Keeping the Bandbox

I was brought up to dress well and be neat to as a pin. I wore uniforms to school and we changed to other clothes immediately after. My mother taught us to be well turned out even though we could not spend a lot of money on clothes. I always took time to take care of my clothes by giving them a careful press when needed. My appearance was always important to me.

After I became disabled I could no longer wear the pretty shoes that I loved. I soon stopped wearing dresses because it was too difficult to transfer in and out of a vehicle with any type of dignity. I had to wear sensible oxford shoes which were not nearly snazzy enough for a twenty something young lady. Slacks covered my brace and made it less noticeable. I was always silly enough to think that braces could be more fashionable. A brown leather brace cuff just was not very cute. But I learned to adapt and to wear what was necessary. I always tried to make my face and hair my focus.

The attractive and functional clothing I needed was sometimes difficult to find. I needed slacks with an elastic waist that could be easily pulled up. In the late 60s it was hard for me to find attractive washable clothing. Most fabrics then were permanent press and the early polyesters. Many times these washable fabrics were styled for older women and it was challenging to make them look younger for me. Since my mother thought I was too conservative she frequently bought me trendier clothes. Sometimes I asked her to return them because I did not feel comfortable with the styles she chose.

In the 70s jeans were everyday wear but their zippers disallowed them for me. It became harder to find functional clothing. Catalog shopping was disappointing because clothes look great in print but could look quite different when seen in person. So I needed to have my slacks made. I found a universal pattern that would work for dress or casual and had several pairs of slacks made each season. Then I would buy coordinating tops at department stores. I preferred pull on tops because I felt they made me look better. They were also better to wear when sitting in a wheelchair.

When I went back to work in my mid-80s, pull on pants were easier to find and I bought blazers and jackets to go with them. Over time I gained some weight and found that a long day resulted in swelling and blazers became constricting. I decided to go with knit tops and open armed cable knit vests. These made me feel professional and comfortable at the same time. In the early 90s I saw a catalog of adaptive clothing for wheelchair users and was shocked at the prices. Since I did not need the special higher waists, I did not buy them.

When I came to the nursing home, I did not have appropriate clothing. My slacks were washable but many of my tops had to be dried flat. I needed different clothing and had to experiment with sizes so that my clothes did not shrink in the laundry. When I had no way to shop, my sister bought my clothing. Since she bought more expensive clothing, I tended to leave them hanging in the closet. Activities did have a vendor come who sold a few items of clothing. I ended up buying polyester blend shirts and fleece tops. After a few years here my sister said she was tired of seeing me in sweatshirts. But they were the most sensible winter clothing for nursing home wear.

I turned my quest for comfortable, easy care, functional clothing into an art form. When all of my bras got ruined in the dryer, I wondered if I would be like the older women here who no longer wear bras. The thought disgusted me but I could not see buying bras only to have them ruined. I tried sports bras and eventually gave up and went without. A couple of years ago I started wearing tank tops. So now I feel like I am wearing underwear again.

It has taken time to convince family members and friends that only certain types of clothing will work for me and hold up in the facility’s laundry. I have bought clothes online for nine years. Now because of aging baby boomers and the desire for comfort, there are more clothes available that are stylish and functional for me. I do not like the present styles because tops are low-cut and require a layering piece underneath, which means I need more clothing. With my limited storage space that can be a problem. Twice a year I put my off-season clothes in vacuum sealed storage bags which my sister stores at her house. I also vacuum store a few off-season clothes here in the bottom of my closet.

Keeping my hair looking good has been a challenge. I had it cut extremely short when I first came. Then I went back to my short permed look. For a few years I let my hair grow which probably has something to do with preserving the last vestiges of my youth. But hot flashes changed all that and my hair is back to short and curly.

My leg braces are lighter weight and less cumbersome. But they will never be cutesy enough to allow me to wear a dress or a skirt. My outerwear consists of knit wraps and a reversible cape which I have had for 15 years. I simply cannot find another one like it. Few capes are available and the ones that are come in fleece or the pricier wool. I hope I can find an appropriate one before mine completely wears out.

Buying shoes used to be difficult. I had to go to a store that specialized in special-needs shoes. Many times they had to be ordered which required two separate trips. Then I decided to take a chance and buy shoes online. Several vendors ship shoes quickly and they can be easily returned if there is a problem. I found one style and have bought it in several different colors. I have received many complements on these shoes. Over time I hope to be able to find different styles that I like.

I continue to have my hair colored. I do not have that much gray but I want to cover it up nonetheless. My sister and friends have suggested that I let my hair go gray. But that would make me feel older and less attractive. So it is a personal choice for me. I only need to get it colored every three months. Lately I am considering getting highlights… just because.

I had to give up and change many things after I came here. The first thing to go were my solar nails. But I adapted and found a reasonably priced nail regimen and activities keeps my nails looking great. I do not think we need to become less because we live in a nursing home. Since it is important for me to look good, I like to work on it.

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