Shopping. A real marmite of a pastime. For some, it’s a joyous occasion filled with dummy catwalks, struts and selfies. For others, it’s a gauntlet sure to end in sweat, tears and pure, unadulterated boredom. There’s the people who try the clothes on – the shoppers, and the people who carry the clothes – the walking coat hangers. We’ve all been there and whether you think owning your look is fabulous or frightening it’s an inescapable part of life for near enough every one of us.
Personally, I like shopping. Sorry, I like shopping for me. I have never lacked confidence in walking into a high street store and picking out an armful of clothes that I think make me look “cool” (a near impossible task). However, over the years my experience of shopping has changed somewhat and that is largely down to lymphoedema.
Shopping for clothes involves a lot of standing around
Park the car, walk to the high street, get your bearings. Locate the shop you’re keen to visit, plan route accordingly. Enter shop, browse racks. Lose shopping partner, relocate shopping partner. Critique their choice, show them your finds. Agree you could find nicer/cheaper/more weather appropriate items elsewhere. Leave shop, locate next shop. Repeat X4. Go for lunch. Go back to first shop, try on items. Go to till. Purchase, leave, return to swap item. Grab coffee. Spot sale. Stand in thirty person queue all for a reduced bomber jacket even though it’s mid-July. Lose car.
Sound familiar? Thought so. Standing on your feet for hours at a time can be really sore when your legs are swollen with lymphoedema. By the end of the first hour I am usually waddling from seat to seat. If I am shopping with my girlfriend and we enter a women’s only clothing store I immediately head for the nearest stool. If there is no stool I sit on the floor like a child. If I am really brave, I will ask for the seat inside the waiting area of the changing rooms but that can sometimes attract strange looks.
Often I end up cutting short my girlfriend’s shopping time because I simply can’t last. If the words i’ll come back later leave her mouth I usually breathe a heavy sigh as I know I will probably be in considerable pain by the time later arrives. If I am tired and she holds up two options asking which I prefer, I am likely to pick the option that requires the least amount of trying on. Now this isn’t a major drama in our relationship, but I do feel if you are the nominated shopping partner you should do your bit – especially for your girlfriend. Especially for your girlfriend that supports you with your various lymphoedema-clothing related anxieties.
Trying on clothes is difficult
You know when it’s winter time and the inside of every building is hot like a furnace? Yeah. That. I dislike that a lot. Not only do you dehydrate but you sweat. Compression garments are not comfortable at the best of times and sweating only makes them more uncomfortable. Constantly taking clothes on and off drains your energy and after trying on one singular corduroy shirt (i’m edgy like that) i’ve usually had enough.
For a couple of years, until recently, I refused to wear shorts because I was either too embarrassed or because none fitted my leg right. In fact, I outrightly refused all cream shorts because paired with my beige compression garment I looked an old British colonial general – that’s not a look i’m down with. I could either wear fashionable shorts that cut the circulation to my leg or I could wear baggy shorts that screamed “world’s best dad”.
I mentioned earlier how nominated shopping partners should “do their bit”. I say this lightly and don’t mean you should carry bags around like a donkey, but more that you should offer some real advice or opinions to your shopping partner. I understand for some people this isn’t possible as they quite literally take the “able” out of fashionable but, if you’re like me, you appreciate people’s honesty.
My girlfriend fills me with confidence when it comes to clothing. I have two legs that take two different sizes. Finding trousers is a sensitive subject for me and if there is even a hint of discomfort they’re straight in the no pile. That’s why I appreciate it when she tells me that I look good or helps me to find a different fit. I’ve stopped wearing skinny jeans because they hurt too much and look ridiculous on me. I now go for looser fitting “tapered” trousers which give me more room around the knee.
I have tried on countless pairs of trousers over the past few years. Most of them don’t work or don’t fit. That is possibly the most frustrating part of shopping with lymphoedema. You can walk into a shop, see all kinds of clothes you’d love to wear, but know almost immediately they won’t fit you correctly. Shoes are a real problem area too. I’ve seen countless lymphies struggle with shoes as you can’t buy them in a different size for each foot – if your lymphoedema is in one leg that is. You either have to walk in giant’s shoes or squeeze your feet in. Or, buy a pair you don’t like purely to avoid discomfort. I bought a pair of Dr Martins a while back. Quality shoes that can last me a life time. The only problem is I can’t break them in as they hurt too much – the leather literally cuts into my swollen ankle.
So, in summary, I still love to shop. However, there are burning issues around accessibility and fashion that need serious attention. Too many people of varying disabilities struggle to find and access clothes they love which seems like such a fixable problem if it was given time buy those abled/in power. I am blessed with a slim frame, but there are men (and women) who are forced into wearing clothes they hate as they simply have no alternative. In an upcoming blog I will give some examples of clothes which are kind on my lymphoedema but still look a bit more fashionable. Well, in my opinion at least.
Got any tips on shopping with lymphoedema? Let me hear them!