Beauty And The Blind: How a blind woman can find her style

In previous Beauty and the Blind posts, we talked about how appearance matters to a blind or visually impaired (VI) woman just as much as it does to our sighted friends. In this post I wanted to explore how blind women can own their style. We’ll look at why it’s important and why blindness can make decisions about style harder. Then we can discuss some techniques that blind women can employ when it comes to taking charge of how they look.

Why it’s important that a VI woman chooses her own clothes

We care about how we look, not because we fashionistas (although there are some amazing blind fashionistas out there!), but because we want to maintain the right to choose how we present ourselves. We get dressed every day and when you can see, it can be taken for granted that the choices that involves, are your own. Whether or not we have an interest in fashion, most women have an opinion on how they wish to look and preferences around styles and colours. Every woman has a right to make those choices for herself. Some might say this is a superficial issue and when faced with sight loss, there are bigger things to worry about. But can you imagine not being able to choose what to wear? At the start of each day you would be reminded of the loss of control that seems to sweeping through so much of your life. Nobody needs that. Especially when it is true that living with sight loss means there are many other important things we need to deal with. Choosing how to dress is hugely personal, and although it can be about creativity and fashion for some, for others it can simply be about feeling like you, and being in control of what that looks like. The psychological implications of doing this for ourselves shouldn’t be underestimated. The benefit is real regardless of your level of interest in fashion. If you consider yourself to be a purely practical dresser, that’s still a choice and you should be allowed to choose which items to put in your practical wardrobe and then decide which of these you want to wear each day. Similarly, if you enjoy the latest trends, you should be able to pursue that interest. If we can master choosing clothes, shopping, dressing and styling, then at least that is one compulsory part of our day we retain complete control over. It sets the tone for a day where we call the shots. We feel like the best version of ourselves and can turn focus on whatever life throws at us.

We should also consider dressing from a more visual perspective. It may seem a strange thing coming from a legally blind person, but I think it’s hugely important. Clothes don’t just keep us covered and warm, they are almost a kind of calling card to the sighted world. We all live in this sighted world, and beyond how clothing makes us feel, it does matter what we wear. Consciously or not, sighted people judge other people based on their appearance. Although dressing for ourselves should always be the priority, sometimes we do have to play by the rules of the world in which we live. Rightly or wrongly, if we wish to be perceived in a certain way, dressing the part is important. Additionally, dressing appropriately can be a sign of respect or simple good manners. Whether a blind or VI woman can see the people around her or not, it is helpful and certainly respectful to abide by dresscodes in some situations. For example, dressing appropriately at a wedding shows respect to the hosts and dressing appropriately for a job interview is respectful to your prospective employer. As blind and visually impaired people we see the world differently, but there are instances when it is advisable and courteous to play by sighted rules.

Why VI Women can lose confidence in their style

When you are sighted it doesn’t cross your mind that the ability to decide what to wear could ever be taken away from you. With sight loss It is harder to know how a garment looks and which styles suit you, as well as how to find them and put them together. We can’t people-watch as we walk through the city or scroll through pictures on Pintrest for inspiration. We can’t hold up a colour in the mirror and say ‘Yes! That brings out the colour of my eyes” or “no that washes me out”. We find it harder to navigate shops and items don’t just ‘catch our eye’. Our wardrobes must be organised mindfully and we must memorise which outfit combinations we like and how to wear each piece. If you have had vision in the past, all this might seem like an impossible situation, but style can be as fun and creative as a VI woman wants it to be. Vision loss can take some daily decisions out of our hands, but what to wear doesn’t have to be one of them. It’s about finding an approach that works for you and your level of vision. Let’s talk about how we can do this.

Taking control of your style

Here are some ideas to help VI women make decisions about their clothes, what they want, how to buy, how to wear and how to make this all manageable with sight loss.

What to consider pre-shopping

When you are suffering from sight loss and you want to rediscover your style, it can be hard to know where to begin. It can be hard to know what you like and dislike, what suits you and how to choose anything from the vast selection of clothes out there. Here are a few ideas to help a VI woman make a start in reuniting herself with her confidence in dressing.

Online research: Pintrest might not be the most accessible, but YouTube can be really useful. You can search specifically for whatever interests you. It could be ‘Fashion trends 2021’, ‘Outfits For School’, ‘Feminine Office Outfit Ideas’, ‘Work From Home Wardrobe’, ‘Edgy Wardrobe Essentials For Women Over 40’ or ‘Elegant Outfits for Women Over 60’. Whatevver your angle, a YouTuber has probably made videos about it. We may or may not be able to see the video, but usually they talk through each garment in detail. If you find they don’t describe things well enough, just click on the next video, theres plenty to choose from. You don’t have to be particularly interested in fashion to benefit from this research as it can simply give you an idea of what is current and available for you.

Define Your Personal Style: Think about some words that describe a style that you would like to have such as feminine, edgy, elegant, romantic, minimal, casual, practical, gothic and the list goes on. Perhaps these words describe aspects of your personality too. It can be a number of words that spring to mind or just one or two. It might help to chat to friend about this and they can suggest some words they think describe you. If that friend is sighted, they can describe certain styles to you and you can decide if it’s a vibe that appeals to you. Having these descriptive words in mind when you go shopping is helpful in narrowing down your search and that is often the hardest part. It doesn’t mean everything you buy has to either be floaty and girly or rock chick with studs. It’s just a useful starting point for a blind or VI shopper.

Find your body shape: When you can’t see, it can be tricky to figure out which silhouettes and cuts of garments suit you. There are so many to choose from, it can feel overwhelming. There are skinny, straight leg, bootcut, wide leg jeans, with a low, mid or high rise waist. Skirt styles, hemlines, neckline and sleeves are also a minefield. Whether you’re petite or curvy, have a long torso or wide hips, researching body types can help you know what is likely to flatter your figure. If you know what you like or you are happy to try things and make up your own mind, that is great. If you’re getting a headache just reading this and need a bit of guidance, body shape theories could be helpful to you. First, you establish your body shape (a measuring tape and a sighted friend is all you need) and then an internet search will tell you all the information you need to know about which styles and silhouettes are most flattering to your body shape. Again, this needn’t restrict you, you can still wear what you like, but it can be really helpful to know this information to start with. For example, a rectangular body type can wear styles that cinch at the waist to give and illusion of curves, whereas an inverted triangle body type might benefit from a-line skirts or bootcut jeans to balance out their broader top half. This article by Busbee Style, ‘How To Determine Your Body Shape’ is one I would recommend if you are interested in finding out more. It provides clear and easy to follow directions on how to determine your body type. Then there are links to YouTube videos that talk in detail about which styles will flatter you. These videos are quite descriptive and ladies who can’t see the screen may still pick up some useful information.

Colour Palette: For a VI woman trying ro get to grips with her style, having a colour palette is really helpful. The idea is you stick to a set of colours, usually neutrals (black, navy, white, grey, beige) with one or two accent colours (for example pink and light blue) for all your clothes. This way, it is easy to build a cohesive outfit because everything pretty much goes together. It takes the guesswork out. To avoid getting bored, you can also choose a different colour palette seasonally by keeping most of your clothes in neutral colours and changing out the accent colour pieces. For example, your summer accent colours might be light green and pink so you have summer dresses and lighter tops in these colours. When winter comes you might change these accent pieces for burgundy and emerald green  knitwear. Now, I can hear you asking ‘how does a woman choose colours when she can’t see?!’ Well, there are options. If you have had vision in the past you may already have an idea of the colours you like. If not, or if you need a refresh, you can get help with this. You could ask a friend or family member to help you by holding up garments or fabric of different colours to just under your chin and they can tell you which ones make you look the most vibrant. You must of course feel comfortable with this and if you would rather not ask for help in this way or simply want a professional opinion there are personal stylists and specialist colour consultants who provide a service where they will match you with the colours that suit you best. You can find ones in your area by searching online. Again, if you love colour or simply don’t mind which colours you wear, this is not for you, it is simply a tool that can either help a blind or VI woman up her style game or provide her with information, and therefore confidence, to make style decisions for herself.

What You Don’t Like: You may want to enlist the help of a sighted friend for this. Choose someone who knows your lifestyle and who you trust will be honest. It’s important to look through the clothes you currently own and decide which pieces you like and which you don’t. Then look at why this is the case. Do the things you love and wear regularly have something in common? Do you like the fit? The fabric? is it easy to pair with other things? The pieces that just sit in your wardrobe that you never wear might also have things in common. Are they ill-fitting (itchy, too tight, too loose)? Are they annoying (the sleeves don’t stay up, the skirt turns around or they are difficult to get on and off)? Are they hard to match with other items you own? Take note of what works for you and what doesn’t so you can make better choices when you go shopping. For example, you might discover you prefer things that are made of natural, comfortable fabrics like cotton, so you should avoid synthetic fabrics in the future. Maybe you always pass over clothes that cling to your middle, so look for styles that skim over your curves next time you buy a dress. Maybe you love that oretty blouse but you never wear it because the flouncy sleeves made it hard to wash the dishes, so you can learn from that too.

Build A Wardrobe For Your Lifestyle: Think about what you do in a typical month and what clothes you need for these activities. Perhaps you spend 70% of your time in a corporate setting, 20% at home, 5% working out and 5% at dressy events, The amount of clothing you own for each activity should reflect this. This should make it easier to see what is surplus to requirements and what is missing from your wardrobe and you can take action accordingly. Remember it is about your lifestyle today. Not the life you had five years ago, a fantasy life of the future, when you finally lose those few pounds or when this or that happens. Concentrate on now. Get the ratios of your wardribe in tune with what you need for your real life.

Edit your wardrobe: If something doesn’t work for you currently, it shouldn’t be in you wardrobe. I say this as a legally blind woman who doesn’t have time to search through hundreds of garments each morning that are not even an option for that day – or any other normal day in my life. Not being able to see means you have to be organised to find things. Being organised is easier when you have less inventory to manage. Less clothes means it’s quicker to find what you are looking for. Before you panic, less clothes does not mean less options. Most of us only wear around 20% of our clothes, 80% of the time. This is because that 80% are either the wrong size, uncomfortable, worn out or damaged, do not fit with our lifestyle or we just don’t like them. So that 80% is simply cluttering up our wardrobes, making it harder to access the 20% we actually wear. So removing that 80% would actually leave us with a wardrobe where everything is an option, and we can access it all. Therefore, fewer clothes might actually mean more options. So clear out those things we don’t need, don’t want and never wear, and make dressing in the morning much easier. Donate the things that you don’t need, store things you want to keep (sentimental items or things you might need again like maternity wear) in another wardrobe, under the bed or in the loft – away from clothes that are options for your every day.

What You Need: Now you know what you like, what will flatter you, which colours to focus on, how much clothing you need for each activity you do and you have cleared the clutter to reveal an accessible space where you can clearly identify your clothes. Now we make a plan. Having a plan will keep you focused and make the whole shopping process less overwhelming. Deciding what you need is not as difficult as it sounds.  Look for the gaps in your wardrobe. Do you have lots of tops, but not enough bottoms? Also think of any problems you come across regularly. Do you avoid wearing those nice dresses because you don’t feel like you have the right shoes to go with them? Then make a list of what you need. You should include details for each item, what you need it to do for you and how you want it to feel. You might include things like “Jeans that can be worn with fancier shirts tucked in or looser casual t-shirts – not too tight, dark versatile colour.” Or “Comfy flats, must go with trousers or skirts, light colour for summer, good arch support.” Be really intentional about your list and be firm with your shopping companions if they try to stray too far from it.

What to consider when shopping

Timing: Try to go shopping at a time when it is less likely to be busy. Mid week if possible or later in the evening if that’s an option. A crowded shop with queues are not condusive to a calm, positive shopping experience! 

Mindset: It’s important to be in the right mindset when shopping. Remember it’s your decision what to buy. The people you are with are there to provide the information you need to decide if you want to buy something, not to tell you what to buy. You must have the confidence to make decisions based on whether something feels right to you, nobody else. You may find this hard at first if vision loss is new to you, but you will get a feel for your preferences over time and it will get easier. If we are having a tough day and confidence is low, we are less likely to make good, clear decisions and we might be tempted to comfort spend, which is never a good idea. On those days, it may not be the right time to go shopping. 

Shopping Companion: You might ask someone who knows you well, like your sister, best friend or mum to go shopping with you. It could be a good choice if you know what you want and you trust their judgment and ability to be honest with you, without being overbearing. If no one you know fits this description, you can go it alone, armed with your plan and enlist the help of a sales assistant. Although this can work well and they are usually happy to help, it can also be risky as you may not find someone who is available to help when you need them. The other option is to make an appointment with a personal shopper at a department store. These appointments are usually free and you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t find anything you like. The personal shopper will have a good knowledge of what’s available in their store and will bring the items to you. They can advise you on what they think suits you in terms of styles and colours. They will also listen to what you like and you can even share you plan with them. Because they are neutral, it might be easier to work with them and be honest about your likes and dislikes.  

Online: if you don’t enjoy in-person shopping, give online a go. You can either rely on a website’s descriptions of items or you can sit with a friend who can describe things to you. It is perhaps a more relaxing way to shop and it is easy to narrow down the options by filtering, which you cant really do in physical shops. Many websites offer free or easy returns and you can try things on at home which is more comfortable. They key to shopping online is to know your measurements and check the measurements for each garment in the description. Numerical sizes are not consistent across brands, or even within brands sometimes. If you know a brand you like that fits you, it’s a good idea to start with their online shop. Some websites are more accessible than others and it is possible to shop independently online if you find an online shop that suits your style and is accessible. Unfortunately, many online shops are not as accessible as we VI women need them to be, so online shopping might need to be a team sport in those cases. 

Online stylist/ subscription boxes: These services usually require a subscription fee (quarterly, monthly or some companies offer a one-off service fee which is slightly higher). The idea is you enter your sizing and preferences when you sign up and a stylist chooses pieces for you based on the information you give. They send you a box of around 7 pieces and you can try them at hone. If you decide to keep any of the clothes they send, the subscription fee can be used towards the cost of those items. This is a good idea for those who don’t want to shop in person or online, but want the option to refresh their wardrobe. Sometimes these services also offer a discount on items compared to if you were to buy them in-store.

What to consider post-shopping

Outfit Combinations/ Style Uniforms: I spoke about ‘style uniforms’ in my ‘Get dressed quick for VI Mums’ post a couple of years ago. I still stand by this as one of the most effective ways for a VI woman to put herself together. Do your homework and get a friend round to help you put together some outfits that look fantastic and you feel great in them. Figure out the different combinations that work and discover different variations of them to make the most of your wardrobe. For example, if jeans and a nice top are your thing, figure out which jeans and tops go together and make you feel the best and how can change it up with different jackets or cardigans. Plan outfits down to the details with handbags, shoes and jewellery. These combinations are your style uniform that you reach for most days. This is what you wear when you don’t know what to wear or you’re in a hurry or when you simply want to look great and feel authentically you.

Wardrobe Organization: Organisation is everything when living with sight loss. None of the prep work or the shopping matter if you can’t find the clothes you’re looking for. Sort garments into categories, order by colour, label and make things identifiable. I have a whole post on ‘Low Vision Wardrobe Organisation’, so check that one out for more tips for a VI friendly wardrobe.

Be Prepared: This can mean different things to all of us, but being prepared to the extent that is most helpful to you, is key to dressing and feeling in control of your style with low or no vision. You could plan your outfit for the next day, the night before. Check your schedule, ask Alexa what the weather’s going to be and hang up your chosen outfit, accessories and even socks and underwear so you can feel stylish with minimal effort in the morning. You might even plan for a few days in a row if you feel inspired. It is also a good idea to plan ahead if you receive and invitation to an event in the future. It could be as simple as next time your good friend pops round, ask her to help you out for a minute in choosing the outfit. Plan your outfits in advance and save yourself some stress – your future (stylish) self will thank you. 

Recap

I realise that was a lot of information, so here’s a quick recap of what we should be thinking about at each stage of the shopping proccess

What to consider pre-shopping

Find your style by: 

  • Online research
  • Define your personal style
  • Find your body shape
  • Consider a colour palette
  • Decide what you don’t like
  • Build a wardrobe for your lifestyle
  • Edit your wardrobe
  • Decide what you don’t like

What to consider when shopping

  • Timing
  • Mindset
  • Shopping companion
  • Online or in person?
  • Online stylists

What to consider post-shopping

  • Outfit combinations/ style uniform
  • Wardrobe organisation 
  • Be prepared

By front loading the heavy work, investing the time and effort in advance, it makes feeling confident about your style every day entirely possible, regardless of your level of vision. The key is we must allow ourselves to believe we are worth all this effort – not only that, but we need to prioritise ourselves in order to deal with what life is throwing at us. Prioritising yourself might be different for every woman, but if losing your way in terms of style is getting you down, then you should address it. After all, we all have to get dressed every day, so why not make it a positive experience? The journey to rediscover your sense of style and revive the confidence your clothes can give you, needn’t be overwhelming. You can pick and choose from the tips and ideas I’ve shared today and take things at your own pace. It might turn out to be fun! 

Final Thought – Allow yourself this: To my earlier point, when you are learning to live with sight loss, it might seem like there are so many other things that need your attention more urgently than clothes. You need to relearn how to use a computer or your phone, cook and clean, do you job, take care of your family. Maybe you need to learn how to use a cane or guide dog. It might feel frivolous or superficial to exert time, energy and money on how you look with so mamy  other priorities calling out to you. You may feel guilty about the fact that not being able to choose clothes like you used to is really getting you down. But let’s consider this. To face the challenges sight loss brings, we need to be at our best. To relearn everything we once knew how to do, just to be able to live, we need to bring all the strength and confidence we can muster. To be at our best is a big ask when faced with such life changing circumstances, so we need to figure out how we can do this. A significant part of that is caring for, and being kind to ourselves and if reestablishing a positive relationship with clothes can contribute to that, even a little, it is worth pursuing. If each morning, we can choose an outfit we feel good in, we are stocking up on that confidence and we are doing what we can to put our best foot forward.

If you are reading this, thank you for sticking with me until the end. I know it was a long one! I touched upon so many things – but only briefly, in fear of overwhelming you. So if you have any questions or you would like to know more about anything I mentioned, please let me know.

As always, thank you for reading!

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