Every spoonie knows that comfortable clothes are important. But eventually, you get tired of wearing old and baggy clothes because not only do they do nothing for your sense of self-worth – but they’re probably not helping you optimise your daily function either.
The best fashion and clothing hacks for chronic illness include wearing items that are designed to:
- Control the effects of your condition, i.e. skin sensitivity.
- Have practical benefits that make it easier to complete daily tasks with a disability.
- Boost mental health by making you feel confident and comfortable.
These 16 fashion hacks for clothing and chronic illness are here to help you get the most out of your wardrobe while still being cost and comfort conscious.
Choose Natural Fabrics to Help with Sensitive Skin and Allergies
Certain fabrics are less likely to affect your condition, especially if you suffer from the following concerns:
- Temperature dysregulation;
- Skin sensitivity; or
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:
- 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.
- 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
If you have chronic pain, you’ll know that tight clothes can be a killer. They’re extremely uncomfortable and can cause inflammation or flares.
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.
Four tips for choosing comfortable clothing
- 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 🙂).
- Try to find a balance between loose wear and stuff that is just baggy.
(I talk about this more in point 8.)
- 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.
Opt For Podiatrist Recommended Shoes
Shoes with proper insoles and padding don’t only protect your feet; they support, stabilise and encourage proper posture when you walk.
If you’ve got a chronic illness, especially any form of chronic pain, you need to prioritise this. Your shoes don’t need to be geriatric – just designed for good foot health.
Everyone is different, so I can’t 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.)
When I was operated on both my feet, I started to rely on an even smaller set of daily shoes. But I can assure you; they have been the best buys.
I hate to admit it, but – it’s better to have fewer shoes designed for good foot health than a million pairs of department store shoes that wear out at the soles within six months.
Here are my top 5 brands for best foot support:
Ensure Your “Chronic Pain” Clothing is Comfortable But Fun
For the most part, you need to be comfortable when you’re home. You don’t want to wear any clothes you’re worried about wearing or even getting stained when you spill tea all over yourself in bed. (I’ve never done that… *cough cough*)
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.
But it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a treat to get into your daily clothes. So, if you’ve ever:
- Wanted a pair of tie-dye tracksuit pants – now is the time to get them.
- Supported a charity – there’s ample opportunity to wear that fundraiser t-shirt you spent a whole bunch of money on that you can’t really wear out the house.
- Wanted a wearable blanket or a onesie – now is as good a time as any.
- Dreamt of expanding on your “loungewear” – you’ve hit the diva jackpot!
It’s easy to stay in the same clothes 24/7 when you’re not well and living from your bedroom. I’ve done it many times. But it will quickly get you into a rut which is terrible for your mental health.
Here’s what I suggest:
- Have pyjamas that are comfortable, warm, soft and different enough from your day clothes so that you remember to swap between the two.
- Use this change of clothing as a coping strategy. If you’re 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.
- 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!
- If you no longer have the motivation to change at all or even shower. This is a sign that you might have depression and could benefit from speaking to your doctor.
When you plan or put together any of your outfits – be strategic about how you choose to layer each item so that you feel comfortable as your temperature fluctuates.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
Invest in High-Quality Underwear to Prevent UTI's
This ties in with wearing the right fabrics and choosing clothes that don’t dig into your skin.
- Underwear: It’s much easier to contract issues like UTIs or even thrush when you have a chronic illness. Things like this can be prevented by wearing breathable cotton underwear with invisible seams.
- Bras: I’m sure it comes to no surprise that a lot of women with fibro don’t even wear bras because it hurts too much. If this is you, opt for looser and less restrictive options. Again, cotton is better and stay clear of anything with wiring.
Wear Loose Clothes When Your Chronic Pain is Bad
There’s nothing wrong with loose clothes. But if everything is very baggy, it can be quite unflattering. The objective of this post is to find that happy.
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.
Today, 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:
- Oversized soft trench coats with leggings.
- Knitted pants and jersey combination.
- Mom jeans with a loose blouse.
- Maxi skirts or flared pants with a well-fitted top.
- Oversized blazers with thick tights and boots.
How to layer and use baggy elements in a balanced way:
If your pain is extremely bad and you're bed-bound. You're going to need more than just loose clothing. You'll need to prepare yourself properly. Read this before you hit the drugstore: The Ultimate Flare Survival Kit for Chronic Illness
Wear Athleisure to Motivate You
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.
Wear Protective Socks and Gloves To Help Circulations
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.
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
Choose Light Backpacks Over Handbags To Relieve Back Strain
Light backpacks or small sling bags are ideal because they don’t put unnecessary pressure on your joints and muscles, nor do they leave you feeling strained.
I know I’ve been guilty of wearing oversized tote bags a few times, especially when it comes to sneaking 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 prefer wearing sling bags instead of the 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.
Spend Less Energy on Grooming with a Low-Maintenance Haircut
When you have a chronic illness, you need a haircut that keeps you looking good with minimal effort. The less work it takes to wash, brush, and style – the better.
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.
If you’re home all day, especially on your own, no, I don’t think you need to wear makeup.
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:
- 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.
- Stick to the basics. BB cream, concealer, bronzer and mascara – these items are enough to give you a healthy glow and feel confident in your own skin.
- 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.
If you need a few tips and tricks on how to boost your physical self-esteem while coping with a chronic illness, you need to read the four tips I share here: Feeling Beautiful When You're Chronically Ill
Get Dressed As You Wakeup to Build 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. But it helps set a pace for your day and build a routine.
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.
My set routine encourages me to get dressed in comfortable (but normal) clothes as I start my work day.
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.
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Does this sound good? Follow this link to enrol and get your life back from your chronic illness: 7- Days to Happiness Programme
Don't Waste Money on New Clothes – Rather Bargain Hunt
Having a chronic illness can put some real pressure on finances if you can’t hold a full-time job. (Never mind the added medical costs.) So it’s best to use your money on urgent things.
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:
- Do your shopping for next year during this years’ sale seasons.
- Get a loyalty card with your favourite department stores so that they notify you when they’re having sales.
- Find deals and shop online. It’s almost always cheaper as businesses’ costs are lower.
- 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.
- Invest in fewer quality items that last longer.
Dress To Show You Value Yourself Despite Your Chronic Illness
Chronic illness is tough, and we can all lose our sense of purpose quickly. Then staying in all day wearing pyjamas makes it worse. So getting dressed properly is an important part of showing self-worth.
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:
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 believe that if you approach fashion in the right way, it can do wonders for your well-being – 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: 100 Affirmations for Chronic Illness That Really Work
I’ve 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!