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Audio: The Clothes Clinic

by Ouch Team

1st September 2009

Louisa Somerfield is a fashion designer and wheelchair user, who creates clothes suitable for disabled women. Claire Jennings is a blind person who works hard on her image and writes beauty articles for the online magazine Human High. Listen as they give advice to men and women with various impairments in our Clothes Clinic.

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Louisa Somerfield
Louisa has some tips on getting into a halter neck dress if you are mobility impaired and imparts useful advice on what type of shirts to wear if you are a man with a differently shaped body. Claire gives away some secrets for applying makeup as a blind person and both discuss the best ways to avoid showing off too much clevage, if that is what you want. Mat Fraser and Liz Carr present.

[+] Click to read the transcript

MAT ((plays cord))
LIZ In the studio we have fashion columnist Claire Jennings. Hello Claire.
CLAIRE Eee hello it’s so lovely to be here.
LIZ Good to have you.
MAT And on the line from Sweden we have Louisa Summerfield.
LOUISA Hello everyone.
MAT ((speaking Swedish)) Louisa. Now Louisa is founder of which sells designer fashion wear for women in wheelchairs. What’re you doing in Sweden quickly, Louisa?
LOUISA Well we’re actually expanding the business to the Scandinavian region.
MAT Ooh okay. Well we’re hear more about... sorry to interrupt we’ll more hear more about your great sounding company in due course.
LIZ A bit later we’ve got some talk show listeners lined up to share their clothes and image woes. But let’s just start by getting a bit deeper into both of you - finding out a bit more.
MAT Claire, you're blind visually impaired now some people would be surprised to hear that you care about your image. What would you say to that?
CLAIRE I think if the world was blind and I was sighted that argument would stand up. But the fact that everybody else can see me means that I do need to be aware of the way I look, the way I come across. And the way you look also helps the way you feel. I feel a lot more confident knowing that, you know, I’m fashionable and wear makeup and have my hair done nicely so...
MAT Could you describe yourself for the listeners?
CLAIRE Gosh. I have red hair, green eyes, I’m five foot seven. I’m wearing a very bright zebra t-shirt. I have cut off jeans and astonishingly stupidly high heeled shoes.
MAT Let’s check those out.
CLAIRE You're not borrowing them they won’t fit you.
MAT Whoa check it out! What are those three inches, four inches?
CLAIRE Something like that they’re too, too high to walk around in.
MAT Dear oh dear!
LIZ And Louisa what led you to setting up a website selling clothes to disabled women?
LOUISA I’ve always been interested personally in fashion and I did see that there was a niche and a gap in the market for such a collection to exist. So I came about to fill in that gap.
LIZ Okay. And look I have to ask why do you think that women that use wheelchairs, why do they need special clothing or, you know, or specially designed clothing?
LOUISA Well for a start when you’re sitting you're body shape is completely different to somebody standing. So we take into account the shape of the body. And then there are all sorts of dressing problems with people with impaired mobility of their hands. And then there’s manual users that need more movement in the shoulder area ,so all these things have been put into the collection for, you know, for wheelchair users.
MAT Dressing problems is a bit of an issue for a lot of disabled people I think. Now we’ve got Adele on the line from Liverpool. Hiya Adele.
ADELE Hello.
MAT Hi darling. Now you’ve got something here about halter neck tops and fastenings - what’s going on there?
ADELE Yeah. Halter neck dresses and style tops really suit my figure shape. But because I have a physical impairment I find it really difficult to fasten them. And I have tried sort of pre-fastening a dress before I’ve gone out in it, but because I’m quite blessed in the upper body department they just don’t stay. And my hubby also is a disabled person and finds tying them really difficult. So I was wondering if there was any solutions to that at all?
LIZ Claire, any thoughts on that one?
CLAIRE I’m probably not quite as lucky in the upper department but I’m saving for the boob job, that’s next.
MAT What?
CLAIRE Yeah. Can you have it adjusted so that you have Velcro, because sometimes you know I sort of take buttons off and put different fastenings on clothes. Can you do that to make that a bit easier? Or do it up and have maybe the stretchy material that you can pull over your head with it done up.
ADELE The stretchy material might work I don’t think Velcro would because of the way I walk I think I’d be really worried about it coming undone.
LIZ Maybe that would be a good thing. Louisa, how about you any sort of tips on what Adele might be able to do?
LOUISA Well I could add to that. I mean Velcro is a solution perhaps if you're just sitting.
ADELE Right.
LOUISA But another way is to have magnets. We often use magnets like you have on handbags.
ADELE Right, okay.
LOUISA So you literally throw your top around your neck and it will find the magnet to grip.
ADELE Oh brilliant cheers.
LIZ Now that is a great idea.
MAT That’s brilliant.
LOUISA They’re quite heavy duty magnets as well so I’m sure it will take your...
ADELE Right, okay.
LOUISA ... bust moving up and down.
ADELE That’s fab.
CLAIRE Don’t go too near the radiator, you may be there a long time.
MAT You’re suddenly hurtled backwards against the wall if there’s anything metallic.
LIZ No seriously though, Louisa, because I was reading that, you know, magnets are used quite a lot in adaptive clothing they’re a great solution. How does it...
LOUISA They are.
LIZ ... stop, you know, why doesn’t it stick to other things all these aids and equipment that we might have around us?
LOUISA It won’t stick to anything else because you've got your two bits of fabric covering the magnet faces. So it literally will find its other half and you have fabric covering you know the top of the magnet so you can’t actually stick to anything around you.
LIZ Adele I hope that’s been useful?
ADELE It’s has thanks very much.
LIZ And take care and happy halter neck fastening summer for you.
ADELE Thank you very much.
MAT So, Selina in Newcastle, what kind of issues have you got - colours, matching clothes is that your thing?
SELINA Yeah, basically...
MAT You’re visually impaired aren’t you just to be clear for the listeners?
SELINA I’m visually impaired, I used to be partially sighted but now I’ve only got light perception. So I have an understanding of colours and everything...
MAT Right.
SELINA ... but when I go out shopping now like getting people to describe a colour if you don’t have just pink or just blue, it’s like baby blue or petrol blue I know and then it’s matching the different shades up it seems to be the issue.
MAT Hm well Claire obviously you being visually impaired, maybe you’ve got some advice here?
CLAIRE I haven’t got any perfect advice for you Selina apart from if you've got a really good friend who you trust ((0:18:19?)) who I tend to go clothes shopping with is, you know, find a good friend who knows what you like, knows your style, knows how you’d like to look and then take their advice really. I mean I probably wear clothes thinking they’re a certain colour and they’re probably nowhere near it. But I sometimes tend to play things a little bit safe in that if I've got a colour that potentially could clash then I would wear it with black or white to make sure that it’s not clashing with too much.
SELINA I’m well known and I’ve always been well known for being standing out in bright colours and kind of wild tops that ((0:18:55?))
CLAIRE I mean yeah...
SELINA I’ve never liked black ((0:18:58?))
CLAIRE But you could wear the, say, the bright tops with black leggings or whatever and then it’s not going to clash with anything. What colour hair do you have?
SELINA Pardon?
CLAIRE What colour’s your hair?
CLAIRE Okay that’s not going to clash because I’ve got red hair and I have to be quite careful with orange and stuff like that.
LIZ Are there any solutions if you’re on your own though Claire? If you're visually impaired what do you do then if you haven’t got someone around, or it’s the morning and you can’t gather your friends because you're off to work, you know, what can you do then? Are there gadgets on the market or anything you could use?
CLAIRE You mean for things that you've already bought or are you in the shop at this moment?
LIZ I guess both really.
cLAIRE Yeah okay. ((Coalport?)) do have a colour indicator talking device but it doesn’t always tell the truth I find. It sometimes says things are green when they’re blue or whatever.
MAT Is it a man? Did a man design it?
CLAIRE Yeah actually, Mat, now you mention it, it’s a man. Yeah.
MAT Because it’s true that women see more colours than men?
CLAIRE Yes this is true.
MAT We say blue, you have a whole myriad of blues to talk about.
CLAIRE Yeah well you know women we’re superior this is how we do things. You could put things in certain areas of the wardrobe you know sort of put clothes together when you have got a friend ((away?)) so you’d know that that top goes with that skirt or whatever.
LIZ So maybe about being very organised.
CLAIRE Which most people aren’t actually, I mean, they always tell us to be organised and I don’t think many disabled people are. Actually in shops I’m always a bit dubious about relying on shop assistants because they want to sell stuff.
LIZ Of course.
MAT “Oh that look fantastic on you, Madam, it’s so you.”
MAT Kerching!
CLAIRE Yes exactly.
MAT Exactly.
LIZ So, Selina, you also had a comment about a cleavage issue slightly.
MAT Cor blimey!
CLAIRE It’s all about cleavage isn’t it I didn’t know I was going to come in and talk about this.
SELINA Well basically like obviously V-necks are still quite in fashion at the minute and with it being it summer everyone seems to have it all hanging out, so to speak. But it’s like knowing when the top is too low and not realising and kind of showing off a little bit too much, like how do you know that you're covered up but still looking fashionable?
MAT I know Emma, our very own Emma Tracey has mentioned this to me a couple of times. She’s sometimes concerned maybe... I don’t want to speak on your behalf, Emma, so if you don’t agree violently flail your hands so I’ll know through the window. She worries sometimes if she’s leaning forward or something at what point, you know, a bit too much cleavage might be on show and that’s a real concern, you know, because you want to be in control of your own image and what people can and can’t see don’t you?
CLAIRE ((0:21:24?)) if you’ve got a sensible bra underneath though preferably a pretty bra, I mean, it doesn’t matter does it really? I mean if you’re in a swimming pool in a bikini people see the same sort of stuff.
LIZ So make the most of it if they’re...
CLAIRE Absolutely flaunt it! Come on!
LIZ ((0:21:35?)) make the most of it.
MAT Louisa, does it matter?
LOUISA No I would agree with Claire on that one, you know, it really doesn’t matter and you know lots of people do show a bit more flesh and it can be very attractive.
MAT Cor blimey!
LOUISA So I wouldn’t worry.
LIZ So enhance your assets so to speak.
CLAIRE Absolutely.
LOUISA Yes, yes absolutely.
MAT Can I... sorry we have actually got a man caller on the line - thank goodness! No I’m joking, but just what about you know you might have a woman that doesn’t really feel that the successful way round that conundrum is to make sure she has a pretty bra, she might not want to ever show her bra.
CLAIRE Well then wear high necked t-shirts.
MAT Okay.
CLAIRE You know if you don’t want to do that that’s fine. Selina, can I ask...
MAT So there you are Emma.
CLAIRE ... can I ask Selina what you do about makeup? Can I ask you that?
SELINA I can I try and stick to the basics ((0:22:28?)) lipstick pretty okay as far as I know, and I just kind of stick with that, I don’t do all the foundation ((0:22:35?)) touching my eyes so I don’t put any eye makeup on because it’ll just smudge and I’ve naturally got long eyelashes so I’m ((0:22:41?)) no mascara.
CLAIRE Because one of the solutions I’ve found is the semi permanent makeup that’s tattooed on.
MAT You have tattooed makeup?
CLAIRE Yeah. The eyeliner and lip liner is tattooed on. My eyelashes are also stuck on.
LIZ You have like permanent makeup on.
CLAIRE I do which is...
MAT Wow!
CLAIRE ... good for people, I mean I could never manage things with pencils and I imagine people with dexterity issues also wouldn’t be able to manage eyeliners ((0:23:05?))
MAT It’s rather a commitment though isn’t it, I mean it’s all right for you and maybe Michael Jackson but you know what if you wanted to look different one day?
CLAIRE Then you can paint over it.
MAT Thought of everything haven’t you?
LIZ I’m just imagining going to the occupational therapist and saying, “Yes I think the way to get over this access need is, you know, to have tattooed makeup.”
MAT Thanks ever so much, Selina, for sharing your issues with us.
LIZ Thank you, Selina, really interesting stuff.
MAT And good luck in continuing to cut a bit of a swathe in Newcastle.

LIZ And on the line I think we have Jo there. Jo?
JO Hello there.
LIZ Hello Jo.
MAT Are refreshingly male you sound. You’re not worried about your cleavage are you?
JO No not so much.
MAT Oh thank goodness.
LIZ You’ve got a question about covering up lumps and bumps that we all have, is this right?
JO Of sorts yes. I mean I’m a wheelchair user with Spina Bifida and Scoliosis and my concerns are basically with the Scoliosis my upper body does tend to look out of proportion.
LIZ Okay.
jO And I’m looking into ways to try and hide that as well as I possibly can really.
LIZ Okay.
CLAIRE Do you mean sort of fat or bone what is it you’re trying to hide? Sorry to be very particular.
JO No, no that’s fine.
MAT It’s all right, we’re all disabled here.
LIZ Amongst friends.
JO It’s literally as I say it’s literally just that my upper body just does... is out of proportion in that it seems I guess it just almost seems very condensed, a very short upper body.
LIZ Okay.
LOUISA Yes it’s shorter is it so you have the upper is shorter yeah.
LIZ So, Louisa, what would you suggest?
LOUISA Well I would suggest that you have some structure to your clothing. So something that elongates the body like a jacket, you know, maybe a made-to-measure jacket but a jacket that gives you length. And certainly people that are not in proportion benefit from structured clothing. And as you’re a man I would suggest a jacket to do that.
MAT Sorry I’m being a bit thick here what do you mean by structured clothing?
LOUISA Shape. So if you have a jacket that’s got the shoulders might be slightly, you know, squarer and more padded -we’re not talking like great big shoulder pads but it just gives you that squarer look for a man.
MAT Yeah I use those in my sweaters - a little bit of extra shoulder knitting in there gives the allusion of manly shoulders.
LOUISA Yes exactly. And then the length of the jacket will give you length to your body. So the appearance will look like a more proportioned body but obviously you’d need to think about your lifestyle and what kind of cloths realistically you’re going to be in.
JO Yes.
LOUISA You know, because suit jackets are wonderful for elongating the body but if that’s not your lifestyle you might need to consider another type of jacket.
LIZ Well what do you wear at the moment Jo?
MAT Are you a ((0:36:58?))
JO At the moment I tend to stick with shirts that have horizontal lines.
MAT Yeah.
JO Sorry vertical lines...
MAT Yeah of course.
JO ... I apologise, vertical lines on my shirt. And also patterned shirts tend to hide quite well.
LIZ So you do wear shirts, you’re comfortable in shirts?
JO Shirts generally yes. I must admit I do have a bit of a shirt fetish.
LIZ Okay nice.
JO So yes I do tend to wear shirts.
MAT Give us an example of something you wouldn’t wear, Jo?
JO Something I wouldn’t wear - I don’t know waistcoats are a bit of an issue, I tend to avoid them if possible.
MAT Right, okay.
LIZ And why is that do they just gape in all the wrong places or not?
JO Yes absolutely.
LIZ Yeah.
JO Yes and they actually make my body look more out of proportion - I believe they do anyway.
LIZ Well I can say that in the studio me and Mat are nodding not because we know you but because we know things like waistcoats do that to both of our bodies as well.
MAT Yeah in different ways. So all three of us have waistcoat issues but different ones.
JO Yes.
MAT Have you ever worn a waistcoat Claire?
CLAIRE I have yes I have.
MAT Okay. That was a bit of a clothing cul-de-sac wasn’t it?
CLAIRE I’m trying to think of an issue I have but I don’t think I particularly have an issue with the waistcoat. But I have had had liposuction, which I’m not necessarily recommending, but I have had my body shape changed so I can fit into waistcoats, not specifically for waistcoats...
MAT Wow!
CLAIRE ... but I have.
LIZ Brilliant.
MAT Well look... after you darling.
LIZ I was just going to say thank you, Jo, for your question there, I hope it’s been useful.
JO It has yes indeed, thanks very much for your time.
MAT Nice one.
LIZ Take care.
MAT Now top clothing tips please from your very good selves Louisa and Claire. Louisa would you like to go first seeing as you’re in Sweden?
LOUISA Okay. Well I will be talking from the perspective of wheelchair women, so sitting. And the most important thing when you're sitting is your upper body. So lots of detail around your bust or frills round your collar or bows or something that gives you that eye catching upper body appearance. So that’s one hot tip.
MAT Okay.
LOUISA Another is when you’re wheeling to make sure your clothes have that little bit of extra room in the shoulder and I suggest also three quarter length sleeves, because then you don’t get the mud and the dirt from the wheels too close to your cuffs.
LIZ And I want to ask, Louisa, what do you think about people that accessorise their wheelchairs? You know that they see that as an extension of their personality so they decorate them as well. Do you think, you know, do you think that’s a good idea is that something that you think is a stylish thing to do or...?
LOUISA Personally I don’t like that but I do know that a wheelchair can make you feel very sexy or sporty or something so you know your wheelchair is very important to your image but I’m not in favour of it taking over from the person in it.
MAT No quite right. And Claire what hot top tips have you got for us, I dread to think.
CLAIRE I think disabled people should believe that they’re gorgeous. I think that genuinely from inside you should believe that you are gorgeous and make the most of everything you have, you know, your nails, your makeup, your hair as well as your clothes, and just believe that you have a right to be gorgeous and don’t listen to all the people that suggest that because you’re disabled you should look like a frump because it’s not true.
LIZ Lordy be!
MAT No absolutely couldn’t agree with you more and Mikey, if you’re listening, you should take that onboard okay? It’s all right, listeners, Mikey is a disabled friend of mine who once told me that because she was disabled she didn’t feel she had the right to wear fashionable clothes and I thought that was very wrong. Now Louisa and Claire thank you so much.
LIZ Thank you so much.
MAT We’ve not done this before have we Liz?
LIZ No we’ve not had a phone in/phone out before.
MAT Like a consultation clinic.
LIZ Fantastic. Do we want like a version of The Clothes Show for disabled people?
LIZ But they’d do it badly wouldn’t they?
MAT Well that’s because... well yes but we should get Louisa and Claire to do it.
LIZ Absolutely. Wow. Thank you, so thank you to our callers, thanks also to Louise from WheelieChix-Chic and to Claire. If you’ve got anything you want to tell us about clothes email
MAT We never got to talk about my pants.

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