The process that often demands the most attention from many of us is choosing our attire, no matter how trivial the decision might seem. Donning clothes appears to be an effortlessly innate activity for most.

Think about how you dress. You zip up your jacket, step into your trousers, and fasten your shirt’s buttons. For the vast majority, dressing is instinctive. However, this is not the case for everyone. Picture the challenge of pulling up your trousers while seated, zipping up your jacket using only one hand, or needing to modify your shirts to access a medical appliance on your abdomen.

Despite being one of the largest groups of underserved consumers, individuals with disabilities often find many clothing designs inaccessible. The act of dressing can vary significantly for them – from the simple struggle of buttoning a shirt to the distress caused by overly tight jeans. In the US, one in four people1 identifies as having a disability, while globally, the figure stands at 16 per cent2.

Several businesses, from independent makers to renowned brands, have incorporated accessible designs. However, the broader fashion sector still has much ground to cover.

What Exactly is Adaptive Fashion?

Adaptive clothing is designed to empower the elderly and those with disabilities to dress with ease, ensuring they remain comfortable and can accommodate any essential medical equipment without compromising on style. Although the concept of adaptive clothing is not new, its market presence is growing, with a ready and willing consumer base. The aim of adaptive fashion is to produce stylish, wearable, and easily adjustable garments.

How does Adaptive Clothing Benefit Individuals?

The fashion industry has evolved by introducing ‘adaptive clothing’ to aid those with disabilities and the elderly in assimilating into society. These tailor-made clothing items cater to physical challenges, sensory sensitivities, and mobility issues, granting those who struggle with conventional attire a more agreeable, dignified, and accessible experience.

Adaptive clothing incorporates a plethora of design modifications to enhance functionality. These include Velcro instead of buttons, easily gripped zipper pulls, side zippers on trousers, open-back tops, elastic waistbands, and magnetic shoe fasteners. Thanks to these features, people with disabilities (PwDs) can dress comfortably, preserving their dignity and feeling confident in their appearance.

Here are several adaptive clothing designs addressing a myriad of disability-related challenges:

Shoes and Footwear

Adaptive footwear examples include shoes easy to wear and remove, those accommodating ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) or custom orthotics, and individual shoes for those with a single lower-limb amputation.

For instance, the Nike FlyEase3 line was developed in partnership with the disabled community. The hands-free Nike Go FlyEase requires no fastenings, while the Nike Dynamo Go Lil Fruits offers similar ease for children.

Easy Closures for Clothing

Those with hand pain, weakness, numbness, amputations, or other challenges might find it tough to wear or remove everyday attire.

For instance, Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive4 provides options like men’s magnetic-closure shirts and women’s trousers with a magnetic fly and Velcro closure. Its unique children’s collection includes features like magnetic buttons and adjustable waistbands to aid dressing.

Tommy Hilfiger’s founder emphasises the brand’s commitment to inclusive fashion, allowing those with disabilities to express themselves through attire.

Clothes for Amputations and Prosthetics

Those using prosthetics might require clothing alterations for ease of wear, and to account for prosthetic wear and tear.

For instance, Buck & Buck5 offers adaptable clothing for varied needs and can make alterations for amputees, like adjusting sleeve lengths or adding access zippers.

Clothes Designed for Seated Wear

Most clothing is designed for standing wear. However, attire tailored for seated use, like that for wheelchair users, differs in design for enhanced comfort.

For instance, German brand Rollimoden6 specialises in seated attire and accessories. Alter UR Ego’s7 ‘jeans for everyone’ provide features like thigh pockets and easy-wear loops.


Finding adaptive intimates has been challenging, but recent years have seen stylish and functional offerings.

For instance, AnaOno8 provides undergarments for post-mastectomy needs. Intimately’s range9 includes features like side openings and grip loops for easy wear.

Sensory-Friendly Clothing

For those sensitive to tactile sensations, tags and seams can be irksome. However, more brands now offer sensory-friendly attire.

For instance, Target Kids’10 sensory-friendly line offers comfort-enhanced clothing. It includes tagless designs and sensory-friendly socks.

Clothing for Medical Device Access

Clothing that accommodates medical devices, like feeding tubes, can be invaluable for those reliant on them.

For instance, Unhidden11 designs clothing with concealed access points for medical necessities. Its offerings include adjustable trousers and shirts with concealed access points.

Compression Wear

Some individuals prefer the ‘hugging’ sensation of compression attire, which can support circulation and joint stability. However, it is important to consult medical professionals before adopting such wear.

For instance, Spio12 provides custom-fit compression attire for both children and adults, aiding in posture and body awareness.

Misconceptions about Adaptive Clothing

No doubt, adaptive clothing champions inclusivity, allowing everyone, irrespective of physical challenges, to dress confidently and comfortably. However, it is essential to address the prevailing misconceptions surrounding adaptive clothing:

   Appearance Does not Matter to People with Disabilities: One prevalent misconception is that companies believe there is no need to craft stylish wear for people with disabilities. In reality, wearing creatively designed garments can elevate confidence and offer a sense of well-being for those with special needs.

   Limited Spending on Fashionable Attire: Another widespread myth suggests that people with disabilities either cannot afford or are not inclined to spend on designer wear. Contrary to this belief, millions of disabled individuals, especially in the US, have unmet fashion needs. Tapping into the adaptive clothing market can bolster any business while catering to this often-neglected demographic.

   Limited Suitable Options: There is a misguided belief that people with disabilities may not find clothing to match their preferences. In truth, adaptive clothing is tailored specifically for them, ensuring comfort and meeting diverse needs.

Brands and Adaptive Clothing: What to Consider in Creation and Marketing?

Embarking on an adaptive clothing line can seem daunting due to the myriad needs and preferences to address. Success demands creativity, empathy, and adept problem-solving. Understanding the target audience is pivotal, especially if designers lack first-hand experience with disabilities. Brands should prioritise including people with disabilities in all stages of product development, from conceptualisation to marketing, ensuring genuine inclusivity.

People with disabilities or unique physical features often have limited stylish clothing options. How can this be rectified? By ensuring adaptive clothing designers genuinely consider the requirements of the disabled community throughout all production stages.

Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge that dressing is a fundamental, intimate activity. Designs for adaptive clothing should restore independence and dignity, regardless of the nature of the disability. The primary objective should be delivering stylish wear catering to all abilities.

In essence, embracing disability as a facet of human existence allows businesses to seamlessly integrate style into adaptive clothing. With a profound understanding of the unique apparel requirements, fashion can be seamlessly embedded into the lives of those with disabilities.

Concluding Thoughts

Many misconceptions surround people with disabilities, with some believing they are indifferent to fashion or personal style. Just like every fashion consumer, individuals with disabilities seek the autonomy to dress expressively. The evolution of adaptive fashion is making this aspiration a reality. Historically, the fashion industry has shown tendencies of exclusivity and ableism. However, through the innovations of forward-thinking designers and brands, it can evolve to address the needs of today’s diverse fashion consumers, irrespective of ability.

Innovative adaptive clothing designs should weave universal functionalities into stylish garments with subtle utility features. It is crucial that these garments mirror mainstream attire to eliminate any potential stigma for the users. Through collaboration and creative solutions, the industry holds the potential to shape an inclusive society, where fashionable clothing is accessible to all.