May 12

15 Fool-Proof Fashion Hacks For Chronic Illness

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If you want to look good and feel good about yourself – don't feel guilty about it. I think it's awesome that you want to make fashion work for you despite your chronic illness. 

But I also understand that what you choose to wear can be the last thing on your mind when you feel like hell. That's why I've developed these 15 fashion hacks – getting dressed (and looking good) is about to become effortless! 

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I know it may seem superficial, but there's more to good outfits than meets the eye. Thinking about the way you present yourself shows that you have a deep desire for self-care and preservation. 

It shows the world that you're not just looking after your physical health; you're looking out for your mental health too. You're embracing a form of body positivity and you should be proud about it. 

Why Should You Care About Fashion When You Have a Chronic Illness?

Before I get into this, you must know that I’m not just writing this article as a spoonie that found her way around a wardrobe. I actually used to work in the fashion industry almost 10 years ago... while I was in a wheelchair. 

Fashion is more than just clothing for me. It’s a passion and a career I pursued. Here's a snippet from an article I wrote for Marie Claire in 2012:

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Snippet: At first, I wore only practical, comfortable clothes and tracksuits but I soon realized the importance of dressing up, as it made me feel good. I also loved the fact that I could wear the most outrageous heels and never be taller than any guy. Or worry about aching feet. 

Ironically I also felt more comfortable with my body after falling ill – thinking back to those strong legs that used to carry me, I became less critical. I used to think my hips were too big but when I look back at photos of myself standing in shorts, I see how irrational I was. How could I be hard on a body that I wanted back?


If I look at my past, I know that working in fashion played a pivotal role in shaping my mindset and attitude towards my health. 

Getting dressed and going to the Fashion Week offices every week made me feel empowered. The clothes I wore shaped my image – I was more than just someone with a chronic illness. I had an identity and a purpose. 

I know that what you wear has an effect on your confidence and your attitude. And there are some interesting studies that back me up here.

Most notably the ones that link the way you dress to your performance at work. For example, doctors wearing their white coats at work seemed to perform better than those that didn’t.

Another study showed that people who dressed in formal wear before going to work showed that their cognitive functions improved, especially relating to power.

I really do believe that if you approach fashion in the right way that it can do wonders for your wellbeing – and I'm living proof of it. 

If you're struggling to self-motivate right now, I know how you feel. I've been there! Although this is a good piece for you to read, I recommend checking out another article to help give you a little inspirational boost first: 100 Affirmations for Chronic Illness That Really Work 

Otherwise, let's dive into my 15 hacks for fool-proof fashion for chronic illness! 

Choose Fabrics Wisely  

This is one of the most important points to remember. Especially if you struggle to regulate your body temperature or if you have any chronic pain condition that causes skin sensitivities.

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Outfit 1: Woollen leggings, a long-sleeve organic cotton top with a cotton jean jacket that has a woollen inner-lining and beige boots

Outfit 2: Woollen leggings and a long-sleeve organic cotton top with white sneakers. 

Here are the two points to remember:

  1. Natural fabrics are better.

    Opt for clothes that use a blend of natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, rayon, wool or linen.

    Cotton and silk are particularly good for thermoregulation because they are absorbent and draw moisture away from your skin. 
  1. Go for items that are soft and smooth to touch.

    Once again, fabrics like cotton, silk and wool are winners here too. The softer they are, the more tolerable they will feel against your sensitive skin. 

Avoid Clothes That Dig into Your Skin

This isn’t an issue when you are at home in your chill-out clothes. But the minute you need to get a bit dressed up for work or an occasion – it can be tricky to find well-fitted clothes that don’t cut into your skin. 

This is especially true if you have any joint issues, fibromyalgia, or another form of chronic pain. You’ll know how clothes that fit too tight in the wrong places can cause extra and unnecessary discomfort. 

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Outfit 1: Elasticised leggings (no buttons) with a flowy red blouse and brown moccasins.

Outfit 2: Elasticised leggings (no buttons) with a blue shirt, a loose-fitted, fluffy pink coat and white sneakers.

For work, pants that have an elasticised waistband should become your best friend. You can easily cover the band up by wearing a loose blouse over it. Thick tights with an oversized blazer are also in style right now (yay no pants 🙂 

Otherwise, you must try to find a balance between loose wear and stuff that is just baggy. (I talk about this more in point 8.) 

Finally, swap low cut jeans for high-waisted jeans, especially if you have gut issues. Anything pressing into your belly and back can be twice as painful. 

Invest in Shoes

It’s better to have fewer shoes that are designed for good foot health than a million pairs of department store shoes that wear out at the soles within 6 months. 

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If you’ve got a chronic illness, especially any form of chronic pain, you need to buy shoes that offer extra comfort, support, stability and cushioning. 

Everyone is different, so I won’t be able to tell you what shoes are the best for you. It depends on where you live, how much you walk every day, the weather and the amount of pain you usually have in your feet. 

For two years my right foot was in so much pain that I only wore socks! (Don’t worry I jazzed them up…) 

Since I’ve been walking again, I learnt that standard high heels or pretty sandals aren’t going to cut it anymore. If you have fibro, for example, you will know how much extra pain bad shoes can give you.

And from when I was operated on both my feet last year, I have started to rely on an even smaller set of daily shoes. But I can assure you, they have been the best buys. 

I’d like you to keep an open mind when you look at the shoes I suggest because many do provide quite appealing designs these days! Here are my top 5 brands for best foot support: 

  • Birkenstocks 
  • Uggs 
  • Timberland
  • Nike
  • Hoka 

Make Home Wear Fun  

For the most part you need to be comfortable when you’re home. You don’t want to use any clothes that you’re worried about wearing-in or even getting stained when you spill tea all over yourself in bed. (I’ve never done that… *cough cough*)

But it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a treat to get into your daily clothes.  

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Outfit 1: Velvet pants with a loose-fitted pink t-shirt... and no shoes! 

Outfit 2: Velvet pants with a tight-fitted blue t-shirt and white sneakers. 

For example, if you’ve always wanted a pair of velvet tracksuit pants – now is the time to get them. 

If you love animals – every day is an opportunity to wear a conservation t-shirt that you spent a whole bunch of money on. Or a reason to buy more… 

If you’ve ever wanted a wearable blanket or a onesie – now is as good a time as any. 

And if you’ve ever wanted to get hardcore into “loungewear” – you’ve hit the diva jackpot! 

Get Pyjamas That Make You Happy

We’ve spoken about clothes that make you happy during the day and the same applies for night time. 

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Pyjamas should be comfortable, warm, soft and different enough from your day clothes so that you remember to swap between the two. If you’re homebound a lot… you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. 

The bottom line is that spending a lot of time at home when you’re not feeling well means that there aren’t many reasons to clean up and feel good about the way you look. 

So putting an effort into what you wear at home is a way to feel good about your coping strategy. 

Side note: If there are days where the only difference between your night pyjamas and day pyjamas is the fact that you’re wearing a bra during the day – that’s okay! 

Keep Your Clothes Layered

When you plan or put together any of your outfits – a clear layering strategy needs to be implemented.

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Outfit 1: Mom jeans, a knitted black sweater with a woollen jumper and black boots. 

Outfit 2: Mom jeans, a black t-shirt with a knitted black sweater and black boots. 

Here’s why: 

  1. It's an effective way of managing unstable body temperatures. If you go from sweating to shivering in the course of an hour (like me).
  2. It can make getting dressed or undressed a lot easier, especially if you need help with the basics.

    For example, scarves and shawls are easily adaptable. And if you wear leggings with socks instead of full-length tights, you can take off your shoes and warm up your feet without going through the trouble of taking off your pants. 

Proper Underwear is Important

This ties in with wearing the right fabrics and choosing clothes that don’t dig into your skin too much. 

It’s much easier to contract issues like UTIs or even thrush when you have a chronic illness. So it’s important to do as much as you can to prevent these issues where you can. One way you can do this is by wearing breathable cotton underwear with invisible seams. 

Wear Loose Clothes, But in the Right Way

I’m not against loose or baggy clothes whatsoever, but they can be quite unflattering if you don’t wear them properly. 

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Outfit 1: Birkenstock sandals, a loose floral skirt and a tight-fitted pink blouse. 

Outfit 2: Beige moccasins, blue leggings and loose-fitted red blouse. 

I’ve struggled a lot with this because of my CRPS II. At one point it was so severe that I couldn’t have anything touching the skin on my legs directly. 

But I also learnt that if you can combine a bit of style with comfort here – you’ll have your cake and eat it too. 

The trick is in balancing one or two baggy items with things that are well-fitted. 

Here are some rather stylish ways to pull off baggy clothes if you’re chronically ill: 

  1. Oversized soft trench coats with leggings.
  2. Knitted pants and jersey combination. 
  3. Mom jeans with a loose blouse. 
  4. Maxi skirts or flared pants with a well-fitted top. 
  5. Oversized blazers with thick tights and boots. 

How to layer and use baggy elements in a balanced way:

Embrace Activewear

I’ll admit that once I’m in my workout gear, I have a hard time wanting to get out of it. When clothes actually make you feel comfortable to the point where it’s like being naked – what could be better for chronic pain?

And did you know there are studies that have proved wearing your activewear can mentally motivate you to be active during the day? 

While it’s good to have an identity in the clothes you choose to wear. If you need to gear yourself up to do anything physical or if you want to run errands – I think it’s absolutely fine to dress in activewear. 

Have the Right Socks and Gloves

Socks and gloves need to combine a bit of fun and lots of practicality. It’s essential to have items that don't only get you warm but keep you warm too.

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There’s nothing worse than socks that cut off your circulation and actually make your feet colder and more tender. The same applies to gloves! 

Material plays an important role here. You can buy awesome thermal alternatives that are designed to keep you warmer for longer. I know they may be a bit pricey, but consider them an investment in your pain management. 

If you're interested in learning more about how to prepare for winter weather, here's a great article for you to check out: Chronic Illness and Cold Weather – How to Survive Winter

Avoid Heavy Handbags

Actually, avoid carrying anything heavy at all! 

I know I’ve been guilty of this a few times. Especially when it comes to filling oversized beach bags with random stuff or when I’m trying to sneak my own snacks into the movies.

But the better option is always going to be a backpack that equally distributes the weight on your body and doesn’t cause unnecessary stress. 

I actually prefer wearing sling bags instead of standard shoulder back on a day-to-day basis. If I can get away with just carrying a purse for a quick grocery run – I’ll go for that! 

The less stuff you’re carrying around, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more secure you’ll feel as you move around. 

Think About Your Haircut

There are haircuts that are particularly beneficial for anyone with a debilitating chronic illness. 

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This is one of my all-time favourite summer dresses. It's made from cotton and although it's loosely fitted around the body, it still hugs you in all the right places. It's breathable and super comfy! 

If you struggle to keep your arms up long enough to blow dry and style your hair. Or if it requires a lot of effort to look decent every morning – maybe you should consider changing it up? 

Everyone is different but here’s what’s worked for me: 

  • A simple mid-length cut which is easy to put back or have loose. 
  • Avoiding layers that thin my hair out any more than they already are. 
  • Doing a few keratin treatments during the year to stop the frizz. 

Basically, I don’t have to style it or faff around, which is great when my arms and neck are tender. 

And if you love your long hair or short – there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as it’s easy to manage then that’s the most important thing. 

Go For a Natural Makeup Look

If you’re home all day, especially on your own, no I don’t think you need to wear makeup. 

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But when you’re going out or seeing people and you want to put in a bit of effort without it being too much – a natural makeup look is easy to apply and even easier to take off afterwards. 

Here’s what I recommend: 

  1. Look for products that are clear about the ingredients they use. As someone who worked in beauty for years, this is something you cannot compromise on.

    It’s far more important to focus on healthy skin rituals and not cakey foundation that leaves your skin filled with gunk and vulnerable to infection. 
  1. Stick to the basics:  BB cream, concealer, bronzer and mascara. This is enough to give you a healthy glow and feel confident in your own skin.
  2. Remember to cleanse, moisturise and protect first! No matter what makeup you choose to wear (or not wear) – the first focus needs to be on your skincare.

    Your body is already going through so much and caring for your skin is a good way of protecting it and getting a natural healthy glow. 

Have a Morning Routine

One of the biggest struggles around getting into an outfit (and not just sweats) when you have a chronic illness is the motivation to start. 

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When you’re stuck at home and there’s not much to do besides working behind your laptop – often it feels like there’s no point! I totally understand and sometimes I feel the same way. 

The most important thing to remember here is balance and consistency – which a good morning routine will definitely help you with. 

We’re all different but I find that I need to get out of bed the minute I wake up, do some yoga, shower and get dressed. 

It’s my set routine that encourages me to get dressed in comfortable (but normal) clothes as I start my workday. 

There’s also nothing wrong with using some inspiration to help you out here. If you want to log onto Instagram or Pinterest for some loungewear ideas – why not? Who says you can’t look fabulous at home. 

Be Cost-Effective

Having a chronic illness can put some real pressure on finances if you aren’t able to hold a full-time job. (Nevermind the added medical costs.) 

So I know that choosing clothes isn’t a simple process when you need to be careful with your spending. 

Luckily I’m a dedicated bargain-hunter and have a few tricks to share with you to help you cut some costs: 

  1. Do your shopping for next year during this years’ sale seasons.
  2. Get a loyalty card with your favourite department stores so that they notify you when they’re having sales. 
  3. Find deals and shop online. It’s almost always cheaper as businesses’ costs are lower. 
  4. Make sure you have a list of things that you need to buy and stick to it. Ie. Don’t buy something on sale just because it’s cheaper and looks cool. 
  5. Invest in fewer quality items that last longer. 

I’ve really had fun putting this article together, and I hope you guys have found it informative and interesting. 

If you’ve got any added fashion advice you’d like to share for chronic illness, I would love to hear from you. 

Until then, stay well and stay beautiful! 

marina-wildt-outside-with-nala
Marina

Marina Wildt is an experienced health and wellness writer, chronic illness warrior and founder of The Discerning You. In the last 12 years, she has gone from being paralysed in a wheelchair to living a full life alongside her conditions and now she wants to share all the practical advice that she has learnt with you.


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