Tips and Tricks for Making Life a Little Easier with MS: How to Dress for Success when you Have MS

Merely Me Health Guide January 28, 2009
  • In this on-going series we will present suggestions and tips to help you to better adapt to having Multiple Sclerosis.  Just because you have a chronic disease does not mean that life stops.  We all have to get up in the morning, perform our daily routines and go about living life despite our illness.  Our tips series will hopefully offer you some advice and special tips to make the day to day tasks and chores a little easier.  I am no stranger to exploring the world of adaptations as I have I have worked in the field of helping those with disabilities for over a decade and I also have a child who has special needs.  In addition to these experiences I also have MS and have had to find ways to personally adapt to my limitations caused by my disease. I will be actively recruiting MS community members for their advice and tips to add to these articles.  If you have any suggestions to add to any one of these articles please do so by either contacting me through email or better yet leave a comment to the post.  One way we can build a healthy and vibrant community here on MS Health Central is if we support each other.  Your input is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

     

    And now I present to you...

     

    How to Dress for Success when you Have MS

     

    I knew that I wanted to write about tips for dressing first when I was paging through my January issue of the Oprah magazine when I saw a question from a reader posed to O's creative director, Adam Glassman.  The question was from a woman who had Multiple Sclerosis and sometimes used a wheelchair.  She wanted to know how she could be both comfortable and stylish.  Adam told this reader about AgApparel which is a clothing line of separates specifically designed for women who have physical challenges.  You may find this web site of uncomplicated yet stylish clothing here. 

     

    Being a stay at home mom and freelance writer, I am somewhat fortunate that I don't have to worry so much about my style but it does help one's self esteem to look neat and presentable.  It also helps to find clothing you can actually take on and off easily!  I had one harrowing incident in a clothing store where I was trying on a dress with a complicated zipper in the back and I literally could not get the dress off.  Fortunately I had a friend with me in an adjacent fitting room as I yelled for help.  I don't care how good something looks, my simple rule of thumb is if you can't get it on and off without assistance don't buy it!

     

    There are a lot of styles of clothing which comfortable, easy to get in and out of, and look good including:  Wrap around dresses, skirts with a side zipper, pants with elastic waistbands and ballet flats come to mind. 

     

    In doing research for this article I found an extensive list of links to sites which offer people who have physical challenges a ton of choices in adaptive clothing.  Get ready because here is quite an exhaustive list to review from the Disability Resource Directory.  

     

    Now what about some tips for dressing?

     

    You simply can't do any research about the topic of dressing when you have MS without running across the name of Shelley Schwarz.  She has written a book entitled, "Multiple Sclerosis:  300 Tips for Making Life Easier" in which a whole section is devoted to the topic of dressing.  She is also the prominent contributor of a website called Meeting Life's Challenges. 

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    Here are just a few tips I have gleaned from reading Shelley Schwarz's book of tips:

     

    •  Select and lay out your clothing for the next day. 
    •  Attach a small pendant, locket, chain object, or notebook ring to the zipper-pull on a jacket or sweater to make it easier to grasp. 
    • Get dressed while sitting in a chair that has arm rests. This will help you keep your balance. 
    •  Wear clothes that are loose-fitting and have elastic waistbands.

     

    And now for my personal tips:

     

    Wear loose fitting breathable clothing.   I am finding that some of the newer styles of clothes are so tight and close to the skin that they make me heat up too quickly.  I have had MS symptoms as a result from clingy fabrics or too many layers worn for the winter months. 

     

    *  Velcro is your friend!  You can buy tennis shoes which use velcro instead of shoelaces.  Another trick I do is to have my tennis shoes with shoelaces tied more loosely so I can just slip the shoe on and off without untieing and tieing again. 

     

    *  Buy clothing with big buttons so you can handle them better.

     

    *  If you have shirts or clothing with buttons only unbutton as much as you need to and slide the garment on over your head.

     

    And what about dressing aids and devices?

     

    There are actually a lot of devices you can find which are quite inexpensive to help with your dressing needs including:

     

            * button hooks for helping to fasten buttons.

     

            *  reachers for picking up clothes

     

            *  dressing sticks for pulling up pants and underwear

     

            *  special shoe horns for putting on shoes

     

            *  choices of special shoe fasteners and elastic shoelaces.

     

    Where can you find such devices?  I found one company on-line who specializes in such dressing aids and is called Life Solutions Plus

     

    What do other MS Community Members have to say about this topic?

     

    Plenty!  I am grateful to Momdukes, Nadja, Denise Coleman, and Vicki Bridges for their suggestions, advice, and contribution to this article. 

     

    Nadja has an MS blog called Living with MS     and shares this tip for dressing. 

     

     My tip is: "When you are not feeling well keep it simple. Get a few great basics that look good but are easy to get off and on again.  I think a good pair of jeans is essential."

     

    I agree Nadja!  Keep it simple.

     

    Momdukes who is a regular here on MS Central has this to say about shoes: 

     

    "Dressing is also another passion of mine.  So here we go.  When you have MS fashion does not have to go down the tubes, but it changes from high heel fashion to flat shoe fashion which is not a bad thing.  Because wearing the spike heels can cause long term problems, girls, we who are resigned to having to wear flats, yes we are i n style.  When you choose a flat, go to a shoe store that carries good shoes.  Now at first you may have to spend a little more until you learn the secrets.  You want a shoe that has some sort of rubber protection on the toe of the shoe.  If you are like me, you have the almighty "foot drop" so you drag one foot.  But with the brace it is suppose to help.  I have not gotten mine yet so we will have to see.  My left foot drags.  My left foot srinks in the winter and swells in the summer.  So my shoe fits fine during the warmer months and flops during the winter, go figure, it's MS.  Ladies that are so many cute flat shoes out there we still can look good.  Your first couple of pairs should cost just a little bit of money.  Then after you know what to buy, then you can venture out to the more less expensive stores.  But remember, you get what you pay for, that is what I always say.  If you need more info let me know." 

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    That's right Momdukes!  There are so many pretty flat shoes in style nowadays.  I never liked wearing heels anyways!

     

    And  Denise Coleman, also a regular here on MS Health Central, should really write a book on tips to help people who have MS. 

     

    "Dressing, ugh!  One thing I have realized over the past year is how much energy is involved in getting dressed. The first time I said that to someone they looked at me like I was crazy, but it is true for me anyway.  As a result I don't try clothes on in dressing rooms when I shop.  I bring them home and if they don't fit I have to return them. This allows me to shop a little longer; if I try something on that is the end of shopping.

    I love to go to the pool at the Y for the aquacize class but getting dressed afterwards is a big deterrent, and it isn't  because I don't like being naked in the locker room.  When I go I wear my bathing suit there, which I put on in the morning, and bring the easiest clothes to put on afterward.  No fashion statement here, it's all about ease.

     

     

     I do a few things to try to preserve energy while dressing; I have a recliner in my room that I sit on to do my hair, apply skin lotion, socks, underwear and shoes.  I also sit to get my legs into pants and then just stand to pull them up.It is impossible for me to balance myself while I put one leg in at a time.

     

     

    I use a device that helps me put my socks on, and I have a long handled shoe horn for my shoes because my spine condition makes it difficult for me to bend at the waist. I have a grabber that I use to get my shoes from the closet or pick up anything I drop while dressing, which on some days can be a lot.

     

     

    I guess the one general piece of advice I would give someone is to think about what clothes you are buying and what it takes to put them on and off, and to plan out your actual dressing ritual so you have all you need by you, use whatever assistive devices you can, and to wear the clothes in which you are most comfortable. I would also suggest that if energy is a problem that a person try to limit the number of times a day she changes clothes. 

     

     

    One other thought, many of us with MS suffer from bladder leakage or incontinence, which can impact either the type of clothing we wear or how often we change.  In this case I would strongly suggest that a person obtain the underwear designed to absorb the wetness, my preference is the kind that has built in padding rather than having to wear the disposable pads all the time, but then I do have to change more often when I am having a problem.  Fortunately my problem in this area is not constant but  seems to come and go on some yet to be determined schedule.  

     

     

    For over twenty years I worked in an executive position and wore great skirt or pant suits and dresses, usually with pumps or boots, depending on the season.  I miss being able to show my legs a little and feeling like I look pretty, at least pretty for me.  Because of my lymphedema and chronic cellulitis my legs have become all discolored and are a deep purple as high up as the knee, plus they are often quite swollen, which determines what shoes I wear.  Although I dress more functional now, and hardly ever wear a skirt, I try to accessorize what I am wearing so I can still feel a feminine.  I can't hold my arms up to dry and style my hair so I have a cut that falls nicely into layers with just a few hot curlers on top after it dries.  I have to wear low, sturdy shoes so I looked on the Internet until I found some fashionable, yet reasonably priced flats. A little make-up, a nice pin, and a colorful scarf can do a lot to perk up an outfit without costing a lot.  I am saying this last part because I believe that if I feel that I look okay it helps me feel better emotionally, but if I look all worn down and tired I will feel bad about my self and my situation.  

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    Trust me I am not a fashionplate and I don't always take my own advice, but I do believe it is true.  Many years ago my secretary told me that she had figured out that on the days I was dressed a little nicer, wore a little extra makeup or my hair was styled a little nicer were usually the days I was in the most pain.  I laughed and told her she was right, looking a little nicer than usual helped me get through the day and prevented everyone from asking me how I was feeling and if everything was all right."

     

     

    Thank you Denise!  This was excellent information and it hopefully will inspire our readers to know that it is possible to adapt to this disease and to still feel pretty and fashionable. 

     

    Last but not least is advice and shared experience from fellow MS blogger Vicki Bridges who offers her ideas about being fashionable when you have a disability

     

    Vicki talks very candidly about her life experiences pertaining to MS and subsequent disability in her blog, Down the MS Path

     

    "Look at fashion with a different perspective. Fashion is how you look, but more importantly, fashion is how you feel.

    Whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with MS for years, whether you walk with a steady gait, with an aid, or even spend your waking hours part- or full-time in a scooter or chair, you still wear clothes. You can still be as fashionable as you choose. Your style does not have to betray your chronic condition. Be you, be comfortable, feel pretty, and feel sexy. Fashion should be fun.

    However, don't ignore your disability - take it into account if needed when choosing your clothes. Suddenly comfort is a higher priority then ever before and safety is a factor that may not have been previously considered. Watch the length of sleeves and pants and the drape of your skirt. You do not want to become tangled in a brace, walker or wheel.

    Flat shoes can be business-like, pretty, and feminine and should definitely be considered if you have a balance problem. Stilettos, or heels of any height and width, are often a risk and sometimes just awkward -- not a pretty site and definitely not professional.   You specifically mentioned shoes, so here is a post about the last time I wore high heels entitled, "Walking in my Sassy Shoes."  

     

    Thank you so much for this Vicki.  I am sure your suggestions and story will help others out there who face the challenge of living with MS.

     

     

    If any of you have suggestions or tips to share please do chime in with a comment or two or three!  We always love to hear from our readers.  I hope this information was helpful to you and we will be continuing this series with even more tips for easier living.