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Miss Iowa 2013: A True Inspiration. Disability In the Spotlight

11 Jun
disabled beauty, disabled inspiration, disabled fashion, wefly2, beauty pageants

Being born without a forearm  hasn’t slowed down 2013’s Miss Iowa,Nicole Kelly–or lessened her beauty. Photo from the Miss Iowa Facebook page.

“Beauty is Everywhere” is wefly2’s slogan. In Nicole Kelly’s case, one doesn’t have to look hard to find the beauty– or the inspiration. While there have been fashion shows for the disabled in London,  a disabled beauty pageant winner in the US has been unheard of. But Nicole Kelly has made it happen.  Mike Krumboltz of the Upbeat (Yahoo! News)    tells her story (reprinted here in its entirety):

The Story

“Nicole Kelly, the newly crowned Miss Iowa, plans to use her title to help advocate for people with disabilities, reports the DesMoines Register.

Kelly, 23, was born without her left forearm, according to her biography at MissIowa.com (note: site has been intermittently down). Photos can be viewed at the Miss Iowa Facebook page.

After winning the title, Kelly spoke with CBS-4 News. ‘It was shocking and overwhelming—just like that your life changes,’ she said.

‘As I grew up I learned to counterbalance the initial stares I received from people with an outgoing personality that would not give into”‘no,'” Kelly wrote on the pageant site. This means that I tried everything. From baseball, to dance, to diving—there’s nothing I would not try. I found my passion within a world where I was giving people permission to stare: the stage.’

According to Kelly’s biography, she’s currently studying directing and theater management at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She hopes to work on Broadway.

“If you would have told me a year ago that ‘pageant queen’ was in my future I would have laughed,” she wrote. “Giving voice to a platform is a great honor and I am excited to continue my adventure of speaking out and touching lives.”

Kelly will compete in the Miss America pageant on Sept. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J.”

The Inspiration

“I tried everything…would not give in to ‘no'” until “…I found my passion.” There’s a lesson here, whether one is disabled or not.

For everyone who has been mocked or fallen in the dirt amid jeers; for every kid chosen last for a team; for anyone who believed “I can’t” and turned away from a reachable goal, look at Nicole Kelly and take heart. It doesn’t even matter if she wins Miss America this year; her victory in the Miss Iowa pageant shows stunning progress, both for her as an individual and for society. I, for one, intend to watch her on Sept.15.

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To the Garment Industry: Less Polyester, More Cotton, Please

7 Jun
An Arizona cotton plant. Photo from tucsonsentinel.com.

An Arizona cotton plant. Photo from tucsonsentinel.com.

It never fails. Thumbing through a catalogue, I’ll get all excited: “What a stellar outfit! Those colors would be so flattering, and I could get a lot of use out of it!” Then I read the description: “Oh snap! It’s 100% polyester.”

Once again, the garment industry has saved me money. Although the wildly popular synthetic works well in blends, such as poly-rayon-spandex in career pants and poly-cotton interlock in t-shirts, I can’t stand full-strength polyester against my skin. Of course, there’s a backstory here.

Body Odor

My mother used to buy me lovely-looking polyester dresses and skirt outfits. I wore them faithfully. Unfortunately, she tended to call me aside, as she felt a mother should, and tell me I should change deodorants and laundry detergents because she noticed I, and my clothes, didn’t smell nice. I was flummoxed. Having my mom insinuate I stank to high heaven was deflating enough, but I was a clean person who took joy in my daily showers and wore clothing only once before washing it.  Was it my weight or diet? Was I doomed to turn into a garbage can when I tried to look good? Visions of Mom pursuing me with a can of Lysol at family gatherings entered my head.  I sent for Kleinert’s dress shields, which helped a little. I also noticed Mom didn’t comment on my b.o.when I wore cotton or other natural fabrics, but it took awhile to figure out why.

Putting It Together: Stacy and Clinton to the Rescue

Years later, I was watching an episode of What Not To Wear (one of my favorites).  Style experts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly were conducting the customary sort-and-toss of their current client’s wardrobe. Holding up a pair of  dark polyester pants, one of them asked, “Where would you wear these?” “Out dancing,” the lady replied. “You must smell good by the end of the night,” Clinton laughed, explaining that polyester doesn’t breathe.

Bingo!

It wasn’t me; it was the fabric that had trapped my perspiration and not vented my skin, so to speak. I had been shying away from 100%v poly anyway by the time I saw this episode, but now I knew why. Although people perspire in different quantities, eliminating toxins through sweat is normal and bound to happen unless you have a medical condition. Working out? Sweat is desirable. Living in Phoenix, in 100+ degree heat, or New Orleans in 85 degree heat with 85% humidity? Sweat happens. Unless you are wearing one of the newer polyester or nylon garments that wick away moisture, poly keeps sweat next to your skin.  Being disabled and moving more slowly down the sidewalk simply gives one more opportunity to sweat in the summer.  What’s the solution? Mine is wearing cotton.

In Praise of Cotton

Crisp or soft, depending on the treatment, cotton is breathable and comfortable, lending itself to casual, in-between, and dressy outfits with ease. It comprises many fashion classics: jeans, tees, button-down shirts and blouses, shorts, cardigans, summer dresses. That isn’t even a comprehensive list.  Because I live in a warm climate, I focus on staying cool in the spring and summer and layering clothing in the winter, when days start out chilly but grow warmer. Sweat? Cotton both absorbs and vents it.  Admittedly, my love of cotton doesn’t stop with my outer wardrobe. I prefer cotton socks, underwear, pajamas, and sheets (no slinky satin for me). After working in a hospital and seeing their cotton blankets, I was thrilled to find  one in assorted colors in the Brylane Home print catalogue. I am a cotton fan all right. My body says “Don’t fence me in when you cover me,” and cotton fits the bill.

No Knocks To Other Naturals

Other natural fabrics have their benefits, of course. However, silk does not fit my budget.  Wool is fantastic, but  not often needed in Phoenix. Linen? Wrinkle city, although textile designers are blending it with other fabrics to lessen that tendency. Flax and hemp? Getting there, but still a bit expensive for me. More power to anyone designing breathable couture. Who says fabulous clothes have to make you sweat?

Some Clarification

My home state since 1972,  Arizona, grows cotton; however, I am not a spokesperson for the industry. It may sound that way, but  I don’t even know anyone in that business. In addition, I realize my mom spoke out of love. For her generation, cotton meant lots of ironing and effort; polyester and other no-iron synthetics were a godsend. I was a busy young teacher, and she simply wanted to share that godsend with me by helping me look good in pretty, low-maintenance outfits. My intent was not to criticize her, and I was often over-sensitive in those days anyway.

Polyester is popular, or the fashion world wouldn’t be using it. It has a silky hand and probably takes dyes easily to form any patterns designers wish on the fabric. Its no-iron smoothness and drape are appealing. A former colleague wore it often; she also carried a bottle of Febreze to ward off body odor. That worked for her. Me?  I find the stuff aversive. I’ll opt for cotton.

On the Passing of a Friend and Fashion Inspiration

11 May
angels, art, images

Image courtesy of angelfire.com.

He may not have known it, but my late friend and former colleague Tom Cole lifted me out of the fashion doldrums when we started socializing (we taught English at a local community college). I was floating along, on post-divorce auto-pilot, happy to be working and paying my bills but not thinking much about my appearance. This was about to change.  A classically natty dresser, fond of Ralph Lauren shirts and assorted neckties accompanied by trousers and sports coats in neutral colors, Tom had a degage elegance that emanated from within and was merely emphasized by his smart clothing. He was equally classy in jeans and a polo shirt.  When we started going to Rattlers’ games and out for drinks afterward, I figured the usual team t-shirt and jeans outfit was woefully inadequate. To solve the problem, I wrote in my journal about what I needed,  then hit the stores.

Building a Better Wardrobe

As I  have indicated in other posts, I have peripheral neuropathy and other foot problems which restrict my choices in footwear. In 2004, when I was diagnosed and Tom and I began our semi-regular outings,  I developed my “uniform” of black pants with a variety of tops, or dark-wash jeans for casual occasions. For games, I chose tops in team colors that looked chic enough for a sojourn to a downtown bar after the game along with jeans or black casual pants.  For dinner and movies, I substituted somewhat dressier tops and pants. Phoenix is casual, so these outfits were appropriate.  If I hadn’t become friends with Tom, there’s no telling what I might be throwing on my body now!  His effortless style made me analyze my own and attempt to rise to his level, disability and figure type notwithstanding.

The History

Intriguingly, Tom had a fashion muse years ago. I asked him how he had learned to dress so well, and he credited a former girlfriend from the 1970s. “I was walking around in leisure suits, and she said, ‘Oh no you don’t!’ ” he recalled. Leisure suits on him? Incredible. I can’t even imagine. I applaud that woman, whoever she is, wherever she is; Tom’s taste never wavered, even when I suspected, near the end of his life, that he wasn’t feeling well.

The Legacy of a Friend

The most important legacy, of course, is not Tom’s clothing choices, but his friendship, masterful teaching of English, and love of family. An intensely private person whose kindness and high intelligence became evident after one got to know him, Tom was a natural gentleman who lifted up those around him. The overall tone of any setting improved just from his presence, and I don’t mean that in a snobbish way. He had an inherent courtesy and consideration that flowed, unpretentiously, from every pore. Hundreds of students benefited from his subject-matter knowledge and precise planning; I was fortunate enough to enjoy his friendship for the past nine years.  Thank you, Tom, for your gentleness, intellect, humility, and loyalty. In your case, the terrific style on the outside really did represent what was on the inside.

Hats: Add Sun Protection to Your Warm-Weather Fashion Statement

8 May
sunn protection, disabled shopping, summer hats, disabled accesssories, wefly2,hats

Straw hat, no brand available, regifted from a neighbor.

Self-portrait in straw hat.

Self-portrait in straw hat.

Living in the skin cancer capital of the US (Arizona), I am always concerned with avoiding harmful rays and staying relatively cool. While using sunblock is important, donning a hat that keeps the sun off both the face and back of the neck is also helpful. For disabled women who may be waiting for public transportation or otherwise spending time outdoors in sunny climates, wide-brimmed hats are useful as well as stylish in the heat. I recommend straw or cotton for breathability.

While my own recently acquired straw hat came from a former neighbor who never wore it and  no longer wanted it, I have noticed straw and canvas broad-brims displayed in unusual places, such as Walgreens and Sprouts. When I thought about this, I asked myself, why not? These stores do cater to our health. Other venues and catalogs, of course, carry them as well.

Baseball Caps Won’t Cut It

As popular as they are, baseball caps keep the sun off only the face, not the back of the neck. Landscapers and other outdoor workers may tuck a short towel under the backs of their caps to ward off the sunlight and absorb perspiration, but if you want a more stylish look, these hats just won’t cut it. I also saw a rapper on MTV sporting a baseball cap with a hoodie pulled over it, but I confess the look didn’t do much for me. Practically speaking, however, the hoodie-cap ensemble would keep the sun off. It depends on your aesthetic, and my age may be showing here.

But I Don’t Look Good in Hats

You probably aren’t used to wearing a hat and feel more self-conscious than you need to.  But despite America’s love of hatless freedom (except for the baseball cap), fashion history has had many periods in which everybody wore a chapeau of some kind, regardless of how they looked. You are going to remove your hat when you go inside for that lunch date, movie, or sporting event anyway. If it makes you feel better, look at my pic and have a giggle. I may look as if I have fallen off a 19th-century hay wagon, but I am melanoma-free. Chortle away!

Heeding the Wake-Up Call

Bicyclists and light-rail riders in Phoenix have been putting on hats during their trips, so the trend seems to be taking hold. Good job, ladies! For light-skinned people of Northern European extraction, like me, the Arizona sun can wreak havoc with our pale complexions. A hat is a necessity as well as a fashion statement. Olive-skinned people are not exempt from skin cancer, and even those of African descent carry a slight risk of contracting it. In addition, our bright sun poses another problem in late spring and summer, no matter how you travel: visibility!  The light is so piercing that at certain times of the day, you cannot see well, even with sunglasses. The extra shade of a hat brim helps here too, especially if you don’t have a hand to put up to shield your eyes. So if you are outside during the day for any reason, you really need protection. Plop on that hat and rub on some sunblock, or have your caregiver do it, even on a cloudy day. Your skin, eyes, and hair will thank you.

Project Runway All-Stars Challenge Gets It Right–Only One Sour Note

8 Apr
Project Runway All-Star Joshua Ryan winning the challenge on Episode 10, 11 Feb. 2013. Photo from lifetime.com/projectrunway.

Project Runway All-Star Joshua Ryan winning the challenge on Episode 10, 11 Feb. 2013. Photo from lifetime.com/projectrunway.

Wasn’t it refreshing to see a challenge on Project Runway All Stars featuring female veterans? The disabled were represented as well–something I’d been hoping for on the show for a long time– and designer Joshua Ryan’s elegantly understated, classic-but-modern V-necked dress created for a prosthetic-wearing colonel won this challenge. Joshua even designed an outfit for her service dog!

Hitting a Sour Note

The only sour note issued from one of the judges as the panel examined the designers’ garments on the runway. After praising the style of Joshua Ryan’s just-above knee-length, bordered black dress and noting how happy and confident the Colonel appeared while wearing it, this judge inquired:

“Did you mean to show the prosthetic leg?”

Oops.

Perhaps the judge was making sure Joshua Ryan hadn’t run out of fabric, as designers sometimes do on the show, and tacked on the border of the dress as an afterthought. That was my first, and most charitable, interpretation. The integrity of the garment, however, negated that theory. To his credit, Joshua Ryan admitted that he had, indeed, intended to reveal his model’s prosthetic. Was he going to lose points for doing so, I wondered?

Disabilities and Aesthetics

Perhaps I am too sensitive, but the judge’s simple question bothered me.  Within it I perceived an assumption that a prosthetic–hence, a disability–needs to be disguised by clothing if that clothing is to be regarded as high quality fashion. Expressed another way, disabled people don’t look good unless they hide their disabilities.

Balderdash.

Disabilities are not the same as figure flaws. We might cringe at a non-disabled, plus-size demoiselle sporting a halter top (and muffin top) over tight low-rise jeans or a skinny-mini encased in garb that makes her appear skeletal and moribund. We gasp and giggle at the sartorial choices of People from Wal-Mart (although I haven’t seen anything like them in my local store). But these ladies have choices in what they reveal or hide; disabled women often don’t. Dressing to “go with the flow” with our conditions takes creativity, and that is exactly what Joshua Ryan demonstrated.

Fashion: Taking Up the Slack?

It is challenging to find fashions that address our needs; this is why Elle, Stephanie Thomas, Spashionista, and I are in the blogosphere, and why Ann Oliver  is designing. Joshua Ryan has shown us that mainstream designers have the talent to create for us. I never doubted it. Watching Project Runway and seeing designers compose great-looking garments out of candy wrappers, food,  and other unconventional materials convinced me long ago that the US has many in the fashion world with the ability to dress the disabled stylishly and affordably. Whether they will choose to work with this specialized niche is another question. Despite the judge’s comment, Project Runway All-Stars is to be commended for including a challenge featuring female veterans, and  for selecting Joshua Ryan’s dress as the winning design. May this episode be a sign of future progress!

Sis, My Fashion Friend: Christmas All Year Long

25 Dec
CABI, Christmas, wefly2, jackets

CABI jacket from Sis. Add a cami or sweater plus trouser jeans, and it tops a go-to outfit for many occasions.

Few of us are lucky enough to benefit from a friend’s shopping habit (I don’t mean addiction). But my beautiful sister, Carol F., brings me bags of clothes several times a year, with brands ranging from Merona to Fresh Produce to Michael Kors. Anything that doesn’t work is donated or taken to our favorite consignment store, Poor Little Rich Girl. Even though Sis is taller than I and trendy in her tastes while I tend to be classic, many of her garments are terrific for me, and I believe she reads my mind. For example, I was thinking I needed a nice jacket, and voila! she came up with the great CABI pictured above. Uncanny!

We like to think the donated and consigned clothes are one small way to keep on giving to our community, something our mom, our first fashion teacher, taught us. Although we are generally involved in different non-profits, clothing is the bond we share.  I love you, Sis; thanks for your generosity, to me and to others.

May all of you have a Merry Christmas!

Designer Ann Oliver to Engage Other Designers in New Project

10 Dec
xeni-collection-2-100x100

Pants outfit by Ann Oliver. Part of her Xeni Collection, xenicollection.com.

UK designer Ann Oliver, a pioneer in couture for disabled women, is engaging in a new kind of outreach: she plans to gather talented designers from Not Just a Label and have them design one piece for her Xeni Collection  each season. Doing so, Mrs. Oliver reasons, gives up-and-coming designers greater exposure to the market as well as expanded horizons composing garments for a particular niche.

“The time is right, now, when we have a unique opportunity, established with such guts and determination by sportsmen and women from across the globe. It is time to bring designing for [disabled women] into the mainstream. I have a dream that every designer at London Fashion Week would include one outfit in every collection for women facing our challenges,”  Mrs. Oliver comments in her blog.

Stricken with multiple sclerosis over 20 years ago, Ann Oliver learned firsthand the challenges of battling with buttons, hooks, and other conventional fastenings. She also discovered that standard clothing options were not properly cut for seated wearers: the garments provided neither comfort nor coverage, let alone style. An architect, she enrolled in a London college to learn clothing design, and Xeni took root.

Inspiration

As disabled women, we are well aware of the difficulties our conditions impose on us, whether we are able to work or not. Ann Oliver is one of us, who changed careers in mid-life to work for us: as I commented in an October post, this is a daunting task. This holiday season, give yourself a treat and visit her site at xenicollection.com. It is inspiring to see what Mrs. Oliver does, and you’ll want to add an outfit or two to your wish list.  Spread the word!