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  • Writer's picturePeta

Clothing, fashion and disability

For some unknown reason, many people with disabilities are dressed the same. A uniform of tracksuit pants, a hoodie and black. Always black.

As someone who also has a disability, fashion and how I present myself is fundamental to my identity. Find out why and also discover how I think the fashion industry could be more inclusive. Also, I recommend someone on Instagram that inspires me in what I choose to wear. @fashionbellee


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast, answering your questions on what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta. I'm your host. I'm 30. I have cerebral palsy and I'm single. But I'm also a girl that loves fashion and this week gave me so much joy. If you'd like to ask me a question, there are three ways you can do so. One, via my Instagram @petahooke. Two, by email at Or three via my website, I'd really love your questions. OK, without any further ado, let's get into it.

[00:01:01] This week, I had a question from Jessie. Jessie asked me,

Jessie [00:01:07] "Peta, how do you go about finding the right clothes for you? Do you find it difficult finding clothes that suit you sitting down in your wheelchair?".

Peta [00:01:18] A little bit of background on Jessie before I get started. So Jessie and I met through Heidi Anderson. I'm currently doing a 'PR The Shit Out of Yourself' course with Heidi Anderson and so is Jessie. Jessie is a fashion stylist from Perth and about two months ago now, we did a live on her Instagram for International Women's Day, talking about how fashion can empower women. In that live she asked me a few questions and I thought, you know what, this deserves a podcast episode.

[00:01:57] A lot of people in society have a uniform, don't they? Whether you work at Maccas (McDonald's), you're a chef, you're nurse, you're doctor, you're a librarian, if we want to go really retro, a lot of people wear certain things that define who they are and illustrate a certain image to society. Well, people with disabilities are no different, except I don't believe it's through their choice of how many people are dressed. I don't know whether they've been dressed by their parents, their guardians or their support workers, but somewhere along the line, people have received a memo that everybody with disabilities have to be dressed the same.

A woman in a pink floral dress at a wedding overlooking the beach
Me feeling my best always means I am wearing colour

[00:02:45] If you don't know what I'm talking about. If you ever see a group of people with disabilities in society, nine times out of ten, they're wearing tracksuit pants, a hoodie and black. Particularly if they're in a wheelchair, black tracksuit pants seem to be the thing that everybody sticks people with disabilities in. My mum was quite forthright in making sure that I was never going to be dressed in black tracksuit pants, and I don't want it to be defined by somebody else's dictation about how people with disabilities should look. Even if it's not expressly said it's so consistent throughout society, it makes me really uncomfortable and I'm very conscious in pushing back against that. So you will never see me out in public, in tracksuit pants. No matter what colour they are, unless I'm deathly sick on the way to the hospital or the doctor's, I don't want to be seen as part of a group without first being considered myself.

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a multi-coloured jumper
One of my favourite jumpers. Colour, colour, colour.

[00:03:59] I want to be seen as Peta first, my disability second. Now, I know that can be quite difficult when you're in a wheelchair and the wheelchair is the first thing people see, but that's one of the main reasons why I wear such bright colours. I'm trying to illustrate to people that I want them to see me first, not the wheelchair. So my style and my fashion are very intertwined in who I am and how I want to be seen. I figure and did very early on. Look, I'm always going to get looked at, people are going to look at me when I go down the street. I stick out by default. So why not give them something to look at? Something pretty, something interesting, or maybe something that they will say, oh my God, why would you wear that? But at least it's something that people are looking at that isn't just my disability.

[00:04:58] So, yes, I probably established by now that I love clothes, but that doesn't mean that I think the fashion industry loves someone like me. And what I mean by that is, even getting into a store can be quite a headache. Many of you who have become mums might understand this. It's very hard to push a pram around in some shops, right? Well, it's the same for me, too. It's very hard for me to manoeuvre around a lot of shops, but that's assuming that I can get in to (the shop) begin with. A lot of the nice boutique sort of shops have steps, so I feel like the brand itself and even considering me as a customer. To me, that could not be more of a sign that they either don't realise that people with disabilities are customers or they don't want us to be reflected in their brand. Not only are the stores themselves hard to manoeuvre around, many of the times the items are stored up high. So I understand from a store merchandising point of view, it makes the store look really full, makes it look like they have a lot of stock, a lot of choice and makes the customer want to walk into the store. From a practical point of view, if I can't reach something, I have to really, really love it to ask for help. To me, that's just a sign that I shouldn't have it if I can't reach it. You'd be surprised I don't really get asked whether I need any help, very often by shop assistants. I just don't think they sort of realise that, you know, after asking me whether I'm having a good day, I could actually do with some assistance.

[00:06:57] So I've gone into a store that didn't have a step, tick. I managed to manoeuvre around the store without breaking anything in the display, tick. I haven't dropped any of the clothes while I've been trying to get them off the rails, tick. I managed to pick some clothes that I could actually reach, tick. OK, it's now time to pay. More barriers. The counter for some reason is standing height only and I get, the majority of the shoppers are standing height, but many of us are different heights. I find even some people who are shorter struggle to get over those counters and pay. I don't understand why the counter can't have an architectural feature and have a drop-down section in the counter. So people who are shorter, people like me who are sitting down in the wheelchair can actually pay for the items that they want. Because the counter is so high half the time, the shop assistant can't hear me when I ask a question. So I feel like. I don't know, I'm unintelligent in some way that I have to keep repeating myself or that I'm not speaking loud enough, so I do find that I yell quite a lot. Particularly now with the glass partitions, with Covid, it's made it even more difficult. Also, the EFTPOS machines are always difficult to reach. Now that they were wireless, it's a little bit easier, but if I could actually reach the EFTPOS machine without having to ask for someone to pass it to me first, not only for Covid reasons but also just because I'm paying for something with my own money and I'd like to be able to do it independently. Thanks very much.

A woman in a wheelchair taking a selfie.
I'm such a cliche. A woman who loves floral.

[00:08:58] Can I just ask whether stores can sort of think about having mannequins that first of all, on all one size and second of all, could someone please be sitting down? Half the clothes that I look at, actually the majority, even when I look online, all the models are standing up. I don't get to see any of my clothes with me standing up in them. I sit down 100 per cent of the time, so if the mannequins in the store, at least one of them could be sitting down and also I have additional pictures online of people sitting down, that would be really helpful. Thinking really revolutionary here for a minute, it would awesome if some of the models online had a disability. It's been great to see a little bit more diversity in the fashion industry with who models the clothes but we still have a long way to go to fully reflect society.

I mean, I've never seen a model with limb difference, with a prosthetic, with a mobility aide, with a wheelchair. You know, everyone deserves representation, and if you want me to buy something, I tell you what, it would be really helpful if the person looked more like me.

[00:10:29] Another barrier that I face a lot, and I haven't solved this one for myself, so if you have any options, opinions, suggestions, I would really appreciate it. I don't wear shoes very often and the reason for that is, I need help putting them on. I can take them off. I can take shoes and socks off, but I can't put them on. So most of the time you will see me with no shoes and socks on. I feel quite awkward that I've got bare feet, particularly in Melbourne winter. It's cold. Everybody else has got lovely boots on and look incredibly chic; and I've sort of got the outfit on but let's face it, sometimes the shoes just make the outfit. So I would love if any of you guys know of some more inclusive footwear brands that are wider. Because I've never walked my feet a very wide and to get a shoe on my foot is really hard and I feel really awkward and sort of judged when I go to a shoe shop. I really dislike it. So I don't do it very often, if at all.

A woman in a wheelchair with no shoes and socks on
I feel less inconspicuous in summer with bare feet

[00:11:42] It can be uncomfortable sitting in many pieces of clothing. So my ideal pieces of clothing always have stretch. They're always stretchy because they're more comfortable. They're easier for me to put on myself and to be honest, they show my figure better. Because I'm not standing up, I don't have the privilege of having that alluring 'tall, I've got high heels on I feel dressed up' sort of image. So I find I have to dress quite figure-hugging. Otherwise, I just look like a blob sitting down in a wheelchair. I know black is definitely a preferred colour, particularly here in Melbourne. I never wear black or very rarely because I look like I'm going to a funeral, pretty much, particularly in a black wheelchair. So I prefer to wear colour and express myself with different colour combinations.

[00:12:43] It probably is not a surprise to many of you that I don't shop in a store very often now. Just with the barriers, I mentioned before, it's just easier to shop online but also I can't try clothes on. The change rooms in a store are pretty inaccessible to me. I mean, the majority of the time, the big change room that's at the end, is used for storage. And I know that the stores shouldn't do that and that's not what it's there for but nine times out of ten, the big change room is not available to me. The small change rooms of somebody standing, not for somebody with equipment and a big hunk of a wheelchair. Also, the fabric curtains are an issue because I'm worried I'm going to run over them and they get caught in my wheel and then they're going to pull down from the roof and it's just going to be a nightmare. So I shop online.

[00:13:44] There's this fantastic influencer on Instagram. Her name is Sophie, I'll link her Instagram in the description [@fashionbellee]. She has a disability herself and I've found her really inspiring in the way that she puts clothes together for her body shape and how much confidence her clothes gives her.

[00:14:07] So I know fashion is probably as important to many of you as it is for me because I'm trying to redefine my identity, that my disability is trying to dictate for me and that the general public think of me by default. Regardless, I do believe that if I didn't have a disability, I would still love fashion, clothes and expressing myself in this way. So whether you're just wearing a great pair of jeans and a white t-shirt or you go a little bit more elaborate than I do, I say, why not? Go for it! Take that leap, make those clothes reflect who you are and how you want to be seen. When I've done it for myself, I feel fabulous.

[00:15:00] Well, there you go, another episode for another week, thank you for listening. If you could please write and review the podcast. Or, tell a friend the podcast exists. I would really appreciate it. Until next week have a good one, guys. Bye.


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