RA Diaries: The hardest button to button

With RA, shopping for things to wear isn’t just about finding the right style or fit. It’s also about making sure I can get everything on and off by myself.

True, I have a spouse who is more than happy to assist with dressing me, and sometimes he does. But it’s an independence thing. The day I can no longer dress myself will be a sad, sad day for me, mitigated only by having a Johnny Depp clone helping out.

Hmm. Perhaps I should look into it. I’m sure there’s a website — perhaps hireadeppaliketodressyou.com?

In that spirit of independence, that means not buying anything with long rows of buttons, particularly tiny ones or the kind you have to pinch shut. It also means no long zippers up the back, or zippers down the side, at least on pants. I get that women don’t need pants with a front zip, but I find those a lot easier to navigate — it’s all about leverage.

Shoes are an even bigger problem. While it is a truth universally acknowledged that women looove to shop for shoes, this one doesn’t. Shoe departments are usually a bitter reminder of the fact that most shoes don’t work for me. This is due mostly to a sore ankle and knee — AKA Ann and Glenn — and sore ankles and knees have no interest in fashion. They prefer comfort, preferably Uggs, and will grow obstreperous if pushed into anything with the slightest heel. (They do, thankfully, draw the line at Crocs. I put this down to their being snobs about plastic.) If that weren’t enough, my toes like to conspire with the knee and ankle. My toes have been bent since I was a child, so those cute flats with the cut-out fronts? Those adorable little sandals? Yeah — no.

Finding the perfect shoe is a thus a real challenge, which is why, when I find a style that suits me, I wear the hell out of it until it falls apart. I’m sure my friends wonder about it, but being my friends, they don’t comment.

But back to clothes — I’m thankful that styles are much simpler these days, and fabrics softer and easier to care for. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be a woman with RA in the 1800s, between corsets and hoops and layers and layers of itchy wool underwear weighing you down. (And boots that had to be buttoned with a hook!)

Even as late as the 1960s, girdles were de rigeur, pants at the office were risque and pantyhose didn’t even exist (to be fair, I despise pantyhose, and that hatred for pantyhose would prevail even if I didn’t have RA). Shopping would have been far more stressful then than it is for me today.

Still, I always approach such shopping with the knowledge that most wearables are not designed with me in mind. I sometimes wonder who they are designed for. I have friends of all sizes, from petite to plus, and have gone shopping with most of them. While they don’t have the same issues I do, they, too, have a hard time finding things that fit and flatter. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM.

So who is this mythical woman who fits all this stuff? Is it Barbie? I don’t think so, since she has really long legs and likely has a tough time finding pants long enough. And what about tops? That chest takes a bit more fabric to cover than most.

So who, then? Models? They may have better luck, though I imagine the pants thing is still an issue.

So who?

I realize this one-size-fits-none approach is the reason clothes are affordable in the first place. Well, that and sweatshops. (Ugh.) But lately, I wish I had the means to have a fabulous seamstress on retainer. I would make sure she and my Johnny Depp lookalike got to know each other. After all, they work hard and deserve to have fun.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.



  • Interestingly enough I met a woman who had spent 7 or 8 years as a “fit model” not too long ago. She was, as you might expect from our clothing options, about 5’8″, slim but not super skinny (estimating about a size 6 or 8), and not too busty or hippy or any such thing. And she was amazingly down to earth and funny. She made the comment that if any of the clothes at a couple of major stores didn’t fit, it’s probably because of her.

    But it did remind me that, yep, clothing manufacturers do have a person in mind when they make their clothes. She just happens to be unlike anyone else I know in body type. And well… she was well dressed!

  • Well, that makes sense! It would be really nice if manufacturers decided to use different models, but I imagine that would add to their expenses, and then to ours. Sigh.

  • Shopping in public is also hard for me and I try to do it as seldom as possible.
    If you find a shoe that’s incredibly comfortable -a shoe worth investing in- maybe buy two pairs. Then you can go twice as long without the unpleasant shopping experience.
    Or you could note the brand, style, and size. Then you could order the same pair without going into the stores and trying on tons of shoes. Of course, neither of these helps if your footwear needs change much over time.
    Just a thought.

  • The hardest button to button, eh? Have you tried grabbing a ragdoll and sticking some little pins in it?

    I totally agree with you about the impossibility of finding clothes that actually fit, though. The day I find an affordable shoe that actually fits and can actually support my arches enough to stop my chronic ankle/knee/back pain will be the day hell freezes over. Not to mention the impossibility of finding office-appropriate clothes in the juniors section, which is where I have to shop half the time because I’m too small to fit into adult clothes. Basically every shopping trip I’ve ever taken has made me feel inadequate about my tiny breasts – and whoever’s shopping with me generally feels inadequate about being “overweight.” It’s definitely the downside of easily available, cheaply produced clothing (well, that and the sweatshops…).

  • Why yes I have, Lauren O! But those damn pins are too small for my arthritic fingers to manage! Burning in effigy is more my style, unless the lighter has that damn child safety catch, and then…
    No seriously, I try not to send that kind of bad energy into the world.
    But many thanks to you, and other commenters, for reading and for sharing experiences. Perhaps we could all join together and set up a clothing company that caters to us!

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