Fashion and Disability: Why are Adapted Bras so Hideous?

My relationship to fashion is a rocky one. Mostly due being autistic. As a kid I was extremely sensitive to the texture of clothing. If I wore something that was even slightly uncomfortable, I would get so stressed out that I felt like I was physically turning inside out. Consequently, buying me clothes was a major pain for my mother. We would have to go to multiple stores just to find a single outfit. An outfit I may only wear once because its texture and feel might change after it was washed.

Did I mention that I wasn’t diagnosed on the autism spectrum until I was 18? So my mother just thought I was being unnecessarily difficult. I got a lot of lectures about clothes and how frustrated she was about my behaviour towards my wardrobe. Add to that my hemiplegic cerebral palsy which left me unable to tie my shoes until I was nine and difficulty with zippers that lasted well into my teens.

Consequently I was a very unfashionable child. It wasn’t that I was unaware of fashion, I simply had to be completely ambivalent to it in order to be comfortable enough to function. I wore a lot of oversize t-shirts and pants with elasticized waists. Any article of clothing that was even remotely restrictive was impossible. I never wore denim or anything lacking in stretch. Basically, I wore a lot of track suits of the 80s variety.

track suit

I had so many of these. This became an issue at my Christian Preparatory High School where track suits were considered unprofessional and were against the dress code. I had about 5 outfits that were comfortable that barely passed dress code muster that I just constantly recycled. I have a much more diverse wardrobe now. I’m not sure if I have better coping skills or if they just put lycra and spandex in everything now, rendering clothing generally more comfortable (I also love the trend of tagless shirts, whoever came up with those is a genius who should be sainted). One article of clothing I continue to have difficulty with however are bras. Bras cause difficulties for both my disabilities. I lack the necessary hand dexterity to actually put them on properly. Whoever invented the hook and eye system most commonly used as a bra fastening probably never has to use it and certainly didn’t have to use it one handed. I have also found that I find bra clasps against my skin to be extremely uncomfortable to the point that it impacts my ability to function socially. Yet there are so few alternatives for people with either hypersensitivity or limited dexterity. While adaptive bras so exist, they were absolutely not designed with fashion consciousness in mind. Silvert‘s has a small selection that include these,

silvert bra

silverts 2

Those two bras are pretty representative of what is marketed as adaptive bras. You can find similar products from other adaptive clothing retailers.

They are not the sort of bra that can be worn under a low cut top or even a tank top. They are also in no concievable way sexy. Pretty bras it seems are the sole domain of people with more dexterity than I have. It also just reinforces the idea that disabled people should not be sexy. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is entirely possible to make a pretty (or at least more fashionable) accessible bra without resorting to frumpy. The problem is very few companies do. A while ago I was fortunate enough to find the Bonds Pull Over Bra (pictured below)

BONDS-Pull-Over-Bra

I bought three. They offer good support, have adjustable straps and look pretty much exactly like a normal bra you would find in a store. They also don’t have clasps of any kind so are easy to get on and are comfortable. They have also been discontinued and are no longer available. I’m not sure why, the Bond’s website was full of rave reviews for the product. So while you can’t get them anymore they do prove you can make a supportive pullover bra. I wish they would bring it back and that other lingerie retailers would start making similar products in different styles. Most other pullover styles are bralettes which have very little support. They worked okay for me in my younger days but I find I now need something a little sturdier. I am also finding that on an increasing basis even bralettes have back clasps.

Free People bralette

Free People bralette

While I wish mainstream retailers would make the effort to include accessible bras in their lines, because who doesn’t want easy comfortable bras. It’s not like they’re something that is worn all day everyday… oh wait.

So they would have consumer appeal outside the disability community. I also find it disappointing that clothing brands that are specifically marketing adaptive clothing seem to care so little for esthetic (it’s not just the bras believe me). As I have grown further away from my track suit wearing youth, I find myself less able and less willing to force myself into ambivalence about what I wear because there is so little created with people like me in mind. I no longer accept the visible otherness that being unable to wear trendy clothing or at least wearing the same few things repeatedly creates. I like to express myself through what I wear and I find it galling that I am limited now in what is considered an essential clothing item.

If anyone knows of some comfortable accessible bras that my hours of trawling google haven’t found, please share in the comments.

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9 responses to “Fashion and Disability: Why are Adapted Bras so Hideous?

  1. I have no problems with bras in terms of disability, but that bonds bra looks friggin awesome and I want one! I suspect if they were easy to find and marketed well, there would be a lot of interest behind people with disabilities. I’ve seen this image multiple times online for taking a strapless bra and removing the back and adding I think it’s elastic strips across the back as a cute option for shirts with a low back where the bra would be visible- the bonds bra as it appears here already would look better visible than a bra that fastens in the back, and I’m sure they could make it in solid colors and simple patterns just as easily to appeal to folks who want a bra back that looks cute in shirts with a low back.

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  2. Have you tried decentexposures.com? Their original UnBra is available in plenty of colors, lots of fabrics and can just be pulled on over the head. If I recall properly their waiting list is a bit long but their products are worth it.

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    • While that’s a decent option if you’re looking for basic functionality only, it still definitely isn’t what I’d call pretty and could only be used under shirts with sleeves, no tank tops or scoop backs

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  3. Thank you for your article. I was looking for cute comfortable bras because I’m nursing and I want that ability plus wearability with normal clothes (don’t even get me started on nursing bras)bisi what you found is great! The ones you can pull over and pull down are the best. Anemone has pullon bras of a million colors on Amazon. Nothing fancy but really comfy and cute. I also love bralettes by Wacoal. They don’t offer much support – just a piece of very soft and comfy fabric really, but are great for home and can double up as a layering piece.

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  4. Hi, I found this post after thinking about the hardship my mother must have gone through with her bras after having a stroke. I wish I had thought of this when she was alive, but I wasn’t wearing bras then so it didn’t occur to me. However, I got inspired to look into one-handed bras and see what was out there. I immediately realized that most likely any bra marketed to those with disabilities would be unattractive and clinical-looking, and I was right. Women with disabilities should be able to feel pretty and sexy too! I have an idea for an alteration that might work for bras, and I just wanted to thank you for writing about this subject, which is apparently one that far too few people are giving any thought to. What a massively underserved market!

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  5. Thank you for writing this!! I’m not even looking for pretty or sexy at this point, just great support for large breasts and easy on/off. I have rheumatoid arthritis and end up sleeping in my industrial-strength bras if my husband is away overnight because I can’t remove them myself! I wake up with red lines around my torso from the band digging into my skin. The pull-on bras I’ve seen are not even close to being supportive, and they all seem to give me the (saggy) uni-boob look. I’m tired of looking sloppy and/or struggling with the on/off of a traditional bra.

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  6. Hi I know I’m commenting on an old post, but I just fell upon it whilst bra shopping.
    I read your article and thoroughly agree with you that adaptive clothing is a crime of fashion. Basically its way too expensive and sucks royally!.
    I myself have a range of disabilities ranging from rare sleep disorders (IH) to chronic pain (arthritis & other muscle, joint conditions ,hypermobility…) the list goes on. I am also awaiting an Autism assessment.
    My little one is diagnosed with non verbal Autism & has sensory processing problems, as well as Psoriasis & also requires adapted garments.
    I am so cross that they specialist clothing manufacturers/company’s think that people who are disabled are not worth the effort to add even just the basic mainstream features to underwear and clothing. I do however think i know why they don’t add them – They likey reason that people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities: A) Don’t need the added basic “luxury” of such features (basically they stereotype people who need such goods) & : b) Most will buy their ugly and in some cases impractical goods (e.g bras that lack support, illl fitting) at ridiculously over inflated prices anyway, so why would they add additional features when it’s cheaper for them to make an ugly bog standard garment that most will settle on because they have no choice in a niche market?

    On a more positive note, I know M&S have launched a new kids adaptive garment line (basically larger bodysuit’s and grows etc…) limited choice, but a step in the right direction. Maybe an appeal to extend their disability products to an adult line would be an idea for the future. I know it was a grandma of a child with disabilities who took her idea to them which sparked the current adaptive kids garment line. Good for her!
    There more mainstream retailers who choose to produce disability clothing there better, it will hopefully force their prices down and add choice across the specialist industry.

    In the meantime there is an alternative which I am currently looking into. I am looking to have my little girls clothing adapted, possibly by a seamstress. Even if it costs a little more, I would rather her have comfort that is practical to her needs and yet does not un-necessarily make it any more obvious to her “neuro-typical” peers that she is different , she will unfortunately face discrimination in her life but I sure as hell am not going to let it be because of some clothing garment that is made to a disabled stereotype.
    As for the bras, I know you can have them custom made as my mum’s friend used to have some lovely ones made by a bespoke lingerie boutique. I need to enquire into this further.

    Anyway rant over! I hope you didn’t mind my long post & sorry for my terrible spelling and grammar, typing on a mobile.

    Thanks for writing such a great blog post!

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