These days, we strive for or already see accessibility in just about every office building and school. Buildings have ramps and elevator access, and people seem pretty aware that not everyone looks or moves the same way. But while this mentality might be prevalent in architecture, it is less evident in fashion.
Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting, a show currently on at the ROM, begins with a history lesson on fashion in the 18th and 19th centuries, when both men’s and women’s clothing easily adapted to either sitting or standing postures. For instance, a three-piece suit from the 18th century had baggy-seated pants specifically designed for sitting and riding, but the “unsightly” seat would be covered by the tails of the coat. Later came women’s riding habits, designed so that a woman could ride side-saddle but also look stylish walking on foot.
IZ Adaptive, designed by Izzy Camilleri, is featured in the show. The line is an attempt to create fashionable clothes for people in wheelchairs. What Camilleri noticed was that clothing for “I-shaped” bodies didn’t work for the “L-shaped” body of someone in a wheelchair. Fabric bunches up at the back and shortens at the front, hemlines are uneven, and pants’ waistbands gape at the back. So, with journalist Barbara Turnbull as her first client, Camilleri set out to change the fashion industry.
Camilleri took the concept of fashion designed for sitting and modernized it, building everything from dress shirts to trench coats to leather jackets. The clothing has been created for style and ease of use: many items are made in two sections, one for each side of the body, and button or zip both front and back.
Similarly, the leather jackets have a horseshoe cut out of the back to eliminate bulk against the back of the chair. There is a small strip of leather across the shoulder blades, which can be detached by a small zipper. The jackets also zip up on the front, splitting into two pieces, one for each side of the body.
My personal favourite was a trench coat that Camilleri has designed such that the hem lies flat against the legs. In a regular coat, the hem is straight when the wearer is standing, a feature that is essentially useless for someone in a wheelchair. What I found intriguing, however, was that the coat is displayed on both a standing model and on a seated one. On the standing model, the coat does not look awkward but is actually rather stylish.
Fashion Follows Form is an innovative show that takes accessibility to a whole new level. IZ Adaptive’s designs seek to make more aspects of the world available to more people, and can also have a huge impact on emotional stability and self-esteem. Fashion Follows Form runs at the ROM until January 25, 2015.