Dress for Success

Dressing can be challenging after a spinal cord injury. The good news is that are many techniques and adaptive equipment that can aid in self dressing. Here are a few of my favorite things.


Pants are by far the hardest piece of clothing to fit properly while seated. Pants bunch up in the front, fall down in the back, and inch up at the ankle when seated. My favorite pants are from Express and Athleta. Stay with me, girls. Both are higher end and expensive. But the old adage, “You get what you pay for” is oh, so true.

My Express pants have lasted me a decade. Classic dress pants in black, brown, gray and pin stripes simply don’t go out of style. You’ve invested your money well in clothing that will last.

Athleta’s Bettona Pants are to die for. Technically, these are yoga pants (just don’t tell anyone). With a stretchy waist band, faux pockets and fly, they are easy to get on, stay on well and fit comfortably. They come in two styles: Classic and Jegging. Both are comfy and can be dressed up or down. I’ve had no problems with the material pilling or fading.

What I love about both these brands is they come in long sizes. At 5’9”, I can’t buy regular length pants without it looking like I’m wearing capris.

My penny pinching tips include buying items online when they are on clearance. I’ve also bought new Athleta pants off eBay for less than half the original price.


Shoes fall off on transfers or cause blisters, even pressure sores. Plus my feet swell. And turn purple. (I’ll never forget my cousin asking me, “Why are you wearing purple panty hose?” I decided then that it was time to stop wearing sandals and flats.)

I love Mary Janes. These strappy shoes don’t fall off during transfers and yet still look fashionable. I pair them up with some cute socks to camouflage my feet and ankles. Mary Janes work with dress pants as well as capris and shorts.

I use elastic no-tie shoe strings on my casual shoes. My “running shoes” have an adjustable closure originally made for triathletes. As a quad, it makes life easier. Once I find the right tightness for the laces, I never need to adjust them again. These can be bought online or in a store that sells running shoes.

With my casual sneakers, I use elastic laces. They look like regular shoelaces, but with a double knot, no tying is necessary and they have some stretch that gives a bit when putting the shoes on or as my feet swell throughout the day.

Do your shoes slide off your footplate? I have placed some non-skid tread on my foot plate and on the bottoms of shoes that are slippery to prevent my feet falling off the footplate of my manual chair in rough conditions.

A Good Seamstress or Tailor

Since fastening buttons is nearly impossible, I take my newly purchased pants to a tailor and have the existing closures (buttons or tabs) replaced with Velcro. I tie a loop of string on the zipper. I also have the pockets taken out and sewn flat so there’s no extra bulk in the front and no pressure points in the back. This costs about $15 to $20.

I almost always avoid dresses since they are so much work for me to get on and keep straight during transfers. When I do want a dressier look, I’ll go with a two-piece skirt and top. In the event that I’m in a wedding (or on the runway!) a great tailor or seamstress can fit the dress so that it lays flat in front and without the material bunching up.

I am fortunate that my mom is a wonderful seamstress. I bought a trench coat with buttons and she replaced the buttons with magnets. She has also made me a few tunic-style tops that are shorter in the back so I don’t have a wad of material to tuck down flat in back.


Earrings and necklaces are difficult to fasten, so I typically just keep some simple stud earrings in. My favorite accessory is a scarf (see my video on scarfs). A scarf can change the look of an outfit with its pop of color, texture or pattern. But they also provide much-needed warmth for a cold-blooded quad. I admit I might have an addiction. Shoes? Purses? No thanks. Give me a scarf!

I hope these tips help you find clothes that fit properly when seated. It might take some time to find items that fit you. We’re all different and those differences are what make us unique. Don’t be afraid to buy clothing at a store or online and return the items that don’t fit.

Yes, you can dress for success!


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