“Who picks out your clothes for you?” I’m often asked by people who are curious about how a blind person can be well dressed with matching tops and skirts. It’s an innocent question, but on first hearing it, I was a bit insulted. I pick out my own clothes, and I dress myself each morning, all by myself, because, contrary to public conjecture, I don’t have a staff to do that for me.
It’s actually two questions. What they mean is, “How do you select your clothes at the store,” and “How do you know which top goes with which skirt when you get dressed?”
Shopping for clothing can be a challenge for someone who is totally blind. First, there is the problem of transportation, but I’ll save that for another post. How I select my clothes depends on several factors. When I start shopping, my companion or store associate will say, “what color would you like?” This is not an unreasonable question. I used to be able to see, so I have my own preferences, but what I’d like and what they have in my size are often not the same. I’m also subject to the opinion of my shopping helper, sometimes inadvertently, and sometimes by my choice. “Does this make me look fat?” “Is this too bold a print?” “Is this a good color for me?” “Does it look like I’m trying to look younger?” In the end, the choice is mine, but in a subtle way, you can almost tell who took me shopping that day. I’ll never forget going shopping with a woman who was 20 years older than I. What I had been told were stunning outfits turned out to be clothes that my mother would wear. My absolute favorite helper for clothes shopping is my daughter. I think I can safely say this is true for many blind women who have a sensible and sensitive daughter. She already knows what I like and what will work for me and what won’t. She knows what is fashionable, but she doesn’t waste time showing me things that would look ridiculous on me.
I have a few rules for myself when shopping for clothes. 1. Never buy a skirt, pants, or a top without something to wear with it to make a complete outfit. Sighted people have the luxury of being able to keep an eye out for it as they shop on another day. I do not. Clothes shopping is always a one-day event, so if you don’t find it that day, don’t buy that odd-colored garment. 2. Always ask your helper, “Would you wear this?” Many times, when trying to match a top with a skirt, they’ll say, “Well, that’s not bad.” And that’s when the red flag goes up. Not bad? Would they wear it? 3. No matter how trendy or cool they say a particular garment is, if you don’t feel good in it, it’s not for you.
Now, to answer the second question, I Manage to keep from wearing stripes with plaids or grays with browns by keeping my closet very well organized.
I hang all my black skirts on a multiple skirt hanger, and the same with all my black pants, brown pants, and grey pants. Then I must be sure to put the corresponding clothes back on the same hanger. Often, I can tell which dress is which by touch. No, I can’t detect color with my fingers, but I know that the dress with the ruffle in the front is green.
For other colors, I clip a Braille note to the hanger. I also have a secret weapon called a color identifier. It says “black” when I hold it next to a pair of black hose, and “brown” when I put it next to the brown hose. Sometimes, it gets pinks and purples mixed up, and it has no idea what to say when the garment is khaki, but it’s still one of my favorite pieces of technology. It’s a blind woman’s best friend when she’s getting dressed.
How I would love to be on “What Not to Wear.” Then when I’m asked who picks out my clothes, I’d have a great story to tell.