Nowadays, social media is giving us all front row access to red carpet events all over the world. Whether we like it or not, what we see on the red carpet is a reflection of the fabric of our society as a whole. Aside from the mounting pressure to look exquisite and promote change on the red carpet, wheelchair users face a mountain of other problems at these supposedly ‘inclusive’ events.
Social and political issues have been brought to light on the red carpet by stars such as Billie Eilish and her “No Music on a Dead Planet” top , Lady Gaga and her infamous meat dress and Jennifer Nettles with her hot-pink train which read: “Play Our F—-n Records Please & Thank You.”.
These intentional ‘protest fashion statements’ are iconic in their own right and put the spotlight on key social issues such as climate change, veganism and gender equality. It’s beautiful to see these stars using their platform for the greater good. What could be more iconic than that?
The red carpet is literally causing friction.
David Proud is BBC One’s first visibly disabled, regular actor. He has also appeared in EastEnders, Doctor Who and Marcella. During an interview in 2018, David Proud recalled having to wheel alongside the red carpet at an event because the friction between the material of the red carpet and his wheelchair made it too difficult for him to move.
David’s attendance at the event that evening unintentionally turned the red carpet into a shameful metaphor for the film industry: an industry in which wheelchair users are now ‘included’ but are still figuratively, and literally pushed to the outskirts.
Surely in a time when we have waterproof materials, heatproof materials and even bulletproof materials, we could think of an alternative to the current restrictive fabric of the red carpet.
Katie Price, whose eldest son, Harvey Price, has disabilities, recently criticised other celebrities with autistic children for not using their platform to raise awareness of Autism. Price said that by not speaking out, it seems like they are ashamed or embarrassed of their children’s disability.
Whilst this is a positive message, it wasn’t all that long ago that Price herself described her experience of being wheelchair-bound as ‘demoralising’ and ‘humiliating’. She even went as far to say that she was ‘surprised’ that her handsome boyfriend stayed with her despite the fact that she was in a wheelchair.
Does ‘comfy’ always have to mean ‘casual’?
After falling off a 25ft wall on holiday, Katie Price shattered the bones in both her feet and ended up in a wheelchair. Her arrival at a red carpet event in 2020 in a wheelchair had the potential to uproot the stigma associated with wheelchairs and their users, but in many ways, it did the opposite.
Whilst she normalised the use of a wheelchair by attending, it’s important to remember that she was accompanied by her boyfriend, Carl Woods. He pushed her wheelchair over restrictive red carpet all evening, a luxury that not all wheelchair users have. Additionally, although her hair and makeup were finished to perfection, it was hard not to notice that she sported a much more ‘comfy-casual’, and arguably less ‘glamorous’ outfit than usual.
So, what’s the significance of Katie Price attending a red carpet event in a wheelchair wearing a fairly casual outfit? Is it an act of defiance against the glitz and glamour of the red carpet in favour of ‘comfort being key’? Is it an announcement that flowing gowns and slick pant suits are reserved for the able-bodied guests whilst comfier options such as leggings and a designer T shirts are reserved for those in wheelchairs? Or is it the case that ‘glamorous’ dresses and outfits simply aren’t designed with wheelchair users in mind?
“OMG, I’ve got nothing to wear!”
Stephanie Thomas, a fashion blogger, producer and founder of Cur8able, recognised that there's simply weren’t enough accessible fashion options for people with disabilities. She developed the DISABILITY FASHION STYLING SYSTEM (DFSS) which states that all clothing, accessories and footwear must be ACCESSIBLE, SMART, FASHIONABLE.
Stephanie Thomas went on to present a TED talk about her own experiences as a person with a ‘non-severe disability’. She highlighted the struggles faced by people with disabilities when it comes to finding fashion that they can wear and still feel good in. She rounded off her inspiring talk with a mini ‘adaptive fashion’ fashion show.
When any of us are invited to a swanky event, one of our first thoughts is: “OMG, what am I going to wear?!”. For many wheelchair users, the first thought is often: “OMG, what CAN I wear?!”. Companies like Cur8able are crucial to changing the lives of people with disabilities and normalising adaptive fashion.
After many years, big name brands like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger have finally launched adaptive clothing lines which could give people with disabilities the opportunity to get that magical feeling when you throw on your glad rags and feel ready to take on the world.
It’s 2021. People with disabilities deserve better than to be pushed aside or expected to sacrifice looking glamorous or smart. We must give people with disabilities the true ‘red-carpet treatment’.