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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!

Post-Holiday Blahs? Clothes Can Lift Your Spirits

19 Jan
art, clothing and mood, wefly2, Calvin Charles, Ladies' Home Journal, disabled women, disabled shopping

From exhibit at the Calvin Charles Gallery, Scottsdale.

Maybe the excitement of the holidays has left you feeling a bit hollow, like the fellow in the photo (no disrespect to the artist). Perhaps the weather is draining you, leaving you with a winter virus or aggravating your disability. I hope not. But if you need a simple pick-me-up that won’t drain your wallet or require one more social engagement, you need look no further than your closet, according to writer Sarah Hepola in a recent issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. A self-confessed yoga-pant aficionado, Hepola discovered that slipping on a nice dress and pair of shoes, just because she felt like it, made her feel special and perked up her whole day in a way that schlepping around in yoga pants and an old tee shirt did not.

The Mood-Fashion Connection

No doubt, we live in an ever more casual culture. Hepola brings up Casual Fridays in the workplace to illustrate this point.  But just because we can dress casually, she says, doesn’t always mean we should. In fact, a friend of mine, Kevin, openly rebelled against Casual Fridays. He wore three-piece suits and various tasteful combinations of sport coats, ties, trousers, and pocket watches to work. He was among the few contractors to obtain a full-time position with his company, and his dapper appearance was not lost on the ladies, either!  In a social setting, the lobster effect can occur, with peers thinking their friends should dress the ultra-casual way they do: sometimes my retired friends put on shorts and tee shirts for happy hour, and ask me why I am “so dressed up” when I don trouser jeans with a nice top and makeup. My usual answer is “Why not?” but I like Hepola’s friend’s answer better: “I’m dressed up for me!”

While my outfit of trouser jeans and top hardly qualifies as “dressed up,” it appears that way to some. The point is that wearing snappy clothes that flatter you flips an internal switch somewhere. Your attitude, your confidence, climb. Whether it’s a dress at work or well-fitting jeans at home, the clothing makes you feel good about yourself. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Confined to the House? Cozy Up in Your Faves

Feeling under the weather? Unfortunately, it is common this time of year. No reason you shouldn’t be as warm and comfortable as possible. If you are strong enough to bathe or have a caregiver help you do so, washing up and slipping into your favorite nightgown, pajamas, or lounge wear before going to bed is a definite mood enhancer. Soft, clean-smelling fabric against your skin may not reduce your fever or eliminate your aches and pains, but it can help you relax and rest more easily. Comfy pajamas, your favorite hot beverage, a good book, TV show, or friend, and you’re set. Right now, how your pj’s make you feel definitely trumps how they make you look. You can think about that later.

Feeling Just Right

You don’t have to follow the crowd in your clothing choices to dress appropriately or feel great about what you wear, although the occasion often shapes our outfits, and most of us don’t want to be ridiculed. At the beginning of the year, when I attended a fundraiser for HALO, a local no-kill animal shelter, I intended to wear the purple cowl-necked dress the Spashionista chose for me (see earlier post) with black tights. Well, I had both a wardrobe and disability malfunction: the tights (my only pair) had a hole in them, and my calves were swollen, a side effect I can’t predict. At the last minute, I threw on trouser jeans, my CABI jacket (see Christmas post) and a brown cami. My ensemble fit right in with the rest of the attendees’, and my swollen calves were out of sight!

Whether the post-holiday portion of the new year finds you tired of shopping, nursing a cold, or raring to explore new lands and stores, keep the clothing-mood connection in mind. You may not have to spend a dime to lift your spirits!

Finally, Rain in the Desert! TravelSmith Can Help You Weather the Storm

16 Dec
rain coat, TravelSmith, disabled fashion, disabled women, wefly2, disabled shopping, online shopping

My short trench rain coat from TravelSmith.

Rain in Phoenix is a novelty. Seriously. I have seen people run to the windows of their homes and offices when water pours from the sky, as it did yesterday. Some folks are unprepared and don’t even bother to turn on their windshield wipers, let alone purchase rain gear. Me? I carried an umbrella to dinner Friday night, as it had rained earlier in the day, but of course it didn’t in the evening. Last night, however, I was grateful for my TravelSmith short trench raincoat.

Water-Repellant, Handy, and Chic

I finished walking the dog in steady rain and was dry thanks to my coat‘s water-repellent qualities. Polyester with nylon lining, the tan trench-style coat lies somewhere between long jacket and car-coat length. It covers a blazer but does not look odd with any length of skirt. When you sit down while wearing it, it doesn’t pull anywhere–a plus for wheelchair and scooter users, although you may want a longer garment to keep your legs dry, like TravelSmith’s Navy Waterproof Trench Coat.  My TravelSmith coat also features a self-belt, silver-toned buttons, two outside pockets that button and two hidden pockets inside.   TravelSmith always thinks of safety options for travelers; this is their forte.

Current Offerings for Rain or Cool Weather

The most recent travelsmith.com offerings include a white “Nautical Crinkled” version of my coat for $99, the price I paid. This beauty still has the four pockets, self-belt, a crisp appearance and is supposed to shed wrinkles when packed for travel. Prefer another color? TravelSmith also offers a Navy Trench Jacket with similar, but not identical, styling for $149, and the Waterproof Trench Coat in several colors for $129-$179.

rain coats,rain jackets, trench jackets, travelsmith.com, disabled shopping, online shopping

The most recent version of TravelSmith’s trench rain jacket, available at travelsmith.com. Photo from travelsmith.com.

A Note About Fit

My short trench was a little snug in the hips when I first purchased it–I was not able to button the bottom button–but fit perfectly once I dropped a few pounds. I am not pear-shaped, but the tummy got in the way, I think! Sizes run as high as XL (18-20). If you think you might have the same problem I did and can’t order a size up, you might consider the full-length trench coat or some of the shorter jackets travelsmith.com has. Be sure to check the clearance section, too!

Ah, Climate

I love it when it rains here. I used to feel silly having a raincoat in my closet, but not anymore. We Phoenicians may not need hardcore winter wear like our friends in colder climates–we laugh when we see sweaters in department stores in September, and it is still 100 degrees here–but it always pays to be prepared for the rain. The clouds and dampness are a welcome change, and chic coats from TravelSmith can help us enjoy it!

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!