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ADAPTIVE FASHIONS New clothing lines offer ease and style for elderly, disabled



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Many elderly stay in bathrobes all day because dressing is so difficult.

HARTFORD COURANT

If you think the biggest challenge to finding stylish duds as you get older is middle-aged spread, check again. As we age, arthritis, vision loss and other illnesses can make the simple task of getting dressed a real chore.

The issue is particularly challenging for those who have limited mobility, Alzheimer's or incontinence, have experienced a stroke or use a wheelchair, as well as those millions of men and women who are dealing with height loss and stooped shoulders from osteoporosis.

"When you have special needs, such as Velcro closures instead of buttons, or items that open along the back instead of being pulled over your head, you can't buy clothing off the rack," says Julie Buck, owner of Buck & amp; Buck Designs, a line of clothing to help solve the dressing needs of the elderly. "And not being able to find the clothing you like can affect your self-esteem and compromise your independence."

Found the need

Buck knows what she's talking about. As a nursing home administrator in Seattle, she watched patients stay in bathrobes and johnnies all day because they couldn't find clothing they could manage on their own. Adaptive clothing features include snaps and Velcro closures, zippers with oversize pulls, back or side openings to provide easier access to catheters, IV bottles and diapers.

When Buck researched the availability of such clothing, she found the selection limited and in most cases, unstylish. So she decided to design her own. In 1980, she and husband Bill started Buck & amp; Buck with a line of moderately priced adaptive clothing, underwear, pajamas, outerwear and accessories for men and women. Since then, the line has evolved to include garments incorporating the same important details in more stylish colors and fabrics such as fleece, corduroy, knits and faux fur. The Buck & amp; Buck Web site (www.buckandbuck.com) features attractive models ranging in age from 79 to 90 wearing well-cut dresses, coats and coordinates.

"Fewer prints, more solids and attention to details," says Buck. "For example, necklines are important this year, so we've updated our neckline trims and cuts and styles to reflect what's current. How you look affects how you feel. People don't lose their personal sense of style because they've got a disability."

Which means if you're shopping for someone else, check on the individual's style and color preferences before purchasing.

Jacquelyn Pepe, a New York City clothing designer, is also looking to give adaptive wear more flair. Frustrated by the dressing experiences of her grandmother, an Alzheimer's patient with limited motor skills, Pepe started designing clothing that featured invisible zippers, snaps and closures.

Need to convince

"Adaptive clothing has to be practical, washable and durable, but it doesn't have to look 'different.' The adaptations you need should be there, but they should be invisible," says Pepe, who in her day job makes patterns for Ralph Lauren Polo, The Gap and others. "I think it's the next big clothing market, but the fashion industry is a glamour industry and takes some convincing. When you say, 'adaptive clothing,' they think hospital gowns or Muu Muu's and they back away."

Her first venture is a golf shirt geared for men who are still active but have arthritis or limited range of hand motion. The shirt features false button closures with magnetic snaps and a drawstring hem that allows the shirt to look neat and tucked in when it actually isn't. She consulted with orthopedic surgeons on the design. Pepe hopes to market the line, called PepEase, in hospital boutiques and on QVC.

"There's a big market out there. Baby Boomers are getting older and you can be sure they're not going to give up their stylish wardrobes because they develop a condition that makes dressing difficult," says Pepe. "It took a whole [generation] for the clothing industry to market stylish maternity wear and plus sizes. Good looking, practical, even elegant adaptive fashions are going to the next big trend."




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