Dressing, undressing and ability

"Dressing" by Daniel Horacio AgostiniI have many books to read right now – from those which are helping with my research, to some sent to me for reviewing on this blog – but I’m not getting as much time as I’d like to fully tackle the vast majority of them. I have had more success with Frances Corner’s book Why Fashion Matters because it is split into 101 short chapters that hope to inspire further thought and discussion on a particular topic. I’ve been reading a few here and there but, when I reached number 33, entitled ‘dress up to dress down’ I read something that moved me enough to share it with others online. I posted a photo of a section of this entry on Instagram, which said:

We underestimate how difficult the physical act of dressing can be. While clothes may be central to who we are, all of us at certain points in our lives have needed, and may yet need, assistance dressing and undressing ourselves. Learning to dress yourself, from putting on a t-shirt to tying your own shoelaces, is a pivotal process in becoming independent. It’s a rite of passage. Choosing for the first time which clothes to buy with your own pocket money is equally a key moment in the evolving definition of who you are. In short, our clothes and the rituals surrounding the acts of putting them on or removing them have lasting value and significance to us.

Reading this reminded me how frustrating it was to have my left arm in a cast for 8 weeks when I broke my wrist. I am right handed and so I initially thought that it wouldn’t be as much of a problem as it would if my dominant hand was out of action, but I hadn’t realise just how many everyday tasks I would have to re-learn how with the limited movement I had. Dressing myself was impossible for the first day or so and then, due to a combination of the pain easing and the discovery of new and innovative ways to put on and fasten my clothing, I started to regain the confidence that was knocked out of me. Of course, many people know this feeling well and, for a lot of them, it is not temporary. Recurring or permanent mobility problems, pain, exhaustion… there are plenty of things which can all affect a person’t ability to dress themselves and, as a result, their independence and sense of self. This quote also struck a chord with a couple of my followers on Instagram:

b_millinery: Thanks for posting this, it is so true. I’ve been ill at points and have not had the ability to choose my clothes or dress myself and it felt so dehumanising. Even now I forget and take it for granted but fashion does matter.

fearlessknits: Thank you. It’s something I’ve struggled with, first as a kid on the autistic spectrum who just didn’t understand why she was getting bullied for not realising that fashion and style existed, and now as a physically disabled adult, when I often don’t have the energy to dress for days in a row, have unavoidably put on loads of weight and almost never have the energy to do anything but online shopping. Dressing well has always been a struggle. It’s always nice to read an acknowledgement that its not just me that finds this hard.

So the next time you say that fashion is superficial, or that a garment is ‘just’ clothing, take a moment to consider the wider implications of that statement. Think about how you would feel if you had to rely on someone else to help you get dressed, or if you needed assistance but there was no one to call on. Think of those who rely on a sighted friend on clothes shopping trips, or those who are constantly searching for garments that won’t exacerbate pain or chronic skin conditions. Think of how good you feel when you’re wearing something you love and imagine having that confidence removed. These things matter more than you know.

Image via Daniel Horacio Agostini‘s Flickr Photostream.

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