Dressing for feel: four tactile approaches to putting on clothes

How an outfit feels can be more important than how it looks, particularly when accessibility is an issue. Here is how four people balance style and comfort

Getting dressed is one of the few tasks we spend our entire lives doing. Most of the time it has to be done every morning, usually again before bed and sometimes we do it multiple times in a day.

Sometimes it requires a second opinion. Sometimes, even when you think you’ve nailed an outfit, someone else will tell you your fly is undone, your tag is out or that you have spilled something on the front of your shirt. And sometimes, you end up uncomfortable all day.

Getting dressed can also be a collaborative project – like when we’re children, if we’ve fallen ill, or when something is particularly tricky to zip up alone. The nature of being human is that we move in and out of being dependent on other people.

Here, we ask four people about their not-so-straightforward approaches to getting dressed.

Fashion designer Nikki Hind favours reversible dresses, because you can never put them on inside out.
Fashion designer Nikki Hind favours reversible dresses, because you can never put them on inside out. Photograph: Supplied

The backup packer

Nikki Hind, Australia’s first blind fashion designer says, “I remember a time when I was wearing a new dress and thigh-high boots and felt like the ant’s pants.” Infuriatingly, she’d been at an event for an hour or two before someone told her that her dress was inside out. “You think, oh, you idiot,” she says. “I love to design things that are reversible for that reason.”

Because Hind does not drive, she has to be very organised. Before she leaves the house, she has to consider how many hours she’ll be away from home and whether she is going to get sweaty or dirty while walking or on public transport, in which case she needs to carry a separate outfit with her.

This also comes in handy if she spills something. “I bump into things and knock things over, not because I’m drunk, just because I can’t see where things are,” she says. “There is nothing worse than trying to look professional when you’ve spilled coffee down your top.” (A universal sentiment).

Since she does so much walking, her footwear choice is often dictated by comfort, so when necessary for fashion reasons, she will carry a second pair of shoes “to appropriately match my outfit”. She also always wears a backpack: “I need to be hands-free so I can feel where some things are – stairway rails, doors etc.”


Hind does look in the mirror when she is getting dressed, but tends to style her outfit based on how it feels. Whether it is “too tight or baggy in certain areas, or long or short,” she says. “I’ve possibly gotten used to how things feel when I like the way I look.”

The comfortably fun

When Aleasha McCallion is helping her eight-year-old son Arden get dressed there are a lot of things to consider. She says, “like most folks” the weather is the first consideration but because Arden has complex disabilities “it is incredibly important to strike the right balance of layers, sensory comfort, practicality and temperature for what the day is bringing”.

Since layering is key, along with the need for regular washing, it is also important his clothes are durable, soft and stretchy. For this reason, she avoids non-stretch woven fabrics and zip or button flies, and instead opts for stretch waist bands and drop-crotch or skater-themed pants. “I tend to select a lot of trackies and knit jumpers and of course with kids clothing that isn’t hard to find.”

Secondhand clothing is ideal, she says, “because it’s often softened up and no longer has high levels of chemicals used in processing and manufacturing of clothing”.

When helping her son Arden get dressed, Aleasha McCallion looks for a balance of practicality and fun.
When helping her son Arden get dressed, Aleasha McCallion looks for a balance of practicality and fun. Photograph: Supplied

Since Arden has limited social interactions with other kids, partly due to the health risks of Covid and partly due to the visible and invisible disabilities related to his rare, severe epilepsy, McCallion makes it a priority to find him outfits that are not only “really practical” but cool. “He has a banana-print jumper at the moment which is a lot of fun and certainly spices up the mood when we need it.”

The mind’s eye planner

Blogger, writer and speaker Elin Williams has committed her wardrobe to memory. Once she has checked the weather, assessed what she has on for the day and decided on a direction for her outfit, she says, “I flick through my inner-mind’s outfit catalogue, pick the items that I think will fit my vibe … and find them.”

Her wardrobe is very organised to make this easier. “Organisation is key in a vision-impaired fashion lover’s life,” she says, “I can’t spot what I’m looking for when I open the doors so I keep different styles of clothes together to make them easier to find.”

She describes putting an outfit together as her favourite part about fashion but since “mirrors are a no-go” it can make “fashion and dressing somewhat of a guessing game … but it’s one I love to play”.

Having confidence in the clothes she owns is crucial. “If I know one item looks good, I’m confident in pairing that with other things I own, and can usually tell if it pairs well depending on the contrast in fabric, texture and colour.” To be sure her outfit is working, she often secures a second opinion from her mother or brother before leaving the house.

When she is choosing shoes, she keeps things simple by opting for versatile styles that work with different outfits. “I don’t stray too far from white trainers or ballet flats in the summer, since I know I can trust them to complement any outfit, and you’ll rarely see me out of ankle boots in the autumn/winter.”

Blogger and writer Elin Williams.
Elin Williams says “organisation is key in a vision-impaired fashion lover’s life”. Photograph: Supplied

The expressive selector

Emma Albert helps her six-year-old son get dressed each day by asking “Mikey, what do you want to wear?” Once he replies with a specific item or colour, she lays out a number of things for him to choose from.

“We do this with each item: socks, T-shirt, pants … Sometimes we end with quite an interesting combo but so long as he’s happy and comfortable that’s what matters!”

This process lets her son “feel more in control” and lets him express his personality.

Since his comfort is extremely important, she steers his direction a little by selecting pieces that are weather and activity appropriate. “We prefer to stick to cotton clothing where we can for its breathability and durability,” she says. “Temperate regulation is important so breathable layers help with that. Also having a bit of stretch makes dressing a little easier.”

Another thing she looks for in Mikey’s clothes is accessibility. “When your muscles are tight and your limbs don’t always cooperate, standard clothes are tricky to put on,” she says. She opts for zip up jumpers over sweatshirts and anything with wide or adjustable openings. “I look for pants with more room in the bottom so he doesn’t show too much and they don’t slip down while he’s seated in his wheelchair.”

Clothing that features his interests, like his favourite bands, and pieces that start a conversation around disability inclusion are particular favourites. “When Mikey is really happy in his outfit, he will proudly tell people ‘I wear this one’ or ‘I like this one’, pointing to his top.”


Lucianne Tonti

The GuardianTramp

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