I was never a sharp dresser before multiple sclerosis (MS). I had the kind of jobs and women in my life who didn’t think my clothing was too important (or at least they didn’t say anything about it). But after 30 years with MS, I find that wearing the right clothes can make a big difference in my life in several ways.
Not Too Warm or Cold
Like about 80% of MSers, I am sensitive to heat. If my body temperature rises even a tiny bit, I wilt like cooked spaghetti. Some people with MS are sensitive to cold; they get muscle stiffness and sometimes pain. I don’t have that, but I do catch colds very easily when I get chilled.
I’ll start sneezing when cold, until I put on a warm hat and a sweater or something to keep warm. Hot or cold, I can’t win, and a lot people with MS are in that situation. My solution is to always go out with at least three layers.
Dressing in layers is normal in San Francisco, because the weather can change rapidly from one neighborhood to another or from hour to hour as the fog comes and goes. But I take the layered look more seriously.
I might have a T-shirt, a warmer shirt, and a sweater, and a hat and gloves in a bag if needed. I’ve learned not to wait too long to take layers off. If I even start to feel I might be getting warm, I take off a layer or two. If I’m home, I might take them all off.
Many people with MS wear cooling jackets or vests lined with ice or filled with crystals you can soak with water to keep cool. I have tried all those, and they work pretty well, but they’re heavy to wear, they don’t look good, and I found them a bit uncomfortable.
On occasions where I’ve waited too long to remove layers, I found myself unable to take off my pullover sweater and just kept getting warmer until I collapsed. So don’t wait! Although to be fair, I also set myself up on those occasions by wearing things that aren’t so easy to get on and off.
Easy to Wear
Regular clothes can be hard to handle if our hands or legs don’t work so well. It might be hard to get legs into pants with narrow legs and hard to button up a shirt or jacket. Fortunately, easy-on clothes are available from some companies I’ll share later. Even without special clothes, there are some strategies that might help.
Pullovers are usually easier than button-up shirts. T-shirts and pullover sweatshirts are my go-to choices, but they’re not all the same. Looser is better than tighter, but you don’t want them too big or baggy, or you might sit on them.
Even easier than pullovers are clothes that wrap around, like a kimono or something you can tie with a sash or that has a large buckle. Some companies make shawls or capes that are easy to wrap around and look pretty good.
For pants, everyone seems to agree sweatpants or anything with an elastic band is easier than a button or hook to fasten. But they do make us look old. There are other ideas, like pants that zip up the side so you don’t have to squeeze your legs in. Get pants with wide legs.
If you can handle buttons and zippers easily, you are less limited, and some buttons are easier than others to use, so look for large, flat buttons or Velcro closures before you buy. Ask an occupational therapist for advice or tools that might help with your buttons.
Looking Good Enough for Work
As a nurse, I always wore white nursing clothes, and as a writer, I can wear whatever I please, but some jobs expect you to look good, especially women. Workout clothes don’t usually cut it in an office environment.
Studies have shown that people with disabilities report that a lack of appropriately designed clothing left them feeling excluded in the workplace. Clothing choices limited their participation at work. Most clothes for disabled people look way more functional than stylish.
I read an article on MS Wire by retired TV newsman with MS Ed Tobias, in which he suggests several sources of more wearable good-looking clothes. The British company Able2 Wear has pants that look like they’re held by a belt but are actually elastic-banded. They have shirts that look like they button up but are actually held closed by Velcro.
Other companies, like Adaptations By Adrian and Easy Access, make all sorts of casual and work clothes, although as Tobias says, “All of the garments listed on these sites seem to be at least one step below what I would consider ‘business casual.’” So there’s that to consider. From what I could see, the men’s Able2Wear stuff looked pretty business casual, but I don’t live in that world, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Tools for Dressing Well
When MS has taken away the movements we need for dressing and undressing, occupational therapy has tools and tricks for that. WebMD lists suggestions including buttonhooks to button garments, a dressing stick to help get coats or shirts on and off, or a zipper pull, a leather loop for zipping up pants and jackets. Feet have their own devices for helping get socks and shoes on and off. You can read more of their suggestions here.
So to me, it’s safety (temperature) first, then accessibility, then looks. I think if you want good-looking clothes and you’re well enough to wear them, go for it! I’ll watch and applaud.
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Photo Credit: David Malan / Photographer's Choice RF via Getty Images
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