Home - National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Skip to navigation Skip to content



InsideMS | Archives


Good Looking, Good Feeling

by Joyce Render Cohen and Gayle R. Dinerstein


MS can change everything—from the way you feel to the way you look. Self-esteem, that vital part of living life to the fullest, often takes a hit. But how to boost self-esteem when fatigue, limited mobility, poor eyesight, and your budget are in the way?

Our sister, Evelyn Render Katz, OTR/L, states a basic principle from her perspective as an occupational therapist: “Don’t give up wearing things that make you feel good. Just find ways to modify.”

Here are some ideas and resources that might help you look sharp, from the top of your head (reached with a long-handled hair brush) to the tips of your shoes (tied with elastic laces).


Happily, comfort is a key word in fashion today, for women and men. This is a boon for all of us living with MS. From Armani to Wal-Mart, there’s a lot of emphasis on fabrics and styles that move with the body, that are flattering and feel good, too.

If your body doesn’t move easily anymore, or you’re using a cane, crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair, it’s a good idea to go through your wardrobe.

Velcro front shirt
Courtesy Buck & Buck
Many items can be altered to suit your present needs. Shortening a jacket a few inches can make a huge difference if you’re sitting most of the time. If fastening buttons has become a problem, have them sewn onto the outside of shirts or dresses, and have Velcro strips put inside to hold the garment shut.

When having items altered, or even ordering from catalogs or on the Internet, have someone take new measurements for the way you stand or sit now. Many catalog companies and department stores do alterations. So do many dry cleaners. Hemlines, pant legs, garment backs, and shirt sleeves may all need adjustments to make your old favorites workable and comfortable or your new purchases fit properly.

Clothes shopping ideas

From jeans to dress clothes and even business suits, look for Lycra or Spandex in the fiber content. They make fabrics more pliable, and you want to avoid anything binding or uncomfortable. But be careful. Long flowing sleeves, extra-wide pant legs, or voluminous skirts can be annoying or even hazardous if they can become entangled with your mobility aid.

Wheelchair users may want to explore the companies that design clothing specifically for people with disabilities. The Internet or mail order catalogs are the most convenient way to view what they have. (See Resources, page 53.) And whether you shop in department stores, discount outlets, second-hand shops, through catalogs, or on the Web, remember:

  • Bright, flattering colors can really lift your spirits.
  • Button- and zipper-free garments are easier to use.

  • If you do select a zippered garment, look for large zippers, in the front.
Courtesy Canes Extraordinaire
  • Fabrics that are soft, non-binding, and washable are a must.

  • Pants need a shortened waist and a roomier backside.

  • Men’s ties are available pre-knotted, clip-on, slip-on, or with a zipper.

  • Business suits for men can be difficult. Try the companies in the Resource section. A tailor who can alter your suits could be worth the investment.

For those who spend
much time in bed

  • See if you can find someone to sew colorful hospital-type gowns for you. The design is comfortable and practical, but many ready-mades are often drab.

  • Super-soft, washable, stretchable fabrics are important. Satiny fabrics will help you move more easily.

  • Think of your sheets as your fashion accessories. You can choose sheets the same way you choose a scarf or necktie. Look for colors that complement or contrast your coloring or clothing.


For women who’ve always been shoe addicts, the change to lower-heeled footwear can feel devastating. Especially today when fashion decrees strappy, backless, high-heeled, pointed-toe styles. Guys who can’t wear their beloved sandals or boots may also feel hard-hit. Your new best friend may be your local shoe repairer.

  • Old or new shoes can often have the heels adjusted, and even 1/4” can make a huge difference in their comfort and walkability. Find the heel height that works best for you.
Shoe with velcro closure
Courtesy Acor
  • With so many rubber-soled shoes in the stores, the smooth, leather bottoms that allow one to glide along are harder to find. Your shoe “magician” may be able to change that by adding leather or sanding down part of the sole.

  • Some shoes or sandals can have a strap added so they won’t slip off.

You may be facing some other footgear challenges:

  • If tying shoes is difficult, try elastic shoelaces, slip-ons, or styles with Velcro fasteners. For women, there are shoes with elastic insets that slip on while the strap is fastened.

  • Poor leg circulation often means that a larger, wider shoe is necessary.

  • Save energy with a long-handled shoehorn to avoid bending down to put shoes on.

  • If you need compression stockings, many styles and sheerness are now available for men and women. Micro-fiber stockings are the easiest to pull on.

Hair care

We all know how good the right haircut can make us feel. With MS, you’ll need to consider your energy and your ability to maintain a suggested style. Try calling local beauty/barber schools. They may have services at affordable prices. Once you have that good cut, help yourself to “good hair” days:

  • Buy a hands-free dryer with a clip that attaches to a wall. Or buy a stand in which you can place your present dryer. Either way, set it up so air can be directed to the right spot without tiring yourself.

  • If blow-drying is impossible, try a hairstyle that you can finish by just running a comb, brush, or your hands through it.

Hair dryer stand
Courtesy Active Forever
  • If you can’t do your hair yourself, ask a family member, caregiver, or best friend for help. Or ask your hair-care professional. Some make home visits.

  • Try a dry, no-rinse shampoo when you are too tired or no one can help you.

  • Consider buying a wig or a hairpiece. It’s a fast way to look good.

  • Hair color gives men and women an instant lift. There are many choices—shampoo-in, semi-permanent, or permanent—to be done at home or in a salon. The spray-on, wash-out type gives you a chance to try a color without any permanent effects.


Men, don’t skip this section. Barbara Dahlbeck, a beauty consultant who works with patients at Methodist Hospital in Omaha, tells us, “A bit of blush and lip color can make all the difference in how most women look and feel. For men, a good moisturizer and a brush of bronzing powder, dusted over the face, can have the same effect.” Give it a try and see.

To get the look you want, you’ll need a magnifying mirror. Some can be clamped onto the bathroom counter. Others have stands or easel-backs. If low vision or fatigue make it difficult, it’s still possible to apply makeup easily. Set up an area where you can sit. Rest your elbows on the sink or counter. For lip liner and lipstick, simply put the color up to your mouth and follow the contour of your lips. For mascara, put the wand at the base of your eyelash. While holding it there, brush your eyelash against it. Powdered blush can be applied with a light swirl and then smoothed with fingertips.

Don’t be afraid to use budget-priced cosmetics; they are often just as good as the costly ones. And before deciding to buy powder, liquid, or wet/dry makeup, consider how much manual dexterity you have.

Makeup tips:

  • Powdered makeups need no water. Several brands are made from natural minerals and won’t harm your skin if left on overnight. Simply dip a brush in, shake the excess off, and brush it over your skin. The effect can be quite natural.
Long handled combs and brushes
Courtesy Active Forever
  • If you have trouble with your hands, you can have someone else fill the brush for you. One filling will last for several sessions of makeup.

  • Liquid makeup can be applied with fingertips or a cosmetic sponge. It is the most widely used and easiest to find.

  • The combination wet/dry foundation may be the best choice, as it can be used either way. Use a brush to apply it dry or use a moistened sponge to apply it wet.

  • Eye makeup comes in powdered, iquid, or pencil forms, but the self-sharpening wand is easier to apply.

  • Don’t toss a mascara tube that’s nearly finished. It can be used to darken brows or touch up hair color at the roots.

  • To cut your costs, try a dab of moisturizer combined with a dab of lipstick for a blusher.

  • A dab of petroleum jelly will give the same effect as lip gloss and keep your lips moist.


Men who shave every day need a good electric shaver, for use while seated in front of a mirror. Rest your elbows on the counter or tabletop for support. Women may find that shaving their legs poses special problems. Liquid depilatories may be easier to manage. Men might decide a beard is a good solution. Beards need to be combed, cleaned, and trimmed regularly—and there are special electric shavers designed for the job.

Manicures and pedicures

Well-manicured hands are noticed. They will add to your pride, whether your nails are simply buffed and natural or you show up with press-on fingernails and nail art in six colors. Both men and women benefit from the human touch of a manicure or pedicure, and having someone inspect your hands and feet for cuts or sores could be a boon to your health.

  • If a professional manicure/pedicure is beyond your budget, area beauty school prices are generally much lower. Or enlist a friend, family member, or caregiver.
Long handled toenail clipper
Courtesy Active Forever
  • Using extra-large nail clippers with a magnifying lens can make trimming easier and safer.

Mobility aids

Whether it’s a decorated cane, or one that is sculpted as a work of art, you can think of your mobility aid as an extension of your fashion statement. Many wheelchairs and walkers come in colors, and while the color doesn’t change the fact that you need to use it, a snappy-looking aid can brighten your mood and make people around you feel more comfortable. Ask your vendor about blue, black, red, or pink! If you’re stuck with a “medical” looking chair, add a great fabric cover for the back.

Energy-conserving tips

Looking good takes energy, as does everything else you do. Our sister Evelyn reminds us to use energy wisely:

  • Choose the time of day when you have the most energy to do the things that are the most difficult.

  • Sit to work, even if you are able to stand. Standing takes 8% more energy than sitting.

Folding sliding transfer bench
Courtesy Active Forever
  • Use a tub bench or bath seat in your tub or shower, and purchase a hand-held shower attachment.

  • Use long tongs or a reacher to help put on pants or to reach anything below hip level.

  • Keep items you need for each daily activity together, and store the most frequently used items between eye and hip level.

Looking good is really good for you. “A lot of who we are is defined by our interactions with others,” said Dr. Loren Rolak, director of the Marshfield MS Center in Wisconsin. “Keeping yourself up shows that you still are who you are. Anything you can do to foster that feeling will help you.”




Hair dryer stand and long-handled comb/brush: www.activeforever.com; 800-377-8033

Hands-free hair dryer holder: www.colonialmedical.com; 800-323-6794

Long hair brush: www.healthquest-nf.com

Hair-color combs
Clubman Color Comb—available at Walgreens pharmacies or on the Web. Just wet and comb through hair for easy color touch-ups. www.walgreens.com

Coloring brush
New Basics Coloring Brush is an easier way to color at home. Put hair color in the brush and apply. www.folica.com; 888-919-4247

Self-sharpening eye and lip liners
Jordana Cosmetics—inexpensive, but good quality. At pharmacies or on the Web. www.jordanacosmetics.com; 800-726-4147


Eneslow—makes custom orthotics, repairs and modifies shoes. www.eneslow.com; 800-785-0880

Dr. Leonard’s Health Care Catalogue—A great source for Dr. Scholls shoes—boots, slippers, dress shoes, sneakers, sandals. www.drleonards.com; 800-785-0880

Buck & Buck Designs—Shoes and slippers with Velcro closings. Accent on comfort. www.buckandbuck.com;

Reyer’s Shoes—Very large selection of name brands, from Clarkes to Trotters, for men and women, in hard-to-find, extra-wide sizes. www.reyers.com; 800-245-1550

Footsmart—Great source of items for problem feet and other lower-body needs. www.footsmart.com; 800-870-7149

Taryn Rose Shoes—High-style, low heels, designed for women by an orthopedic surgeon. www.tarynrose.com;

Dressing aids

ShoeValet—The “easy way” to put on shoes or boots. www.shoevalet.com; 918-250-3124

Compression stockings

Ames Walker, International—For men and women. www.supporthosiery.com; 877-525-7224

Venosan; www.venosanusa.com; 800-432-5347

Nail-care tools

Independent Living Aids, Inc.—for nail clipper devices. www.independentliving.com; 800-537-2118

Turbo Long-Handled Toenail Clipper
www.activeforever.com; 800-377-8033


Buck & Buck Designs—Listed above for shoes, they also offer clothing and accessories. www.buckandbuck.com;

Care Apparel—Clothing, accessories and footwear with emphasis on meeting special needs. www.careapparel.com;

Clothing Solutions—Emphasis on easy dressing for people with physical limitations. www.clothingsolutions.com;

eBay—The listings are extensive and ever-changing. www.ebay.com

Rolli-Moden—Many styles for active wheelchair users, including jeans, business suits, and great rain gear. www.rolli-moden.com; 800-707-2395

Men’s ties

The Tie Site; www.thetiesite.com

Ties And Knots; www.tiesandknots.com

Silvert’s; www.silverts.com; 800-387-7088

Mobility aids

Always consult your physical therapist or MS nurse, about proper fit and usage of any mobility aid. Be sure of function first. Then go for fashion!


Canes Galore—Over 900 canes, walking sticks and accessories. www.canesgalore.com; 800-346-6400

The Walking Cane People—All kinds of styles, colors, and sizes. www.walkingcanepeople.com; 360-693-1383
(inquiries); 888-399-4870 (orders)

Fashionable Canes—Canes with seats, canes with flashlights, and more. Dozens of accessories. www.fashionablecanes.com; 877-890-7677, Mon.–Fri.
9:30–5:30 EST


For additional information

Joyce Render Cohen and Gayle R. Dinerstein are frequent contributors to InsideMS. Joyce has lived with MS for 18 years.

| Back to Archives
This article originally appeared in the October-December 2004 issue of InsideMS.
Last updated December 2006.