Whether you’re a style queen (or king) or pick out clothes simply because you have to wear them, having a vision impairment can make it more difficult to go shopping, manage clothes at home and apply make up. Here, NCBI’s rehabilitation worker for the southern region, Caroline Robson and fashion lover Marie Coughlan, share their tips for overcoming the practical obstacles to shopping and matching clothes.
Shopping and trends
Shopping for clothes and finding out what the latest trends are (if you’re interested) can be challenging when you are blind or vision impaired as it can be difficult to know how to get help beyond family and friends. Caroline Robson, rehabilitation worker with NCBI in Kerry, outlines a few ways around these challenges.
“How a person shops is very individual and while some people are very interested in clothes and fashion, for others it’s more about functionality. Online shopping is becoming more popular and there are also catalogues which are available through the post or online. Some even have stylists available to help, such as Oxendales, so if you phone up looking for a pair of jeans they will go through all the styles they have with you. It can be difficult to gauge sizing and quality online or in a catalogue but the more you shop with one place the fewer mistakes you’ll make.”
Another issue with online shopping may be navigating websites that are inaccessible to people who are blind or vision impaired and a lack of accurate descriptions or overly colourful language to describe clothing and colours. Many department stores and shopping centres offer a personal shopping service, which is usually free of charge and will often include advice on accessories and make up too.
Marie Coughlan from Dublin prefers to stick to local shops where she feels she gets a personal service. “I love clothes and fashion, I always have. I like to know what the latest fashion is and what stock the shops have in. I wasn’t really into last year’s trend of leggings and baggy tops, it’s just not me. I’m an only girl and my mother was always into fashion so I think that’s where my interest came from.”
“I always ring shops in advance, explaining that I will need assistance and arrange a time to come in and meet someone. I try to go when it’s not too busy, so a Monday morning is a good time but it’s best to avoid the weekend. I tell them what I like, I ask about the latest trends and we pick out outfits from there.”
Marie prefers to shop this way, rather than relying on friends or family, who may not share the same taste in fashion, although her friends often recommend clothes they know she might like and sometimes pick items up for her to try at home. “I ask the shops what stock they have in and they might put items by for me as by now a lot of the local shops know what I like and what suits me. I never feel under pressure to buy something if I don’t like it.”
Another option may be to have a private consultation with a stylist or colour expert, who can advise you on what styles or colours will suit you and can assist in picking out a wardrobe. Getting assistance in creating a ‘capsule’ wardrobe – having fewer items that you can mix and match to create different looks for daytime and evening wear -may make it easier to match items later on.
Practical tips for the home
So now you’ve got the clothes you want it’s time to figure out how to organise them at home. For people with low vision, good lighting is vital when it comes to deciphering clothes in the wardrobe. Painting the inside of a wardrobe white and installing a light inside it may make it easier to see the clothes. Caroline Robson shares some other practical tips.
“There are gadgets out there to help, like a talking colour detector, which will tell you the colour of a piece of clothing, but a lot of the time you can use things you’ll already have at home to distinguish clothes. Use different hangers for different items, such as metal, wood or velvet hangers. Shops like TK Maxx have a great range of hangers in different materials. Arrange outfits once they are clean, putting all matching items on the same hanger. You can also use beads on a hanger to distinguish between black and navy, or place a scarf around one of them. Placing a safety pin inside the lapel or cuff of a jacket can be a useful way of remembering which one it is, or you could sew a button inside the cuff to make it identifiable,” explains Caroline.
Over the years Marie has become a master of organising and matching clothes, so that matching outfits are ready to go, along with matching shoes, make up and jewellery.
“I go through my wardrobe and put all my matching outfits together. Sometimes I can see enough to identify colours but otherwise I will know things by a particular button or the material; you find little ways to tell clothes apart. So I will hang the satin dress with the jacket with the satin lapels and then I’ll put the handbag on the same hanger, along with the tights and even the lipstick that I like to wear with that outfit. Tights and socks are a bit of a nightmare to sort out, especially trying to figure out what’s navy and what’s black!”
For shoes, Caroline recommends either tying them together with the laces or putting a sticking plaster inside a matching pair to make them easier to find. There are also some excellent shoe storage solutions available from shops like Ikea, in which pairs of shoes are stored in individual boxes making them easier to store and find.
Sharing tips on make-up
Marie, who works part-time at NCBI’s Library and Media Centre, often gives talks to groups of people with vision impairments with tips on how to arrange your clothes and apply make up.
“I lost my sight 15 years ago but from an early age I was involved in dancing and acting at stage school. When you were getting ready there wasn’t always a mirror available so I learned how to put make up on without being able to see what I was doing. That’s a skill I have been very glad to have since I lost my sight,” continues Marie.
A chemist may be able to assist you in choosing make up to suit your skin tone and even in applying make up, or a one-off make-up lesson may help with choosing and applying make-up. Practical solutions like magnifying mirrors, good lighting, and illuminated tweezers can also help, as can using a moisturiser with a tint rather than using a separate foundation.
When it comes to washing and ironing clothes there are a few practical solutions which may help people who are blind or vision impaired, including:
- Keep two laundry baskets, one for light clothes and one for dark
- Use colour catchers with in-built stain remover so you don’t have to measure out powder.
- Place matching items in the wash in a pillowcase or net bag so that they are still together when washed.
- Use an iron guard to iron safely or ask or pay someone else to do the ironing if necessary
- Place bump-ons (raised plastic sticky dots in different colours) on the washing machine can help identify different settings.
As Caroline outlines, skills in living independently can also be learned through NCBI. “We teach independent living skills which help people to live safely and independently at home. These include looking at lighting, using colour and markings to identify items at home, cooking, cleaning and personal care.”
For more information on independent living skills visit www.ncbi.ie or contact us on 1850 33 43 53.