by Maribel Steel
When author and inspirational speaker, Maribel Steel gives presentations on’What it is like to be visually-impaired’, one question will ALWAYS be asked, “How do you know what you are wearing?” Her simple answer is – choosing one’s clothing is a matter of feeling first, then seeing how it all fits together. When you feel good in what you wear, you will look great!
Following are her responses to questions she was asked recently…
How important is fashion and style to you?
Fashion is fun. I enjoy feeling garments which allows me to visualise the world of ever changing trends. I think it’s a ‘girlie’ thing – taking delight in touching clothes, lingerie, shoes, dabbing on perfumes or smelling leather hand bags because it is highly enjoyable. The other reason for my ever-readiness to touch the world around me is because it is not normally permitted in galleries or museums so when I am in a store or market place, it allows me to touch all sorts of objects I can’t see and by doing so, I feel less excluded from the visual world.
What sort of fabrics do you enjoy the most?
Soft fabrics, satin trims, things with buttons and bows. I layer my outfits with flowing chiffon tops. Lingerie is another one of my touchy-feely delights – as it is worn close to the skin. I believe that when you begin the first layer of clothing feeling feminine, you will wear the dress with an upright back and carry an air of chic – like a proud Spanish Lipizzaner!
What are your considerations when choosing garments?
Apart from seeking comfort and prettiness of garment, I take quite a while to scout out an item as I examine the texture carefully and the cut by feeling the collar, shape etc. I know what styles suit me by past experience. Then I quiz the shop assistant for the colour and price and if it passes these two questions, I will buy it.
What shops do you frequent the most and why?
I visit the local stores where the shop keepers know me and are quick to offer help – even though it might be more expensive, the price of being looked after is well worth it. But I do have to be in the right mood as it takes a lot of concentration to keep track of my movement around the store, to avoid prams and other obstacles. Sometimes the bumping from one object off another can feel like being inside a live pinball machine and if I can’t cope I will leave the store.
What challenges do you face when shopping?
Some of the main challenges include trying to locate the right shop and entrance. Then there is manoeuvring around a shop I have not been in before and avoiding the racks while keeping the cane tight in one hand, the other loose to stray over fabrics. I must be very careful that the clothing I am feeling is on a mannequin and not the clothing of another shopper!
One fashion item that is hard to choose on my own are sunglasses. Often whoever is with me will pick the style they like and then when I wear them, my family will comment “who helped you to buy those sunglasses?” which means – they wouldn’t have chosen them for me. How important to you are the perceptions of others of you fashion wise?
I like to show that blind or visually-impaired women can enjoy being colour co-ordinated, wear smart and trendy gear and enjoy fashion just as much as our sighted friends do. People are often surprised to see me turn up at a function in a fashionable dress with lovely bag and jacket. I am surprised by their reaction – why wouldn’t a vision-impaired woman be dressed well? I also have a passion for smelling fragrances at perfume counters and put my nose to the test to pinpoint individual scent molecules from cleverly concocted blends. The art of wearing fragrance – that’s another story.
Maribel Steel is an author, writer, blogger, mother and vocalist. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner and teenage son. She was diagnosed at fifteen with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Maribel writes about places to feel, sounds and textures to explore as well as sharing insights on crafting The Art of Being Blind. She has self-published a book of short stories (memoir) and has several articles featured in various journals and blogs.