A design student from the UK asked me if I would answer a few questions on why I liked to be fashionable as a person with low vision. I hope my responses help you gain some insights into the art and challenge of being a savvy and blind fashionista.
What challenges do you face when shopping?
This depends on what I am trying to achieve on any given day while shopping. To name the main challenges:
- 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
- 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 needlesstosay, I have a few dead pairs in my drawer.
What are your considerations when choosing garments? e.g. functionality of the garment
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 my intuition? 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 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, one of my pleasures!
What shops do you frequent the most and why?
I prefer to go to the same clothing stores because it is easier to get around the shop without feeling overwhelmed. I live 10klms from the city of Melbourne but often go in with my partner so he can help barge through the busy city crowds with me.
On my own, I visit the local stores where the shop keepers know me and are quick to offer help – even though it might be dearer, the price of being less stressed is well worth it.
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 too?
How do you feel in a shopping environment?
If we are talking about supermarkets – I loathe them. I almost want to bolt the moment I enter the door, the hyperactivity is overwhelming.
In clothing stores, I have to be in the right mood as it takes a lot of concentration to keep track of my movement around the store, 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.
At other times, browsing with my hands can be 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 to know what is in fashion.
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 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 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!
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. 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 others think is fashionable.
The other reason for my ever-readiness to touch the world around me is because it is not 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.
If you enjoy being fashionable or have some tips to share, please let us know in the comment box…
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© 2017 Maribel Steel
Photography © 2017 Harry Williamson