The days of ill-fitting and unfashionable wheelchair clothing for the elderly or disabled are gone, thanks to fashion designers and companies bringing adaptive clothing for seniors into the mainstream. How? By focusing equally on functionality, comfort and style.

Adaptive clothing refers to garments, accessories and footwear specially designed with the dressing needs of seniors and the disabled in mind. The modified or specially tailored clothing is for people with limited mobility who use wheelchairs or other assistive mobile devices. It’s especially practical for seniors who are unable to dress themselves or who have difficulty manipulating buttons and zippers.

From functional to feel-good

Years ago, one would never describe clothes for wheelchair users as fashion-forward, elegant or couture. But adaptive clothing for the elderly has shifted from being strictly functional to being something to help them retain their dignity and promote a sense of well-being.

When older adults in wheelchairs can dress and undress with minimal assistance, it allows them to experience a level of self-care, gives them a sense of independence and helps them retain their dignity. With styles and designs unique to any physical challenge, adaptive clothing for wheelchair users can help them feel good about themselves, both physically and psychologically.

Key elements of adaptive clothing for seniors

What are some essential features of adaptive clothing for wheelchair users? The garments should feel natural and comfortable, and look and fit like any regular piece of clothing.

Forgiving fabrics must be made with nonabrasive materials. They also need to be durable and hold up to continuous use and cleaning. Pants, shirts, blouses, blazers and dresses should be cut to fall naturally and elegantly while in the seated position, so the material doesn’t bunch up in the wrong places.

Other design elements found in adaptive clothing for the elderly include Velcro-type closures for garments and shoes (instead of buttons and shoelaces); zippers with pull tabs that are easy to grasp and pull; seatless pants or pants with side zippers; and open-back blouses, shirts and dresses.

Navigating the adaptive clothing industry

Whether shopping for yourself or a loved one, there are many resources and options to consider. Some companies offer brand-name clothing for the elderly or disabled, while others make universally designed wheelchair clothing with a range of needs in mind.

Another clothing option for the elderly or disabled is to buy pieces off the rack and have them tailored. Adaptive clothing alteration companies like Stitch It can make dressing more comfortable and stylish by adapting seniors’ existing wheelchair clothing. Meanwhile, the Real Men Real Style website offers tools to educate visitors so they can build a wardrobe that best complements their lifestyle.

Where to buy adaptive clothing for wheelchair users

New Mobility writer Kate Matelan offers resources to help take the guesswork out of finding wheelchair clothing. She also dispels fashion myths about clothes for wheelchair users. Yes, she assures readers, adaptive clothes are stylish, today’s fabrics have plenty of stretch, garments can be easy on-and-off as well as fashion-forward, and if there’s an article of clothing you like, there’s a way to make something equivalent work for you.

At Chairmelotte, all their garments are specially cut for sitting. A 90-degree curve in the pattern ensures the panels follow the lines of a body in a sitting position. The company also offers formal clothing for seniors to wear to a party or special occasion.

Caring Village is an online community offering resources, products and information for caregivers who want to use technology to help coordinate care for loved ones. The site highlights five of the top adaptive clothing companies.

  • Silvert’s Adaptive Clothing & Footwear’s design department consults with customers, caregivers and health care professionals on ways to incorporate style into wheelchair clothing, while making it functional for those with decreased mobility levels.
  • Able2Wear and Easy Access Clothing offer fashionable collections of adaptive clothing and products for wheelchair users of all ages and degrees of ability.
  • Adaptations by Adrian offers unique items, like bus pass and cell phone holders, for people of all ages. Other fashionable special needs clothing includes adult bibs and clothing protectors, wheelchair shirts and jackets with open backs, wheelchair pants and loungewear with hook and loop closures, and specialized foot and winter wear.
  • The mission of IZ Adaptive is to “provide timeless adaptive clothing to as many people as possible” so they can live in “comfort, style, dignity and empowerment.” The collection has signature styles and cuts designed for a seated body.

Eldercare Alliance and its five senior living communities throughout the Bay Area and beyond are here to help older adults live at the highest level of independence and dignity. See what we offer!