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Adaptive Clothing Takes Stress out of Dressing

Garments and accessories that help care recipients remain more independent

spinner image A woman helping a man in a wheelchair, tie shoe laces.
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While no two family caregivers face the same day-to-day issues, one universal strain remains: the inherent challenge of assisting loved ones who can't dress themselves. 

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At a time in life when independence may feel like it’s being stripped away bit by bit — be it around driving, work or self-care — there’s a particular indignity that comes with being unable to slip on a pair of pants or button a shirt. So it’s heartening to see an increasing number of designers and retailers offer a range of stylish clothing options commonly referred to as “adaptive wear.” These items run the gamut from easy-on shoes to attractive Velcro-closure pajamas.  

Fostering independence, maintaining dignity

“One of our main goals in geriatrics is maintaining independence and supporting independence. So having adaptive clothing that allows someone to be able to maintain that ability to dress themselves, without needing assistance or maybe with modified assistance, is an absolute goal and also game-changing for people,” says Lisa Walke, chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. For caregivers, Walke says, who already have so much on their plates, adaptive clothing gives them a sense of ease, convenience and comfort.

With mainstream brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Target increasingly offering adaptive wear, there’s also been a decrease in the stigma around modified clothing. “[In the past], adaptive wear was one of two things — either institutional, or completely custom and very expensive. Now we’re moving past that … with options that people would be excited about wearing,” says Allison M. Kabel, an associate professor of health sciences at Towson University in Maryland, whose research has explored the factors that shape one’s sense of dignity. She has also seen a financial benefit to mainstream brands offering wares that benefit folks with dressing challenges. “Inclusive design is often offered at a lower price point because those [larger] companies have the economy of scale going for them on the manufacturing side,” Kabel explains.

On top of fostering dignity, offering clothing for differently abled adults is also smart business considering that, according to the December 2022 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, among residential care communities in the U.S. alone, anywhere from 46 to 62 percent of residents need assistance dressing.

So whether it’s shopping for a button-free shirt so that a spouse with Parkinson’s disease can get dressed independently or finding pants with flattened seams for a wheelchair-using parent, there are now a variety of attractive choices. 

Affordable and inventive adaptive-wear resources

Buck & Buck: One of the first and biggest retailers in the adaptive clothing market, Buck & Buck — which is available online and through its free by-request catalog — is a one-stop shop for everything from back-closure garments to underwear, outerwear and shoes. Most styles go up to 3XL, and some to 4XL or more; price range varies. Another selling point: If a garment needs altering, like adding a leg zipper for access to a brace or prosthetic or modifying a blouse to better reach a port, Buck & Buck will address those tailoring needs. Hemming is free and other alterations range from $10 to $15.

Dignity Pajamas: Made in the USA of 100 percent cotton, these pajamas have covered Velcro back closures, making them ideal for men (from $69) and women (from $59) who are bedridden or in hospice care. Sizes go up from XS in select styles to XL, and are cut full. The company recently added two-piece pajamas for women.

IZ Adaptive: A beloved Canadian brand, IZ sells stunning suits, coats, capes and more, with special attention paid to wheelchair users and amputees. The company’s Game Changer Collection came about after years of research and features clothing with a back that’s completely free of seams, thus eliminating the risk of sores. (The company is currently in talks about incorporating IZ’s trademarked Seamless Technology into other brands’ designs.) Prices start at $25 for a T-shirt and go up to $425 for men’s suits; sizes range up to 3XL.

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Joe & Bella: Founded in 2020 by a father and son duo, Joe & Bella offers stylish, comfortable adaptable clothes like CareZips, a brilliant solution for caregivers who regularly change adult briefs. The pants have three strategic zippers that allow them to be frontally opened for easy changing; they can also accommodate needs such as catheters, dialysis and more. Sizes go up to 3XL.

Lands’ End: Long known for its reliable staples of inner and outerwear, the company made dressing all of the family even easier with the introduction of a curated line of adaptive wear in 2018 — which include skirts, polos and oxfords that rely on magnetic closures.

MagnaReady: You’d never know that MagnaReady’s “button-down” shirts don’t actually button down; same goes for the company’s flannel shirts, polos, khakis and twill pants, which all rely on washing-machine-safe magnetic closures — making wearers feel put together while offering speed and simplicity to caregivers. Women’s apparel from the company’s newer Yarrow by MagnaReady line includes blouses, shirts, pants and dresses. The company also offers athletic apparel for both men and women. Prices start at $39.99, and clothes are available in plus sizes.

spinner image MagnaReady shirt with magnetic buttons
MagnaReady founder Maura Horton shows the magnetic buttons in her company's shirts.
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Myself Belts: Belts may not be an essential part of an outfit, but seemingly simple details can go a long way in making someone feel confident and polished. And as the only line of adult belts that can be put on with the use of just one hand, they’re not only suitable for individuals who’ve lost use of a hand but are also just as convenient for caretakers who need one hand free to steady the person whom they’re dressing. Belts go up to size 48.

No Limbits: When Erica Cole lost her leg in a car crash in 2018, she got to work creating the types of jeans she suddenly required. Having worked as a theatrical costume designer, she was well suited to creative problem-solving. The No Limbits line offers jeans and pants for $70 that stylishly meet the needs of those with prosthetic limbs and feature hidden zippers, reinforced knees and a comfortable fit.

Ovidis: Another one-stop online shop, Ovidis was launched in 2017 to offer older adults — particularly those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — dignified clothing options. Of note: the company’s “anti-strip” jumpsuits, which restrict access to wearer’s incontinence underwear.

Silverts: Silverts is a veritable emporium of adaptive clothing and footwear. The Silverts website makes it easy to shop by need and condition — from Parkinson’s disease and incontinence to paralysis, cerebral palsy and more. Many brands are available in plus sizes; price range varies

Slick Chicks: Originally founded as an adaptive underwear line, Slick Chicks continues to expand: In 2022, the company launched a loungewear line and new products, such as leakproof underwear, that feature an absorbent liner and side closures with Velcro fastening products.

Target: As if there weren’t already enough excuses to head to Target, the nationwide chain’s Universal Thread line offers women’s jeans with flattened seams (to reduce pressure points), higher-rise backs, longer inseams, soft fabric and wider legs. They also sell a wide range of tag-free tops for those with sensory sensitivity. Select styles are available in plus sizes.

Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive: Best known for its updated take on preppy classics, Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive line includes sweaters with easy-to-open necklines, button-downs with magnetic closures, scarves with keyhole closures, hats with pull-on loops and more.

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