Adaptive clothing

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Adaptive clothing is clothing designed around the needs and abilities of people with varying degrees of disability, including congenital disabilities, acquired disabilities (as the result of an injury, illness or accident) and temporary disabilities, as well as physical disabilities. Adaptive clothing is influenced by factors such as age, disability type(s), level of independence, mobility, and dexterity, as well as whether a person requires help when dressing, such as from a caregiver.[1]

Despite common misconception, adaptive clothing is utilised by people with a wide range of disabilities, ranging from wheelchair users and people with more visible disabilities to those whose disabilities are not as visible, but still find themselves limited by the construction of typical clothing. Adaptive design, a core component of adaptive clothing design and construction, proactively addresses these foreseen limitations by adapting clothing to the wearer,[2] benefitting both them and carers or healthcare professionals to be more efficient, as well as preventing potential back and shoulder injuries.[3]

Types of adaptions[edit]

Adaptive clothing typically incorporates flat seams to reduce friction, and discreet adaptations that provide an outward appearance as consistent with fashion norms as possible. These adaptations may include easy-access snap fasteners and velcro fastenings, fabric that stretches in one or both directions, clothing design with room to accommodate incontinence aids, a longer rise in the back of trousers to accommodate wheelchair users, and an elasticated waist for increased comfort and easier dressing.

Individuals with limited or no dexterity may experience difficulty in manipulating certain fastenings, such as buttons and zippers. For this reason, it is common for adaptive clothing to utilize velcro or magnetic closures in the place of closures that would require more dexterity.

Similarly, disabled people whose mobility limits them from engaging in the typical full range of motion commonly experience difficulty when dressing in clothing that must be pulled up from the feet or pulled over the head; as such, adaptive clothing may feature hidden flap-openings or additional closures that allow the garment itself to be pulled on without having to bend over or reach up. These may take the form of velcro flaps at the neck and shoulders, allowing the neckline to expand when the garment is pulled down over the head. The same adjustments may also be made for shoes and other accessories, with velcro closures being the most common feature in adaptive shoes.[4][5]


Disability Associated problem Adaptive clothing solution
Alzheimer's disease Individual disrobes at inappropriate times. Locking clothing
Oedema Swelling of feet and legs leads to difficulty wearing conventional footwear or pants. Adaptive shoes and pants adjustable in size, offering non-restrictive closures. Compression socks and clothing can improve blood flow and reduce edema.
Incontinence Reduced bladder control and urgency Clothing that can be removed easily and quickly and can accommodate incontinence aids discreetly and comfortably.
Parkinson's disease and arthritis Loss of fine motor skills Buttons and zippers are replaced with easy touch Velcro or magnetic closures.
Contractures, arthritis, MS, MDS, SCI, MD, paraplegia, quadriplegia Inability to bend muscles or move joints Open back clothing which allows the clothing to be put on frontwards, eliminating the need to bend or rotate muscles or joints.
Digestive Disorders & Bowel Disease Medical devices are common, including G/GJ feeding-tubes, colostomy, and ileostomy Clothing that provides access to the abdomen via snaps, zippers, or strategic layering and draping. Depending on the individual, looser clothing may be preferred to conceal abdominal devices, or comfortably tight, supportive clothing may be preferred to keep devices in place (e.g. high-waisted leggings, supportive waistbands).

Magnetic closures[edit]

For individuals with Parkinson's and other disabilities that affect motor skills like dexterity, magnetic closures have emerged as a great solution across multiple garments.

The use of magnets as garment closures was likely invented by Erico Grunberger, who was granted a patent for "magnetic fastening devices" in 2002. However, the patent expired in 2018.[6] In 2012, fashion entrepreneur Ian Stikeleather was interviewed about his new, innovative line of modular clothing, which launched on the Kickstarter crowd-funding platform and featured magnetic closures and attachment points.[7] In 2012, Stikeholder had his patent approved for a dress shirt with magnetic closure down the front, at the wrists, and around the collar (where a removable hood would be attached).

Later, Maura Horton, who is often credited with the invention of magnetic closure clothing, would go on to design and patent a similar design to Stikeholder's dress-shirt. Without magnets around the shirt collar, this design was simple enough and different enough from Stikeholder's design to be approved for a patent as well. Horton then branded and licensed out this design, which became the most commercially successful implementation of magnetic closures in clothing to date. The technology was licensed for numerous lines of adaptive clothing by brands including Van Heusen and MagnaClick.[8][9] Magnetic closures again came to the forefront of adaptive clothing when Tommy Hilfiger featured magnetic closures prominently in the launch of their adaptive clothing line in the Spring of 2018.[10] Silvert's Adaptive Clothing & Footwear also carry magnetic closure dress shirts for both men and women.[11]


  1. ^ "What is Adaptive Clothing -". Errine Adaptive Clothing. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  2. ^ "What is Adaptive Clothing?". CBO Baby. 5 June 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  3. ^ "Adaptive Clothing/Apparel for Health Care Professionals". Silvert's Adaptive Clothing & Footwear. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Adaptive Clothing – Information and Availability". Disabled World. 20 March 2014.
  5. ^ "What is Adaptive Clothing?". Silvert's Adaptive Clothing & Footwear. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
  6. ^ Magnetic Closure for Items of Clothing, 2002-08-20, retrieved 2021-08-05
  7. ^ Maly, Tim (2012-01-12), "Laws of Attraction: Designer Transforms Fashion With Magnetized Apparel", Wired, retrieved 2021-08-05
  8. ^ "Van Heusen launches men's dress shirt designed with adaptive technology that eliminates traditional buttons". EPR Retail News. Retrieved 2018-05-03.
  9. ^ "Making a new connection to certain dress-shirt buyers". Retrieved 2018-05-03.
  10. ^ Gallucci, Nicole. "Tommy Hilfiger unveils innovative clothing line for people with disabilities". Mashable. Retrieved 2018-05-03.
  11. ^ Henriques, Carolina (June 8, 2018). "Workplace Dress Codes Can Limit Opportunities for People with Disabilities, Researchers Say". Multiple Sclerosis News Today. Retrieved June 14, 2018.