It’s important for people to feel good about themselves and one of the ways we do this is through clothing. Fashion design seniors, Sarah Tothero, Breanna Weiss, and Sydney Seezox, who will be graduating in May 2018, recently collaborated with Dr. Pat Vermeersch, a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and faculty member at Kent State University College of Nursing, on a class project focused on designing a garment for an individual with a disability. The students were inspired by Sarah’s grandmother.
“She always tells me that I should design clothing for older individuals because they have such a difficult time finding things that fit right,” said Tothero. “We wanted to help someone in the community, someone who wasn’t an obvious choice.”
The students reached out to Dr. Vermeerch for assistance understanding the challenges this demographic faces. According to Dr. Vermeerch, 10,000 people turn 65 years old or older each day, and this will remain constant for the next 20 – 25 years. Baby boomers statistically have more education, more money, and are healthier than previous groups. Many have chosen to remain at home rather than live in a nursing home. The need for fashionable and adaptable clothing for older individuals is a timely issue.
“Traditional disability adaptive clothing for people in nursing homes doesn’t work well for people who live alone,” said Tothero. “Those pieces usually fasten on the shoulders so a nurse’s aide can assist in putting the garment on. People who live alone don’t always have help available.”
Oftentimes older women experience difficulty in finding clothing that fits properly because their proportions have changed.
“Osteoarthritis causes older individuals to lose mobility in their joints which makes fastening and unfastening behind the back difficult. Reduced strength, in addition to the limited mobility, makes crossing the arms to pull garments on and off a challenge as well,” said Dr. Vermeerch. “As we age, we also lose tone and definition in our arms, so sleeves don’t fit right anymore.”
Dr. Vermeersch stressed that many older adults suffer from incontinence issues and may wear disposable briefs. These individuals desire clothing designed so the briefs don’t show. Curvature of the spine, called Kyphosis, would require extra material on the back of a blouse or dress in order for it to hang evenly at the woman’s waist. From a visual aspect, many older women are drawn to bright colors because their eyes have lost the ability to distinguish pastels from white.
“Clothing needs to be designed in such a way that the older adult can maintain more independence,” said Dr. Vermeersch. “You don’t want something that is going to require someone else to help you put it on and off because you don’t have the flexibility.”
The students’ client echoed Dr. Vermeersch’s description of the clothing needs of the older adult woman.
“One problem our client had with plus sized clothing was trying to get shirts to fit her middle and arms,” said Weiss. “If she chose the correct size for her middle, the sleeves were huge.”
The trio designed a blouse and pants for their client out of a soft, stretchy fabric. The top has a bigger neck hole, while still providing the coverage the client sought, with sleeves that were designed proportionate to her specific arm width. The shirt fabric features a one-of-a-kind bright pattern custom designed by Weiss. Elastics on the sides of the pants make them easier to put on and take off.
The students agreed the most challenging part of their project was working with their client’s different proportions as they typically design garments for a size two dress form.
“I never thought clothing could be hard to pull over your head because I don’t have trouble with that yet,” said Weiss. “It’s been great to design from someone else’s perspective.”