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Mannequins and models - how can fashion become more inclusive?
I’m Shona, a 20 year old blogger, writer, powerchair user, activist, volunteer and more. For nearly 7 years I’ve been sharing my thoughts on my blog about what I’m passionate about, including conversations around ableism, accessibility and disability rights.
As a young woman, many people assume that I automatically love shopping for clothes, and whilst that is true now, it hasn’t always been that way. Pre-wheelchair use I didn’t care much for fashion and style. I’d chuck on the first t-shirt and jeans I saw in my wardrobe. Whilst part of me wished I had a distinctive personal style like others, I didn’t have that passion for putting outfits together. But then I became a powerchair user when my condition Marfan Syndrome caused a series of secondary conditions that left me struggling to walk and needing multiple surgeries.
When I started using a powerchair I really immersed myself within the disabled community online, and on Instagram I came across an empowering group of disabled people who all had their own style, their own look that they embraced alongside their disability. It really sparked something in me and as my body confidence grew I found myself getting braver in my style choices. Ever since then I’ve loved clothes, or even just browsing. My style still isn’t exciting but I’m constantly being empowered by others and feel I’m finally working out what my style is. As many of you may know though, shopping just isn’t that easy sometimes.
There is of course the obvious problem of access, lack of accessible changing rooms and shops that turn into an obstacle course because of displays and too many rails, but there is another problem that can make clothes shopping just as difficult.
Most of the models online and mannequins in store are stood up!
When I became a powerchair user I quickly became aware of the fact that clothes look very different when you’re sat down compared to when you’re stood up. Skirts are a complete no go for me, they just look odd, particularly if my top is tucked into them, so I quickly learned to avoid them. Everything else is hit and miss though, and models online being nearly always stood up doesn’t help me at all. It’s the same on the high street too: mannequins are almost always stood up, in fact in my city centre I couldn’t find a single shop mannequin sat down.
Sitting down is part of most people’s daily lives, whether you’re a wheelchair user, an ambulatory disabled person or not disabled at all, you’ll probably be sitting down during some parts of your day. So, why are clothes almost always displayed stood up? Is it because clothes are only being designed for standing, displaying them like a model on a catwalk? Or is it because we’ve become so accustomed to ignoring the needs of disabled people that we just haven’t considered it being a problem?
Presenter and wheelchair user Sophie Morgan spoke on this issue last year and talked about a mannequin sitting in a wheelchair in a shop window as a sign that the shop is inclusive, but for me it also highlighted the fact that wheelchair users and other disabled people could see what clothes looked like sat down with these mannequins. Whilst it would be great to see wheelchair using mannequins, and even better to see more disabled models, I’d love to see mannequins and models sat down more to enable people like me to understand better how clothes would look on us. I feel this is easily achievable online, it would just be the simple case of taking some photos of the models sat down on a chair, or even going one step further and using some models who are wheelchair users! Diverse representation, and representation of what clothes look like sat down, in one.
This ties into a huge issue of exclusion and ableism within the fashion industry. Of course, it’s just one small part of a big problem but for me, it’s doing the small things that make the difference. Disabled models exist, there’s quite a few out there actually, so why aren’t we using them? Why aren’t we at least photographing clothes sat down? Why do I always feel so excluded when I enter a shop?
Questions aside, it’s time that the fashion industry started representing and including more people!
What issues do you encounter when shopping for clothes as a disabled person?
Marfan Syndrome Advocate