Vintage Fashion Versus Wheelchair

  I would never say there is anything you can’t wear as a wheelchair user, exactly, but there are a few things I’ve tried that make me say: proceed with caution.

I would never say there is anything you can’t wear as a wheelchair user, exactly, but there are a few things I’ve tried that make me say: proceed with caution. Not because they are uncomfortable or unflattering, but because they could be dangerous. Okay, well that might be a little bit dramatic, however, I feel like we’ve spent enough time getting people to stop saying that we’re “wheelchair bound” that we want to avoid accidentally being bound to our wheelchairs! 

Yes, that’s right, more than a few times my attempts at wearing certain pieces have ended with me being stuck to my wheelchair. And, if we’re being completely honest, some styles have ended with the beautiful clothes halfway falling off or broken to pieces and lost with no chance of repairing them.

The first thing you have to know is that I have a bit of an obsession with all things flowing and dangling. This was never a real problem prior to getting this set of wheels, save for maybe things being too long. My wheels, however, do not get along well with kimonos, fringe, voluminous skirts or any sort of bracelet that may hang even slightly away from my wrists.

Minding my own business in a fringe-trimmed vintage kimono, just casually wheeling across my room, and all of a sudden I’m jerked to a stop. My fringe is wrapped around my wheel and I’m stuck to my chair. Luckily, I had enough room in the jacket to get out of it, get out of my chair, and then untangle it from my wheel, but I’ve been weary of fringe ever since. Also, thank goodness it was in my room, this would have been embarrassing in public.

I’ve had long vintage skirts get stuck under my caster wheels and get pulled down. I've had them spin around and get stuck while transferring from my car to my chair. I’ve had vintage bracelets break on me because I’ve caught them while locking my brakes. Beads scattering in every which direction.

Pro tip: when you wear vintage bracelets that are solid and metal, it’s less likely to break, but the clanking sound is even louder than heels on a hard surface floor. These guys will be sorely missed because vintage items are so hard to replace.

I’d love to say I have solutions to these wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen but, sadly, I don’t have all the answers. I have tried a lot of different styles, and while those are a few of my favorites that just don’t work, there are plenty of looks that look great in a wheelchair. 

One thing I’ve found works really well for me is any vintage top or vintage jacket that is advertised as cropped like this 1960s velvet blazer from Hott Threads above. No matter your level of injury or your stability level, when you sit down, your torso is shortened. Cropped lengths don’t usually end up showing any stomach, but they land at a perfect spot, whereas regular length tops end up being too long and looking more oversized than they were meant to be. With vintage, some items may be described as cropped, especially from the '80s, but otherwise you’ll need to look for a length measurement for the item.

I love vintage skirts – any shape and size. If it is something more fitted I find elastic waists or knit fabrics work great. They stay close to the body and move as one with it. I still try to wear some volume if I can in my skirts. I find that as much as elastic waists on anything make my life easier they do not work in this particular situation. A skirt  with a fitted waist that is less likely to move around works best if you already have the excess fabric of say a full circle skirt to contend with. 

When it comes to vintage jewelry these days, I try to keep the drama where I know it won’t get stuck or broken. A wild pair of vintage earrings or a vintage statement necklace are great options. For my beloved fringe and beaded fashions, I try to find vintage pieces where the embellishment is placed on the top, away from sleeves which might catch while I’m moving, or on bottoms that aren’t quite long enough to catch under the front wheels.

As I always say: it is all trial and error. You have to try a lot of different styles to see what works. If any of these are things you haven’t tried, now you know how to try it for yourself without any injury to yourself or your beautiful vintage clothes. No matter what keep trying. It can be frustrating when things don’t work as expected, but it’s just an opportunity to pivot or come up with a creative solution. has lots of vintage solutions for all your wardrobe needs.


Caitlyn Pallas is a guest blogger. Barbies and Stevie Nicks were her first fashion icons, and watching Anthony Bourdain (against parental warnings) inspired an interest in cultural anthropology. She studied textiles, merchandising, and design at University of Rhode Island and received a Master's in dress and textile history from University of Glasgow. "I am still trying to carve out a space for myself in the world of fashion," she says. "I can’t say everything has gone to plan, but as some wise dudes who were probably just stoned once said, 'There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.'"

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