How to have fun with fashion and look stylish in a wheelchair – a style interview with Alicia

by Sylvia

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Alicia is a truly inspiring style blogger. She is the perfect example of a stylish woman who does not let anything get in the way of looking her most stylish self. Alicia has cerebral palsey and spends a lot of time in her wheelchair, but she found that she felt so much better (and was taken a lot more seriously by others too) when she did not let that get in the way of dressing the best that she possibly manage. Find out more about this stylish blogger and get her best tips on dressing for a wheelchair too!

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

I was born with Cerebral Palsy, which is a condition caused by lack of oxygen to the brain, usually at birth. There are many different forms of CP. Mine affects my ability to walk well and my fine motor skills. It’s difficult for me to do some things that could easily be taken for granted, like typing or fastening a button. I also have facial tics so posing for pictures can be challenging. When I go out I use an electric wheelchair to get around, although on rare occasions I may use my walker or crutches. I am one of only a handful of disabled fashion bloggers on the Internet.

As a point of reference which age group do you belong to or perhaps you are willing to share your age?

I recently celebrated my 53rd birthday.

Black and blue outfit | 40plusstyle.com

Can you tell us a bit more about your blog Spashionista and why you created it?

It’s no secret that the disabled are the largest minority in the entire world. Not only do they have to overcome physical challenges on a daily basis they also have self-esteem issues and economic barriers to contend with. Spashionista started as a way for me to try and help disabled women overcome some major fashion challenges due to their disability or the medical equipment they use to function in everyday life. As time went on I realized that my message was also relevant to women over 40 and women in my town of Nashville, Tennessee. A great blog shouldn’t be afraid to grow its core message and that’s what I have gradually done over time.

With Spashionista I hope to share all of my passions expressed in my town with my physical limitations at my stage in life. That includes fashion and trends and giveaways geared towards older, curvier, and disenfranchised woman. But it also includes a glimpse at life in Nashville, which is one of the fastest- growing, cosmopolitan cities in the southern US, and a steady push towards social awareness and acceptance of the disabled. I believe a narrative that advocates for positive, lasting social changes can be entertaining as well as enlightening.

colorblocking | 40plusstyle.com

On your about page you described how paying more attention to your clothes, changed the way people approached you. Can you tell a bit more about that?

As a younger woman I used to be fairly oblivious about my personal appearance. I had enough things to worry about and fashion was very low on my list of priorities. People tended to overlook me completely and often spoke to my husband as though I wasn’t even there, something I always attributed to being disabled. But after seeing a few episodes of BBC’s “What Not To Wear” I started to wonder if it wasn’t at least in part due to my sloppy appearance. So I started making a conscious effort to dress in clothing that fit better and was more appropriate both to specific occasions and my body type. The difference in the way I was treated by others was night and day. Nowadays it’s rare for me to encounter a person who refuses to look at or talk to me. We may not want to admit that people judge a book by it’s cover, but that’s often the case – at least until they get to know you. I’ve found that if you make an effort to make as best a visual impression as you can it generally pays off.

Since you need to spend quite a lot of time in a wheelchair, which clothing works the best for you?

It honestly depends on the situation. As a general rule anything overly voluminous or too long doesn’t work because I run the risk of it getting caught in my wheels. About a year ago my better half rebuilt an electric wheelchair for me and that gives me more freedom in terms of clothing options. Because I no longer have to push I can carry a stylish satchel or clutch instead of having to wear a cross-body bag all the time, and heels are now possible as well. The main thing I have to worry about is how my outfits look from a seated position because that’s how everyone is likely to see them.

bright pink! | 40plusstyle.com

What are your best style and clothing tips for other women who need to spend a large amount of their time in a wheel chair?

The most important thing to remember is there is no hiding in a wheelchair. Even people who overlook you look you over first! The single biggest excuse I hear from disabled women is they can’t be comfortable and wear functional clothes that are also stylish. This simply isn’t true, but you have to honestly assess your wardrobe and be willing to look for pieces that work well and look good on you. Pay attention to the items in your current wardrobe that don’t interact with your chair very well and take note of why they aren’t working. For example, most women in wheelchairs should stay away from low rise jeans because throughout the day, as you readjust yourself in your seat, you run a high risk of sliding right out of your pants. Mid rise jeans work just as well and, given the right fit, are every bit as stylish. Oh, and find a decent tailor to do your alterations.

How would you describe your own style?

Classically feminine and sexy with a dash of trendy thrown in for good measure.

What would you consider the most important components of your style?

A great jacket goes a long way with me. I really don’t like my upper arms so I wear jackets year-round. Over tank tops in Summer; over sweaters in Winter. Because I’m very voluptuous a quality bra is a must! I tend to go for lower cut tops, too, or necklaces that draw the eye down, as well as pencil skirts. Jewelry, especially bracelets, are essential. So is a great hat every now and then. My love of shoes is fairly obvious to my readers. I often wear as high a heel as I can stand in.

Where do you live and how does that influence your style?

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, which is currently beginning to be recognized as a great, up-and-coming metropolis for the New South in the US. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to cover Nashville Fashion Week 2014 and I write extensively about Music City’s local designers and vendors. The gaudy, rhinestone-covered Country and Western wear has all but disappeared from here. Instead, Nashville finds itself an epicenter for the Hipster and Boho-Chic fashion movements. In addition to lots of denim, which has always been a fashion staple here, I love wearing local designers like Project Runway Alumnus Amanda Valentine when they have pieces that suit me.

How to look great in a wheelchair | 40plusstyle.com

What inspires your outfit choices the most?

Besides the obvious variables like weather and venue I really think about what message I want to send with my outfit.

Do you take things like color profiling or body type into account when you dress?

Absolutely! There not much point in making an effort if the end result is unflattering. It’s important to know what shapes, styles and colors look good and adjust accordingly.

Looking good in a wheelchair | 40plusstyle.com

Has your style changed at all after turning 40?

It has, and more so after turning 50. Now it’s much more about quality than quantity. I’m smarter about what I need and what looks good on me. Gone are all the unflattering shapes – the cap sleeves, capri pants, short-shorts – along with the notion that just because I love a garment doesn’t mean it will look good on me. It has to be flattering or it will make me look old!

Do you believe in dressing ‘age appropriately’ and what does it mean to you?

I think that phrase means different things to different people. Some would argue that my Music City Hipster tank top isn’t age appropriate, but If I pair it with indigo skinny jeans, a crisp cotton jacket and some cork wedges I think it’s perfect. I’m also Petite and I think Petite proportions lend themselves to dressing a little younger and getting away with it.

Would you say that at this stage of your life you are now more, or less interested in fashion, style and the way you look?

Much more! The older I get the more urgency I feel in relaying the message that fashion is for everyone out there. I do everything I can to stay healthy and be active, so I’m going to take pride and pleasure in dressing the body I have today. It’s a lot of fun, too!

Which of the outfits on your blog are personal favorites and why?

Obviously, the two outfits that are on the Spashionista.com header. They’re both very simple seasonal representations of my casual style. On the opposite end of the spectrum I also really love the dress I wore to Thanksgiving dinner last year.

lace outfit | 40plusstyle.com

I’m pretty pleased with how I styled my Amanda Valentine navy and taupe graphic tunic to show it in an age-appropriate light.

short blue dress | 40plusstyle.com

My latest Stitch Fix outfit is the epitome of my Summer uniform.

pattern mixing | 40plusstyle.com

Do you follow trends? And if yes, which trends excite you at the moment?

The black and white trend has really grown on me. I think black can be difficult to wear so it comes as a surprise. The shorter, looser tops and narrower pants are great, too. My favorite current trends are the wedge sandals, especially the corkies, because they were popular when I was in High School.

Do you have any fashion and style tips for women over 40?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. No matter how old you are, you can still have a vibrant, authentic personality and express it in what you wear. But you’re not a young woman anymore and you can’t wear what you did when you were 20 years old anymore. You have evolved as a person; so should your wardrobe.

What are your plans for your blog and how do you see it develop over the coming years?

I’d like to continue to focus on content that has a positive impact on anyone who reads Spashionista.com. If you think about it my core audience – disabled, curvy, older people as well as Nashvillians with an interest in fashion – are not privy to the same fashions as the able-bodied, young, and thin living in major cities. I’d like to reach as wide an audience as possible (and that includes fashion industry people and clothing companies) and show them that there is beauty in being different as long as you’re being true to who you are.

Anything further you would like to add?

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions and for the honor of being featured here on 40+style!

Alicia is a true inspiration, so be sure to check out her blog Spashionista right now!

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Suzanne

Wonderful informative interview.

bisous
Suzanne

Patti

Alicia is one of my favorite bloggers, and it’s great to learn more about her here. Thanks, Sylvia!

Greetje Kamminga

Alicia is a very undertaking woman. And I am sure she is a role model. I was surprised to read that it made such a difference in being noticed in a wheelchair when she took more interest in how she was dressed. That BBC programme What Not To Wear, has a great impact on lots of people (I always loved it).
You can see that Alicia is having a lot of fun with clothes, fashion and her blog. Good on her.

Spashionista (Alicia)

Thank you , Sylvia, for letting me share with you and your readers here at 40+Style! I almost never have time to say a whole lot, but I take notice of a lot of my fellow 40+ fashionistas, and I can unequivocally say that most of you have had an influence on me. The most exciting part of this whole journey for me is when other women tell me I helped them find their own style and feel better about who they are. So let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who have put yourselves out there and continually show the world that fashion is for everybody. YOU inspire me!

Alicia
spashionista.com

Amy Vandivere

This is sooo well written. I’m thinking about moving to Nashville in the next month and I would very much like to meet her and get to know her as a person in the community.

Spashionista (Alicia)

Look me up when you get here, Amy. I’ll be happy to meet you and show you around if you like!

Amelya

Thank you Alicia, you are one good blogger, so many helpful information you wrote in your personal blog.

Melanie

Thanks, Sylvia, for this interview. Alicia has great style! I love her blog and have been particularly impressed by her advice to retailers about how they can make their stores more inclusive for a range of markets. I hope they listen up! She’s absolutely right – there is incredible dynamism in diversity.

Elaine

Alicia is a remarkable woman! I love her looks and her use of color, especially the pink tunic with jeans and the black embellished top with statement necklace. Her funky style is so appropriate for Nashville. A great city.

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