back garments are very helpful for people who cannot raise their arms or are confined to a bed or wheelchair.
Additionally, you can buy pants with fasteners at the waistband, or with zippers down both sides. These adaptive pants make self-dressing or assisted dressing easier, plus these pants make it easier for toileting and diaper changing.
Options for clothing include:
Joe & Bella sells adaptive clothing with features that make self-dressing or assisted dressing easier. Their garments feature adaptations such as open-back garments, one-handed magnetic zippers, magnetic buttons, and hook and loop fasteners.
Additionally, Joe & Bella created CareZips® to help people in any of these categories: 1) use incontinence products, or 2) use wheelchairs, or 3) need help getting dressed. Their unique design uses three zippers to fully open up the front of the pants to make dressing and changing incontinence products much easier. Additionally, the waistband is snug, but comfortable, and the fabric is durable enough to withstand repeated washings, even in industrial machines used in long-term care communities.
Here is a quick video that shows how the CareZips pants unzip:
Seven7 sells stretch denim jeans with faux fly fronts with two hook and loop waist closures and rear elastic waistbands.
Clothing for wheelchair users.
Because wheelchair users generally spend most, if not all, of their days seated in their wheelchairs, specially designed clothes can provide comfort as well as ease of use.
For instance, pants designed for wheelchair users generally have higher back rises and elastic waistbands that provide ample coverage and comfort. Additionally, pants may have a shorter front rise reduces fabric bunching. Plus, zippers on the sides and internal pull-up loops can make it easier to pull pants on.
Also, shirts designed for wheelchair users may have hook and loop closures, magnets, or snaps on the back which can make self-dressing or assisted dressing easier.
Here are some places where you can find clothing for wheelchair users:
Joe & Bella sells open-back shirts with snap closures and pants with:
- Higher waistband at the back and lower at the front.
- Large flap pocket placed on the side for easy access while seated.
- 2 Easy-Grip loops, 1 on each inner side, for easy pull-up dressing.
- Full elastic waistband.
Additionally, JAM sells jackets with:
- A shorter back to eliminate fabric bunching.
- Fully zippable sides and arms.
- Hook-and-loop closures at the wrists.
And MagnaReady sells pants for wheelchair users with the following features:
- Lengthened back rise and shortened front rise.
- Magnetic and hook and loop closures.
- 3 pull loops at waistband sides and back to aid in dressing.
- Elastic back waistband provides comfort and improved fit.
IZ Adaptive sells clothing for wheelchair users, designed with these features:
- Pants and shorts designed to prevent bunching or digging in at the front, and to prevent riding down in the back. The smooth rear sections (no pockets or rivets) improve comfort and prevent pressure sores. Additionally, the front flies are longer for easier access.
- Tops snap shut in the back to eliminate arm lifting. Alternatively, leave the snaps shut and pull it over your head.
- Coats and capes that eliminate bunching in the front and back and the need to tuck fabric at the sides.
Seven7’s stretch denim jeans have magnetic and hook and loop closures instead of traditional buttons or zippers, with no rear pockets and minimal rear seaming. Additionally, they sell jeans with faux fly front with two hook and loop waist closures, along with a higher rise elastic waistband.
And Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy Adaptive seated wear includes pants and shorts with higher rear rises, hook and loop closures instead of tradition buttons or zip flies, with no rear pockets or seams. They also make shirts with open back loop-and-hook closures.
Lastly, No Limbits sells pants for wheelchair users that have the following features:
- Easy dressing dual side zippers makes dressing and toileting easier.
- Lower rise in the front.
- Zippered thigh pockets for easy storage, and no uncomfortable back pockets.
- Comfort waistband.
- Super stretchy fabric.
- Hidden catheter leg loop to discretely secure a catheter.
Clothing that is easy to fasten.
For those with arthritis, tremors, or poor fine motor skills, clothing with magnets or hook and loop closures, instead of buttons, can drastically improve the dressing experience.
Here are a few places that sell clothes that are easy to fasten:
Joe & Bella sells tops with magnetic buttons.
MagnaReady sells tops and pants with magnetic closures for men and women, plus dresses for women.
Seven7 sells stretch denim jeans with magnetic and hook and loop closures instead of traditional buttons or zippers. They also sell jeans with faux fly front with two hook and loop waist closures, along with a rear elastic waistband.
And Tommy Adaptive (by Tommy Hilfiger) sells clothes with:
Additionally, JAM sells clothes with easy fasteners:
- Linen shirts with magnetic buttons.
- Pants that can be put on 2 ways:
- Using the bilateral side access via invisible zippers along the side seams.
- Pulling up the pants in a traditional manner, taking advantage of their elastic waists and pull-on loops.
If you or your loved one is recovering from surgery, it may be difficult to wear traditional clothing due to restricted movement and/or casts and splints. Fortunately, there’s plenty of adaptive clothing that’s specifically designed for surgery recovery.
For example, some garments have zippers along the sleeves to accommodate bandages and casts. And some garments allow you to keep your clothes on while a doctor accesses your affected body area. Additionally, some pants have wider legs to accommodate casts and walking boots.
Here are a few places you can find post-surgical clothing:
Reboundwear garments have zippers and panels for easy dressing during recovery. For instance, you can unzip the shoulder zipper for icing, bandage changes, doctor visits, and physical therapy. And you can easily and painlessly zip the garments around your body and your orthopedic devices.
And Recovawear sells tops and bottoms designed with strategic openings, as well as with hook-and-loop and magnetic fastenings, that can make it easier to get dressed when recovering from an injury or surgery.
Clothes for medical treatment access.
No one wants to undress more than necessary while receiving medical care. Yet medical staff often need to access particular body parts to treat or evaluate patients. Fortunately, many companies sell clothes that make the process easier for everyone. For example, if you or a loved one has a surgically implanted chest port, specially designed clothes can make it easier for medical staff to access the port. Additionally, you can buy specially designed clothes that allow easy access to arms, shoulders, hips, or legs. And some clothing allows for easier routing of tubes through clothing.
Here are some options:
Reboundwear sells tops with strategically placed discrete zippers, with no hook and loop closures, no magnets, and no snaps.
And Tommy Adaptive has several tops designed to make chest port access easier.
Slick Chicks sells an accessible hoodie with dropped armholes for easier routing of medical tubing. Additionally, it has a magnetic zipper for those with limited hand dexterity.
Lastly, Care + Wear sells a line of clothing designed to make access to chest ports easier. They also sell a long sleeved shirt with a discrete sleeve zipper to allow easy access to an arm during dialysis or PICC line treatments.
Clothes for people with sensory issues.
Tags, bulky seams, and scratchy fabrics can irritate those with sensory issues. Fortunately, many clothing brands make clothes that are comfortable for all of us, including those with sensory issues.
Search for “tagless” clothing, with all product information printed directly on the fabric. Additionally, you may find suitable clothing by searching for clothes using the phrases “prewashed”, “super-soft”, or “flat seams”.
Here are some options:
JAM sells tops for adults with flat seams, and with no tags or care labels.
Independence Day Clothing sells clothes for kids and young adults that have no tags, zippers, or buttons.
Sensory Smart Clothing sells children’s clothing made with ultra-soft fabrics, with no tags and no outside seams.
Target’s Cat and Jack Adaptive Clothing is sensory-friendly comfortable cotton clothing for babies and kids. The clothes are tagless, with side zippers, elastic waistbands, and flat seams.
JC Penny sells children’s clothes with no tags and flat seams.
It can be difficult to put on and take off undergarments. Fortunately, several companies sell adaptive undergarments that make self-dressing or caregiver dressing easier.
Options for women:
Slick Chicks sells underwear with side fasteners. They also sell bras with either zipper or hook and loop closures in the front, as well as camisoles with zipper closures in the front.
Also, IZ Adaptive sells bras with front snap closures to make bras easier to put on and take off.
Additionally, period panties can be extremely helpful for women who have a hard time changing sanitary products. You can find many options online by searching for “period panties”.
Options for men:
Recovawear boxers have magnetic and hook and loop closures on both sides (towards the front) that make them easier to put on and take off.
Shoes that are easy to put on.
For some people, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to put on traditional laced shoes. For instance, physical limitations can make it hard to bend over to insert one’s foot and/or tie laces. Certainly, slip-on shoes are easy to put on and take off. However, slip-on shoes do not provide the stability of shoes with laces or hook and loop closures, which can increase the risk of falling, particular for those with balance issues.
Here are a few options for “safe” shoes that are easier to put on than traditional shoes:
BILLY Footwear makes stylish shoes for men, women, and children with side zippers that extend around the toe of the shoe. This zipper makes it easy to put on and secure the shoes.
Similarly, Friendly Shoes makes stylish shoes for men, women, and children that also use zippers to make it easier to put on and secure shoes.
And Kizik sells a durable line of stylish gym shoes that are easy to step into – no need to use your hands or tie these shoes. And you don’t have to worry about ruining the shoe by stepping on heel!
Just in case you missed this warning above, magnets can interfere with implanted medical devices, including pacemakers. Before you purchase any clothing with magnets, for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor.
If you are a caregiver for a loved one with a serious medical condition, read these blog posts for helpful tips:
- How To Care for Someone Who Is Bedridden at Home.
- How to Help Seniors Manage Their Healthcare.
- Risks for Seniors in the Hospital.
- What You Need to Know About Pressure Sores.
- Can Caregiving Make You Sick?
- Help with the Stress of Caregiving.
NOTE: I updated this post on 4-3-23.