The way we dress is a form of communication. It has elements of self-expression and creativity. As a guy, most of us pay little attention to fashion. If it fits and feels comfortable, it works just fine. The functionality of clothing also becomes an important factor. I often find myself purchasing apparel for a specific purpose. For instance, shorts to exercise in, polo shirts to play golf, a ski-bib to keep me dry and warm on the mountain. Other articles of clothing are purchased with a dual purpose. They serve a functional purpose, but also fit with the latest fashion. With cerebral palsy, there is a third category to consider when buying clothing. I think about how wearable something might be. When shopping with cerebral palsy thoughts enter my mind that might not enter yours. Having some challenges with dexterity and muscle control, I think about how easily or difficult it could be to get into and out of an article of clothing, or whether the closure is functional with my hands. It was even more challenging growing up with a mother in the fashion industry. There would be some welcomed pressure to dress well, but often times, my frustration with CP had me giving up.
Manhattan is one of the fashion capitals in the world. Growing up my mother traveled back to New York frequently. Working in fashion she often returned with clothing we couldn’t find in the Seattle area. During that time, I was in elementary school, without an accurate appreciation for fashion. The most valuable attribute on an article of clothing was the closure. I remember it being popular to wear jeans at that time. Most of my classmates wore jeans to school daily. Cerebral palsy kept me away from jeans and most other types of pants. When I was in elementary school most pants had a snap closure. I was unable to snap a pair of pants together, so I was forced to wear sweat pants to school each day. It caused jealousy when I was physically unable to wear jeans like everyone else. Another reminder that my life was different from my peers. Each time my mother returned from New York, she brought back a couple pairs of sweats. But, I will never forget seeing my first pair of jeans with a button instead of a snap closure.
There was a feeling of excitement when I saw the button closure on a pair of jeans. It provided the possibility of wearing jeans like my peers. The next step was to get ahold of a pair and find out if I could manage the button closure. I tried them on in a dressing room. The button front seemed to work, so I bought a pair. Over the following weekend, I wore the jeans around, testing my ability to get through a day with them. Cerebral palsy leads to testing the functionality of some apparel before venturing out into the world. Jeans with the button front worked better than the snap front. So, I could finally give up the required sweat pants and move on to wearing the more fashionable jean. It was cool to feel less restricted by CP, even in this small way.
I didn’t realize at the time my difficulties with clothing wouldn’t end with the button front jean. When I finished college, and began working, I experienced another set of clothing challenges. Button down shirts have always been a challenge to wear. With cerebral palsy effecting my fine motor skills, the buttons on a dress shirt can be frustrating. Throughout school I avoided wearing woven shirts because of the extra time and patience required to button them. I was most often found in a t-shirt or sweatshirt, saving me from leaving the house already frustrated with my hands. But, when I began working after college there were clothing requirements. I was asked to wear a suit each day, which required the buttoning of a shirt and the tying of a tie. It also challenged me to find a solution for the impossibility I found of securing the shirt around my neck.
The button around the neck is impossible for me to secure. In many cases, it is required when wearing a tie. In the beginning, I received assistance from my mother or brother to secure that top button, but we wanted to find a solution allowing me to dress independently. Mom first tried replacing the top button of a dress shirt with a Velcro closure. When the Velcro wasn’t manageable, she toyed with the idea of a magnetic closure, but couldn’t get a magnet to work quite right. Finally, we went online and found a tool that helped me button up my shirt. It’s a device I hold in my hand and push through the open button hole. The tool latches onto the button, as I pull the device back through the button hole with the button in its grasp. It all works to perfection. Today, I’m no longer required to use my fingers when buttoning up a shirt. The tool removed one more frustration from my daily life. Allowing me to wear a woven shirt without dreading the frustration of fighting with the buttons.
The first part of fashion has been my ability to wear the apparel. After finding solutions for wearing articles of clothing, I can choose style. Fashion can also provide feelings of confidence. Often when we look good, it can translate into feeling good. Growing up, cerebral palsy limited my ability to wear certain styles of clothing. However, in a similar way to other challenges from CP, as time went on, solutions began to appear. With those solutions, I became more interested in the surrounding fashions. It allowed me to ask more questions of my mother and I began to improve my style of dress. Finding solutions to clothing problems earlier in life would have been helpful. Instead I wore the clothing I could function in and accepted the style cerebral palsy had given. Today, I ask more questions when I solve a functionality issue. Over time, I have realized the value in finding a way to wear the clothing that makes us feel good. It positively effects the way we relate to the world.