When I give presentations to interested groups on what it is like to be visually-impaired, I can guarantee one question will ALWAYS be asked at the end of my talk – “How do you know what you are wearing?” Women especially, are surprised that I can be colour-coordinated from top to toe. There is no great mystery involved, there is no other person dressing me in the morning. The simple answer is – choosing one’s clothing is a matter of FEELING first, then seeing how it all fits together. When you feel good in what you wear, you will look great!
The other reason why I love clothes shopping is because browsing with my hands is an exquisite experience. Feeling textures of clothing or gliding my hands over jewellery is not always because I want to buy it but is a curious desire on my part to see the choices at my fingertips.
Here are some fashion questions I was asked recently, so let’s take a closer look why being fashionable is not just about seeing, but about feeling. Oh, and a little warning too, the photos, well, yes, they were taken a few years ago, funny how one can think one is being fashionable at the time!
How important is fashion and style to you?
Fashion is fun and I enjoy feeling garments which allows me to visualise the world of ever changing trends. I think it’s a ‘girlie’ thing – taking delight in touching clothes, lingerie, shoes, dabbing on perfumes or smelling leather hand bags because it is highly enjoyable to ‘see’ what’s in fashion.
The other reason for my ever-readiness to touch the world around me is because it is not normally permitted in galleries or museums so when I am in a store or market place, it allows me to touch all sorts of objects I can’t see and by doing so, I feel less excluded from the visual world.
What sort of fabrics do you enjoy the most?
Soft fabrics, satin trims, things with buttons and bows. I also enjoy knitting and making luxurious scarves for friends as winter gifts. In summer, I look for soft undergarments and layer my outfits with flowing chiffon tops. Lingerie is another one of my touchy-feely delights – as it is worn close to the skin, I won’t compromise the feel of luxury by purchasing cheap underwear – it has to be soft and silky (including hosery).
I believe that when you begin the first layer of clothing feeling feminine, you will wear the dress with an upright back and carry an air of chic – like a proud Spanish Lipizzaner!
What are your considerations when choosing garments?
Apart from seeking comfort and prettiness of garment, even in casual wear, I am fussy about colour and design. When on my own, I take quite a while to scout out an item as I examine the texture carefully and the cut by feeling the collar, shape etc. I know what styles suit me by past experience and many times, a garment falls off the hanger as if to grab my attention and often, it is a good choice – could this be intuition helping? Then I quiz the shop assistant for the colour and price and if it passes these two questions, I will buy it.
Colours seem to have a certain ‘vibe’ for instance, as soon as I put grey near my face, my skin begins to feel drained. My favourite colours are strong and bold as in red, orange, colbalt blue, sunshine yellow and hot pink as these tones not only feel ‘right’ for me, I can see them in natural daylight.
At home, I hang clothing in groups so that matching items are placed together to be colour co-ordinated.
What shops do you frequent the most and why?
I enjoy being independent and setting my own pace as well as going out with friends to meander into the odd gift or fashion store. I often end up buying things because my girlfriends or partner point out items on special I wouldn’t have seen.
I go to the same clothing stores because it is easier to get around the shop without feeling overwhelmed. I visit the local stores where the shop keepers know me and are quick to offer help – even though it might be more expensive, the price of being looked after is well worth it.
But I do have to be in the right mood as it takes a lot of concentration to keep track of my movement around the store, to avoid prams and other obstacles. Sometimes the bumping from one object off another can feel like being inside a live pinball machine and if I can’t cope I will leave the store.
I particularly love feeling shoes! As I have no idea what people wear on their feet, a shoe shop is a lovely place to wander. I get to understand the different types of heels, shape of shoes and just adore this sort of shopping.
My partner, Harry, takes a particular delight in bringing objects closer into my reach and we often take time to enjoy the experience together (unless it is a cactus plant, which he has accidentally done on one occasion, misunderstanding my fondness for feeling flowers!
What challenges do you face when shopping?
On the whole, people are pretty helpful and understanding if I ask for assistance. A few pointers however, when a person is training to work in a department store or fashion counter, it would be extremely beneficial to know not to do the following - as the store assistant, don’t ask my friend, “Would she like this?” It is kinder to ask me personally.
Some of the main challenges are:
· first is to locate the right shop and entrance, sometimes blaring music indicates a clothing store plus sense of smell helps me to sniff out the correct place
· manoeuvring around a shop I have not been in before and avoiding the racks while keeping the cane tight in one hand, the other loose to stray over fabrics to give me some sort of clue as to what I am ‘looking’ for
· main disadvantage is in not being able to see the size and price on tags, colour of garment
· must be very careful that the clothing I am feeling is on a mannequin and not the clothing of another shopper!
· have no idea where the ‘specials’ rack is unless I ask for assistance
· indoor shopping centres are a nightmare to navigate through especially as there is a bombardment of clashing sound coming from all quarters that hinders my hearing and can be very stressful (so I tend to shop in places that I know or are on a street front)
· a fashion item that is hard to choose on my own are sunglasses. Often whoever is with me will pick the style they like and then when I wear them, my family will comment “who helped you to buy those sunglasses?” which means – they wouldn’t have chosen them for me so needless to say, I have a few dead pairs in my drawer.
How important to you are the perceptions of others of you fashion wise?
I like to demonstrate that blind or vision-impaired women can enjoy being colour co-ordinated, wear smart and trendy gear with high heels and enjoy fashion just as much as our sighted friends do. People are often surprised to see me turn up at a function with matching jewellery, fashionable dress with lovely bag and jacket and I am surprised by their reaction – why wouldn’t a vision-impaired woman be dressed well?
I also have a passion for smelling fragrances at perfume counters and put my nose to the test to pinpoint individual scent molecules from cleverly concocted blends. The art of wearing fragrance – mmm, that’s another story…
Bold Blind Beauty: Style Concepts for the Visually Impaired
AND, in the UK, Emily Davison speaks the language of fashion That Comes From the Heart and Soul at
Fashioneyesta: Bridging the Gap between Fashion and Sight
you might also like to read eight threads to weave into the garment of change
Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014