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Mannequins and models - how can fashion become more inclusive?

shonalouiseshonalouise Member Posts: 15 Courageous
edited June 2018 in Guest blogs

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?

UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
Marfan Syndrome Advocate


  • TopkittenTopkitten Member Posts: 1,263 Pioneering
    I appreciate your comments but I think you are missing an important point. Fashion is aimed mostly at people going out and when people go out they spend most of their time standing upright. Fashion is not aimed primarily at people working when they would sit more than they stand and being disabled is to be in a minority anyway. It comes down to what is cost effective. Models and mannequins sitting take up more room in displays and allow fewer options to be shown. It is unlikely this situation will change as the majority of people can stand upright and aren't interested in what things look like sitting anyway.

    It has little to do with disability at all.

    Despite being disabled myself and using a wheelchair at times I still don't think it is the right of ANY minority to force their rules onto others, all it does is cause animosity in the majority. A good example of this is the enforcement of laws covering race and / or colour which has caused as many problems as it solved.

    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • MarkmywordsMarkmywords Member Posts: 421 Pioneering
    If a person is dressing to be noticed, they'll only be noticed when standing. Also most sitting is done next to a table too.

    Fashion is notoriously exclusive even with the able-bodied, with it's limited sizes and manufacturing runs. The narrow choice in model body shape/size/age is another story entirely.

    Mannequins/dummies would also cost more and take up more floor space if many of them were made in the seated position.

    The disabled market is a fraction of the whole.

    It's all about image. How long has it taken for fashion to just start using statistically normal sized models?

    I wouldn't benefit from such activity anyway and I do all my clothes shopping online now. Shop access is a problem, changing rooms are a problem and I require space, time and tools to get dressed :(
  • LollipopLollipop Member Posts: 2 Listener
    I had never thought about it before, but Shona, you are right when you say all the fashions are portrayed on standing mannequins. I have seen a few male fashions on sitting mannequins but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any females. As I sit here, I’m taking a mental picture of how some of the fashions might look when the person is seated. I shall take more notice of this in future because things don’t always look as good as they appear, do they? 
    I do think the high street clothing stores need to add seated mannequins to their displays. I shall also suggest this to shops I frequent.
  • whistleswhistles Member Posts: 1,590 Disability Gamechanger
    Maybe it depends on where you shop. They do lay down, but probably to display swimwear. 
    They make them sitting.

    But spot the other problem. It's a stick, not a mannequin! 25" waist. Come on I was probably what 10 with that.
    There have been discussions that these do not represent the " average" woman even standing up.

    As for crowding the shop, yep. Numerous displays knocked over and that's me standing up. Just not good with the special awareness.
    Not a typo, it's special.

    Do not follow me, I don't know where I am going.
  • debbiedo49debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,906 Disability Gamechanger
    My issues are with sausage fingers and fibro hands. I have difficulties with clothes with buttons and zips when my hands don’t work. Virtually everything I wear is pull on.  Also I have super sensitive skin and feel pain differently with fibro so I try to buy natural cotton clothing as it’s less likely to irritate my skin. I would love to see real representation of disabled people in store and online mannequins etc. It would make such a difference I think. 
    I am a fibro warrior !💜♏️
  • whistleswhistles Member Posts: 1,590 Disability Gamechanger
    "The disabled market is a fraction of the whole"

    I don't follow this comment. Markmywords. 
    This suggests that people with disabilities/ illnesses are walking around naked and do not buy any clothes at all.
    One of my issues actually means I can get through clothes.
    Though beginning to consider walking around without footwear because that's a bug bear that nothing actually lasts.

    @debbiedo49 I love whoever invented velcro and elastic.
    Do not follow me, I don't know where I am going.
  • debbiedo49debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,906 Disability Gamechanger
    I am a fibro warrior !💜♏️
  • feirfeir Member Posts: 396 Pioneering
    edited June 2018
    I don't have fibro but have had less function in my fingers for years, thought it was just clothes getting fiddlier until my spine consultant asked me if i had these symptoms. Also labels are painful to me, i ripped them out of clothes or cut them out if it's possible, definitely stop putting labels inside clothes would be good. All my clothes are pull on also. Been wearing leggins out of choice for years anyway before any of this.

    I haven't shopped in the high street for years as my mobility was poor but i was able to get about if i did less so i did less obviously. Online shopping is really good if you find a retailer who does clothes that are your size. Fortunately for me i found that as a short and not obese person that clothes from china fit nicely. And a lot of the stuff they sell is fashionable. Instead of wearing a coat i wear shawls that don't need fastening, there's nice ones out there that cost the same as a coat.

    I really miss things like doing my hair and just washing it regularly (that spray can shampoo can only do so much). It's still really long but i think i may have to cut it to manage it and i feel sad about that. It'll be losing another part of myself to disability. Never really worn make up so that doesn't matter but i find body grooming hard and so have had to rely on feminism to make me feel good about having hairy armpits, legs, and face.

    There are no models online apart from tends to be mainly bubble butt, slim women, pretty sure they are fake butts also. You just have to work out what style of clothes suits you by trial and error and i  buy cheap (wait until the price comes down) so that if they don't fit me i can give them to family who they will fit but it's rare i get the wrong size.

    I come from a time when i had no choice in what i bought as the high street was too expensive to shop from so had to make do with what charity shops had to offer or even what was given to me. You can manage this, and all sorts of things can look good even if they don't fit you. One thing that sticks in my mind though is an auntie i had (she is dead now of MS complications) and she made me a top and skirt outfit that was fitted to me and that was nice of her. I think learning off the internet ways to make your own clothes or amend clothes you have is good. I used to love sewing myself, can't do it now coz of my hands but i do slash clothes or cut them to make my own 'rock chick' style stuff sometimes. As someone punk i've found it easy to make my own styles or care less about what others think of my clothes.

    If shops don't want to include disabled people let them shut down while other people find alternatives. Tbh the high street is failing because of the internet, might be a good idea to look for alternatives now before you have no choice.
  • mossycowmossycow Member Posts: 495 Pioneering
    I thought 17% of UK considered themselves disabled? So... That's not that small a minority is it?

    My random thoughts:
    Fashion is an art form, art has trends and phases.... Those trickle own into the 'highstreet'.... Some folks buy what fashion suggests.. Perhaps those that see themselves reflected in the body shales designed for... and others buy clothes just to pragmatically cover their body... So I think there's an awful lot inside what you're suggesting.

    As a power chair user.. I've had to change a lot about what I wear and would love to see more models my shape to get ideas and inspiration.. Just like 'average shaped ' humans get inspiration from current fashion.

    It really saddens me to see that the first reactions to your post were 'disabled people are a minority so its too expensive e/most people stand up so that's what it is made for' ...

    Is there anywhere online etc where there are ideas for those of us sat down all the time? 

    "I'm trying to live like a random poem I read that ended 'to bloom where we are planted"

  • Anita75Anita75 Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Being disabled is not a minority and it really shouldn't make a difference how many are their needs should be taken care of as well as the model figures out there . I have only been ill and disabled for the last 5 years and I feel like I have totally lost myself since then , I used to be out drinking and having fun on weekends with my friends but now I don't because the first thing I think people see is my sticks or the fact I need to sit down all the time . That then total runs what u wear to go out because I have 2 sticks so no nice fashionable glitzy   heels and matching clutch bag . The feminism that @feir mentioned comes into play with the no short dresses or sleeveless tops or people give u disgusting looks so it's no wonder that disabled people also end up with depression. I wouldn't take shops to much work to have a mannequin sit on a normal chair it doesn't have to be a wheelchair , yes that would be good but to get the ball rolling a chair would work and help a lot of people feel better about how the clothes they are looking at may make them look .
  • DavidGS1950DavidGS1950 Member Posts: 6 Connected
    As one of the things I have is vertigo I find it awkward to bend down even when I'm sat down to put my socks on or my shoes and also having pains in my back and legs makes standing any length of time to put trousers or jogging bottoms difficult and while not being to much of a fashion icon 👖i do want something that looks reasonable as well as being easy to put on 
  • whistleswhistles Member Posts: 1,590 Disability Gamechanger
    I love shawls.  :)
    Do not follow me, I don't know where I am going.
  • KayMGKayMG Member Posts: 1 Listener
    I'm a power chair user, can't fit around shops easily, and often need to dress smartly for work.
    Clothes made for wheelchair users are horrible, frumpy, really boring and scream "I'm disabled and therefore don't deserve anything nice". And then they have the cheek to charge exhorbitant prices because of the disability label!
    Low neck lines don't work - the low neck means those standing near you can see what you dont want people to see...because they're looking down. I asked a shop assistant once if they had something less revealing, and she said "the demand is for low revealing tops".
    Tight around the bum doesn't work - they rip. 
    All I want is loose fitting pretty (not frumpy) tops that aren't sheer (and so needing an extra layer I don't want) and are not obscene when seated & others are standing! But they're not fashionable apparently.....
    Found some success with 'Roman' though.
  • Pippa_AlumniPippa_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,851 Disability Gamechanger
    edited June 2018
    Welcome to the community, @KayMG, and thanks for sharing this with us. You've tempted me to have a look at Roman myself! 
  • kayGkayG Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Thanks for the welcome @Pippa_Scope. This comment was from KayMG 😄
  • Pippa_AlumniPippa_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,851 Disability Gamechanger
    Whoops, sorry @kayG! A warm welcome to you too! 
  • amanda53amanda53 Member Posts: 3 Listener
    I don't think that it matters If  you are standing or sitting for poeple  to note you. I have brace to my  left leg and I can't stand so easy as both leg are damaged now. I love fashion  and going out. I can't dance any more but poeple with disableity can still go out and enjoy them self just as much as other poeple and why are we are all poeple.
  • SuewithlupustooSuewithlupustoo Member Posts: 6 Connected
    Some great points raised shonalouise. I'm in my mid 60s and still want to be fashionable. Thankfully stretchy stuff, Velcro, slip ons can make life a bit easier. I don't go to high street shops now because of mobility problems. Access into shops is often an issue and as dressing can take me anything up to 30 minutes, think I'd be chucked out of the changing rooms or would have to take up squatters rights! It would be a forwarding thinking retailer to reflect a range of disabilities through their displays and mannequins. You are doing a grand job raising awareness. 
  • amanda53amanda53 Member Posts: 3 Listener
    Hear hear. Well said.
  • AlexAlex Scope Posts: 1,324 Pioneering
    We've had a question emailed to us asking:
    It would be nice if I could buy clothes that were made easy for dressing As I am a wheelchair user who can't stand at all It is very difficult for my husband to dress me I would be very grateful to anyone who knows where I could shop for clothes made for easy dressing Thank you 

    Any ideas?

  • debbiedo49debbiedo49 Member Posts: 2,906 Disability Gamechanger
    Bras can be a nightmare when my fingers dont work and no I cant wear vest tops thanks. I wish someone would design a better fastening.
    I am a fibro warrior !💜♏️
  • TopkittenTopkitten Member Posts: 1,263 Pioneering
    I think it has to be accepted that mannequins are never going to be helpful any more. If people were as thin and tall as most of them then half the population would be qualified to be a model. The average person now is nothing like the size or shape of the display models used in shops but they are unlikely to move towards the real average shape because it would appear unattractive to almost everyone.

    Unless most of the population moves away from the obsessions of eating and drinking to excess things will just get worse as what looks good on a "skinny" mannequin will never look anything like as attractive when worn by the average person.

    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • SakaraDeeSakaraDee Member Posts: 3 Connected
    This is so true!
    I'm always frustrated at the lack of clothing (Especially skirts!) designed with living in mind rather than just careful posing (I'm looking at you, Topshop mini skirts). Someone said that people who are not wheelchair users don't care what clothes look like sitting down (sorry I can't remember which person) and many have said we are a minority so it's not cost effective but really? Everyone sits down and it's not always under a desk. Arm chairs, sofas, seats for when you're shoe shopping... Yes models should definitely be photographed sitting down! And not in artistic poses which mimic absolutely nothing from real life I might add :") 

    Also sale sections in shops can be a nightmare. I have a really small mobility scooter (about the same width as my wheelchair) and I couldn't fit it between the rails in H&M, I thought "what do I expect it's just the old sale bit why should they make an effort?" Which is so sad because of COURSE they should "make an effort". We aren't 50% of the population but we're a decent minority! The biggest I think.

    I have seen one mannequin sitting down in River Island (it actually freaked me out as I thought it was a real person!) It was sitting on the edge of a low down display and didn't take up too much space while really enhancing the look of the place so I don't see why they couldn't make that regular practice. It's not a lot to ask and if we write ourselves off as a minority with no right to ask for these things then that's really sad and nothing will ever change!

    Great post ♡
  • DavidGS1950DavidGS1950 Member Posts: 6 Connected
    Sadly that seems to be another example of saying “we can’t be bothered as you’re not important or vociferous enough for us to cater for you!”
  • TopkittenTopkitten Member Posts: 1,263 Pioneering
    As regards being a minority....

    I have never had any issue with any person asking for more appropriate displays or whatever even those in minority groups. I do have an issue with those who demand preferential treatment especially if they are in a minority group or those who start going on about trying to get money or special treatment by using the court or other such systems to gain some sort of advantage. I was brought up to be polite and respect others point of view and though I struggle with doing so at times with the pain and frustration in my life, I still think that politely asking for help or assistance is still far preferable to insisting on setting same. No one anywhere has a right to special treatment and I do not care if it even says that it is in law, there are some very stupid laws in this country.

    On the point of daft laws.... do you know that to propel any wheeled "vehicle" the wrong way down a one way street is against the law and could be prosecuted? For vehicle read pram, push-chair, wheelchair, scooter (child or adult version) and the law makes no distinction between road and pavement because it was enacted when there were no pavements, lol!

    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
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