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New orthopaedic boots and incontinence panties

Mike Shamash

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In this paper I would like to examine the complex relationship between the disabled person and the world of fashion and style. Fashion is an area that ostensibly excludes the disabled person. Until recently you could still see the clothing of disabled people as bearing the brand label of the ignored and discarded. If one looks in a high fashion magazine or sees the array of clothes and models on the catwalk there would appear to be little of relevance to the disabled person. We have no images of ourselves represented and nor is their any reference to the practicalities of finding appropriate and stylish garments.

Yet fashion is everywhere. We wear our images and our own self-definition. The disabled community is no different from any other in this matter. There are at any given moment dominant looks. Disabled people are simultaneously involved in this process but also excluded from it. I would like to discuss how this process works. We have to subvert the expected norms whilst retaining a visibility that does not demean us.

This issue was at the periphery of the experience of the disabled person who struggled to find suitable outfits until relatively recently. The catalyst for putting this issue on the agenda was an item by the fashion designer, Alexander McQueen in the September 1998 issue of the London based style magazine, Dazed and Confused. Here a group of disabled people were dressed and photographed in the traditional couture manner subverting the reader's expectations of fashion and beauty.

This liberating article looked like it would mark the beginning of a real change in an awareness of how the fashion establishment would address the image of disabled people as style-conscious consumers. In the wake of this the London accessible arts organisation organised in April 2000 an inclusive fashion show, In Our Fashion with disabled models and designers involved. There was also around this time the establishment of the Nottingham based fashion-retailing organisation, Awear, to look at the clothing needs of the disabled person. Yet, after this surge of interest there was nothing. Why? Was it the wrong strategy?

I would like to examine what was or should be learnt from this experience and how can disabled people be incorporated in the world of mainstream fashion. I would also like to make suggestions as to how we can develop a more inclusive aesthetic. It is still all too evident that with the introduction of parts 2 and 3 of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act that some of the least accessible retail outlets are clothes shops. Clothing may seem marginal but in essence it is our imprimatur.

It is every disabled persons right to look gorgeous and in this paper I want to outline how we can make this happen. By the way the title of my paper comes from the title of the first album by Ian Drury, the disabled musician and raconteur, New Boots and Panties.

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