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The spasticated elasticated 1980s

by Liz Carr

18th September 2006

I went clothes shopping recently. As I wheeled deeper down each aisle, I began to come out in a cold sweat, my heart raced and panic set in. The rails of clothes seemed to move closer and closer. The other shoppers loomed over me. The primary coloured accessories, the stripy leggings and the patent leather pumps. I felt claustrophobic. I was surrounded by 1980s fashion and I had to get out.
Liz Carr in her 80s gear, with Keith Chegwin
80s clothes are back with a vengeance. What's worse is that, as a 34 year old, I remember them the first time around. Seeing the old familiar styles took me back to the tears I shed as a teen, trying to be trendy when the trendy clothes weren't available for crippled bodies. No one looked good in the 80s - especially me.

When it comes to clothes, I'm an 8 - aged 8. My medical case notes describe me as: "skeletally deformed with severe contractures and stunted growth". I prefer to think of myself as petite and slim, with an unconventionally fascinating body.

Whatever definition you go with, however, the fact remains - I have to buy children's clothes.

I remember my first date. It was in 1988 and I was 16. My 'pulling' outfit came care of Marks & Spencer's children's department. No fashionable ra-ra skirt and legwarmers for me, oh no! How sexy did I feel wearing white ankle socks and a pretty pink party dress with My Little Pony on the front? In those days, I had no problem buying clothes with butterflies, balloons or bears on them but when I wanted something trendy, smart or sexy; my choice was Hobson's.

Wanting her daughter to be happy, my mum valiantly tried to make me some 'hip' clothes. I ended up looking like one of the Von Trapp children - green draylon curtains have never looked good, not even in the 80s. My mum is actually quite a good seamstress but she can't do buttons, trousers or collars. I ended up with a lot of elasticated smocks. I still have them. They still fit.

I wanted a new winter coat but she wasn't too good at sleeves either. I ended up with a navy blue cape. Not so much Superman as Supersad. How the other girls at school envied me.

Some women brag about still being able to fit into their wedding dress. Well, I can still fit into my Brownie uniform. The first time I wore the dress, I couldn't take it off. No amount of pulling and stretching worked, so mum had to take desperate measures and cut it off me. I was the only member of the Sparrow Sixes to have a dress held together with Velcro, safety pins and will power.
Boy George
After such traumatic experiences, I was understandably thrilled to learn about a company which custom made 'easy access clothing' for disabled people. You took them a picture of whatever style you wanted, they measured you and four weeks later you'd have fashionable clothes to fit. The perfect solution to my clothing problems! At last, I could look like a New Romantic and not a Young Arthritic. Finally, I could dress like Boy George and not George, the 6 year-old boy next door. I too would soon be able to look like the backing singers from Wham!

Excitedly, I told the company what I wanted and after a month of listening non-stop to Club Tropicana, the waiting was over. I asked for a white trouser suit. What I got was a specially adapted white trouser suit.

It had a big baggy bum and a high 'old man' waistband, "to compensate for sitting in a wheelchair". The shoulder pads in the jacket, which were to balance your body, practically doubled my width. My little body was drowned in this huge white suit and every inch of the starched white material screamed 'specially made for cripples'. I hated it. All I needed to go with my suit was a pair of special shoes. My parents tried to convince me that I was lucky having made-to-measure footwear but when the old man proudly brought out the results of his labour, even they struggled not to laugh. These were the ugliest, frumpiest, clumpiest pair of brown leather lace up boots with sheepskin lining in the world. They were so heavy, I could barely lift my feet off the ground. If I ever need cheering up, I go to my cupboard of useless disability items, take the boots out and have a good laugh. Thankfully times have changed. Children's clothes are now just mini versions of adults clothes so it's easy for me to find something to wear. 80s fashion may still fill me with dread but at least this time around it's available in my size.


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