• Madeline Delp

Survivor Stories of Getting Dressed in a Wheelchair (Part One)

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Living a fashionable lifestyle while in a wheelchair can say the least. 

I remember my first day of middle school (only a few months after I had been injured) entering my first class with baggy khaki pants that velcroed shut, complete with tennis shoes that were two sizes too big so that they could fit over my leg braces. I was living in a time of survival mode, where the only things that mattered when getting dressed were efficiency and practicality (not exactly two things that make you popular in middle school). 

I existed in a fashion struggle whirlwind for years, not knowing that it was possible to be in a wheelchair AND look cute. Oh yes, those dang Velcro khaki pants haunted many an outfit for many years. One fateful day midway through high school (probably in the pursuit of impressing a guy) I finally realized that I had to put a stop to the madness and that I, just like anyone else, had the right to wear clothing that truly showcased my personality and style! An incredible year and a half later, I was runner-up for best dressed in my senior class. (Insider information I obtained from my yearbook buddies of course.) It was a sign that not only was I beginning to see how I could shine, but others were starting to see it too.

Before this rags to actual fitted clothes tale gets you too emotional, let’s move on to all the crazy things I’ve had to learn while going along my road to fashion. From launching out of my chair to breaking bones, fashion has been an interesting journey - and if you use a wheelchair like me, hopefully this article will help you avoid some of the pitfalls I have encountered!

1. Launching to the floor

One of the first things that you are taught in the hospital after a spinal cord injury is how to get dressed. Little did I know that putting on pants would transform from being a daily mundane activity to a segment worthy of American Ninja Warrior. The amount of twists and turns that must be precisely executed while pulling up a pair of jeans are enough to get in your cardio workout for the day. Don’t even get me started on the energy it takes to accomplish this in a tiny bathroom! (Now the Velcro khaki pants thing makes sense doesn’t it?)

With this new sense of context, you can understand why someone like me would tend to avoid constricting material. Well, that is until I flew to a foreign country, thought I was cool and got cocky. I came across this stunning pair of leather pants while perusing a shopping center in Berlin and thought that they would be simply perfect for the concert I was going to that night. Buying them without even trying them on (first mistake), I proudly strolled back to my apartment with my new prize and prepared for my rockstar look.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it probably took a good 20 minutes to get those pants on. I had to contort my body into the most unnatural of positions in order to squeeze my schnitzel filled midsection and legs into the unforgiving leather that I thought would make me look like a million bucks. What really ended up happening was that my bladder felt like a million bucks and demanded to pee every 30 minutes because of the crazy constricting waistline. 

This is not helpful when the only bathroom available is down a flight of stairs and is the size of a washing machine. 

After strangers and friends carried me down the stairs and helped me into the bathroom, I finally was able to pee in peace. Unfortunately there was still the matter of getting the pants back on WHILE sitting on the toilet. I twisted and writhed with heated passion trying to pull them back up, but to no avail. As I leaned over as far as I could to get greater leverage on those leather devils, my balance finally gave out and I found myself face-planted on the bathroom floor, half rolled over through the stall, with my butt flying free in front of a line of concert-goers flowing out the bathroom door. 

I’m pretty sure that my brain went into self-preservation mode and partially blacked out in order to save myself from the humiliation that was to follow, as it included being lifted from the floor and a group effort in helping me get my pants back on. 

Wear leather pants they said. They will make you look cool they said....


Real leather pants are overrated. I have tried on so many (even the faux kind!) and it almost always ends in disaster. While shopping at Belk, I finally found the answer...

Shiny leather-like material on the front of the pants, and stretchy leggings on the back!  It is

absolutely perfect for those of us who are sitting down because you can’t see that they aren’t leather all the way around. (The world never has to know our secret!) 

Faux Leather Pants:

Stay tuned for Part 2 which will include more fun (okay embarrassing) stories and fashion tips!

Much love,


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