It’s important to find new forms of expression, especially when your identity can feel consumed by arthritis.
Fashion and style aren’t simply about keeping up appearances for other people. They allow you to express yourself and create your own identity. This can provide you with confidence and a sense of freedom at any age and for any gender.
Fashion can include clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry, makeup, hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, and even body posture and behavior. How you choose to style and present yourself can be a big part of your identity.
When I was formally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I knew my life was about to change in many ways. But I wasn’t expecting it to impact my ability to explore the latest fashion trends!
If you have arthritis, you know that pain and swelling can make it hard to simply dress and perform basic hygiene, too. At times, I have struggled with my identity as my RA can dictate what I can and can’t do and wear.
I have now had about 8 years of trial and error and I’ve found ways to make sure that my fashion and style continue to express my identity so that I still feel like me.
I work as a family nurse practitioner. There’s an expectation of business casual to professional dress in my medical practice. This workwear style was complicated with my first symptoms of RA.
At that time, trends were satin tops with no stretch, tight skirts with tiny zippers, and form-fitting dresses with bold patterns. Layering was also very stylish with pops of contrasting colors and lace peeking out. These were all impossible to easily put on in the morning, take off at night, and wear to the restroom — especially if time was tight!
Although fashion trends have changed, the things that made these styles complicated to wear haven’t. I had to find something that worked for me.
Dresses have become my comfy go-to for workwear. Dresses with some stretch, that slip on over the head or that you step into and pull up can be really easy on inflamed, painful joints. I typically avoid dresses with buttons and zippers, unless a skilled tailor can modify them.
Find yourself a skilled tailor.
There are times when certain styles of clothing can’t be avoided. For example, you might have an assigned uniform, or maybe you’ve found yourself a jacket that you simply can’t live without — even if it has some sneaky zippers and buttons.
I suggest finding a tailor who can help you alter clothes to your needs. Zippers can be replaced with matching elastic fabric and buttoned portions sewn permanently closed.
One time I was required to wear a black dress that I did not have time to try on beforehand.
I got it on, and it looked great, but I simply could not get the back zipper all the way to the top. There were about 2 inches of open zipper just below my hairline.
I had no one around who could help and I strained my rotator cuff trying multiple times. I finally put on a scarf that covered it up and left the house.
Unexpectedly, I received dozens of compliments on the scarf that day. People told me that they were impressed at how I dressed up the required, basic, and boring black dress. My limitation was suddenly turned into trend-setting!
Compliments I received about my scarf made me feel seen for the first time in a long time. It made me remember what it felt like to be me without my RA.
To this day, I’m still well-known for my scarves. It has become my trademark and I have completely embraced it.
So, forget about what’s “in fashion.” It might not always cater to us. Instead, be proud to be the trendsetter as you style your clothes according to your wants and needs.
Try something new — but don’t worry about all eyes being on you!
Dressing in a new way, or trying a new style can feel nerve-racking. You might feel like people are staring. But if they are, it’s most likely that you’ve inspired them!
Embrace some change and challenge what is expected. If you decide you don’t like it, you can always reinvent yourself the next day with a different style.
I have curly hair. Only recently has naturally curly hair been trendy and considered in-style. My entire life, people would ask me: “Why don’t you straighten your hair?”
If you have ever blow-dried or straightened your own hair, you know the thumb and wrist strength that is required to do so. After a few attempts, this was simply not in my skill set!
I decided early on into my RA journey that I was going to embrace my curly hair. I found ways to skip washings by using different curly products and dry shampoos to avoid additional hand strain.
But the final touch is my stylish clips and hair accessories. I use these when I put my hair up, especially when I can’t do anything else on bad pain days.
A few years ago, I rediscovered banana clips and these have been so much fun to play with! No matter the status of my hair, when I put it in a banana clip, I get compliments all day long.
Accessories are everyone’s best friend.
A great way to make your outfit stand out or give it a new vibe is to change your accessories. This might include a new hat, a different colored belt, a statement piece of jewelry, or a vintage pair of sunglasses.
Accessorizing can also help save money in the long run as they can spruce up old clothing rather than needing to buy a whole new outfit. They are a great way to make your outfits go further.
It’s easy to despair with clothing on high pain days. You might not want to bother with styles that could press on inflammation and cause greater pain. And some days, getting dressed, or even showered, might feel like too much.
Sometimes sweats are all I can manage.
Since the pandemic, sweats have become stylish! And have you noticed that biker shorts have been trending not only in the gym but for everyday wear?
Over the past few years, denim technology has also advanced a lot. Jeans have only gotten stretchier and more forgiving to wear.
Styles are always changing and the number of fashion brands catering for different lifestyles is endless. Sometimes it’s even quite overwhelming. But this means there are lots of options to explore.
Connect with your style.
If fashion and style doesn’t seem exciting, or take your interest, there are other ways to make it a form of self-expression and self-care.
You might take pride in wearing clothes that are second-hand, or from an ethical and sustainable brand, or perhaps from an up-and-coming designer. Supporting causes and people that you believe in can reflect in your fashion and style too!
RA changes a lot of things, but you can still be you. In fact, you can even be a more stylish and fashionable version of yourself than you ever thought was possible! I hope my stories help you find inspiration to be a trendsetter, too.
Fact checked on August 31, 2022
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