Fashion help for the Blind
In my last blog post, I wrote about how I as a vision impaired woman apply makeup. I even created Blind Life episode 3: How the Blind Put on Makeup because so many people had wondered how I managed to make myself presentable in public.
This week, along the same lines, I’m going to talk about one of my (and many women’s) favorite pastimes: shopping.
“You’re looking more and more celebrity every time I see you,” a friend recently said. “How do you manage such a cute wardrobe?”
Before I lost my vision, one of the best ways to spend a Saturday, in my opinion, was to venture to malls and stores by myself and power-shop. And then when I lost my vision, the mall became treacherous territory: the crowds were overwhelming, the racks and displays were dangerous, and the escalator…well, you get the idea. I tried to resort to online shopping, but that presented a whole new problem: how will I know how a shirt feels or a pair of jeans fits without my ability to@ touch it? Remember that after we lose our sight, our fingers become our “eyes,” our sense of touch becomes our vision. Yes, there are screen readers that tell me the description of an item of clothing, but that still doesn’t give enough detail. It was a dilemma.
Because I am fortunate to have a great group of female cousins and girlfriends that know my style and know the latest trends, I’ve never had much trouble when it came to picking out dresses, jackets, shoes, and so on. Depending on with whom I’m shopping, my bags that day end up full of apparel that are mostly my style with a hint of that of my friend’s. Sometimes it’s frustrating not to be able to walk in to a store and immediately see what I like, but I trust my friends and cousins enough to make appropriate selections for me. Besides, not being able to see definitely keeps my spending in check—no more, “It just caught my eye…”
But what happens when your friends are unavailable? I wish I had enough money to pay a personal stylist/shopper, but alas, I am a D-celebrity at best, so I have to find alternatives. Here are additional ways I keep up with the [fashion] times and obtain shopping assistance.
InStyle on Sight Into Sound
Per my personal request, my favorite fashion magazine is now being read, broadcasted, and recorded by Sight into Sound, a Houston-based non-profit that makes print materials (among other things) accessible for the vision and learning impaired by turning “sight into sound.” I’ve been a long-time client at Sight into Sound, having sent them some novels I’d been assigned to read during grad school that were not available in audio format anywhere else. I also recently attended one of their fun annual Dining in the Dark events where everyone, including myself, ate a full coursed dinner blindfolded without knowing what was on the menu. This month, I’ve been listening to the May issue of InStyle magazine, which contains the “Best Beauty Buys.” It’s from InStyle that I know snakeskin prints, floral patterns, and mismatched stud earrings are in the mode.
Gilt is like an online sample sale: find designer labels at discounted prices for a limited time. My girlfriends have been shopping on Gilt for years. They find a lot of nice stuff for cheap, but I’ve hesitated to get started on Gilt for fear of depleting my bank account. Gilt is also available as an app for your smart phone. A good way to pass the time, but be forewarned.
Think of Stitch Fix as your virtual personal stylist. Upon joining, you fill out a questionnaire so your stylist gets an understanding of your personal style and fashion preferences. There is no membership fee. At your whim, you can request a package be delivered to you, and in a few days, dresses, shirts, skirts, and/or earrings (totaling five items) will arrive on your doorstep. You try on the clothes and accessories, decide which you’d like to keep, and Stitch Fix debits your credit card the appropriate costs of the items. You send the rest back, and voila, you’ve just added to your closet. If you find you don’t like any of the items you were sent, you can send them all back, and you only have to pay a small fee (most likely to help with overhead costs)—I think it’s, like, $20. This is a good option if you like to have a few new things every month or so, without the hassle of finding parking at the mall and then trying on in the fitting room with the deceiving mirrors, and then waiting again in line to pay.
Swirl is an app you download on to your smart phone which acts like a virtual personal shopper upon you entering a retail store. The app uses a location tracking device to know when, say, you’re entering Zara and can provide you with assistance locating an item and/or special promotions and coupons for your purchase. It can also give you outfit ideas and suggestions based on the store you’re in. And because the iPhone has a built-in screen reader, a blind shopper could identify what she’s looking for on her phone via a description and then (with a little help) find her way to the appropriate rack or shelf. Swirl attempts to make the retail shopping experience personal and more convenient, though I guess a blind person would still need to find her way to the store itself.
Just because I can’t see myself doesn’t mean I don’t care how I look; others can still see me! Do you, whether sighted or not, use any of the above services or apps? What do you think? Know of any additional services and products that would make shopping as a blind person easier? What are your tips for vision impaired shoppers?