Yoga pants and oversized sweatshirts may be everywhere these days (welcome back, 1985!), but some events and occasions require a more stylish look. Even if you don’t have to go to work every day and your idea of a social outing is a stroll around the grocery store, it is important to remember that your outside can sometimes affect your inside. Taking our cue from the Slightly Distressed Damsel’s humorous (and helpful!) take on stylish clothes for even the most painful days, here are some style hacks for chronic pain patients that are easy, on trend, and ready to wear.

1. Think layers

One of the toughest parts of a chronic pain condition is regulating body temperature. Late summer and fall temperatures can make this even trickier. Whether you are on the east coast, waking up to temperatures in the 50s that rise to the low 80s by the end of the day, or out west where fall can mean rain and fog in the morning with clear skies in the afternoon, layering is the best part of stylish dressing.

A light camisole or tank under a body-skimming open-weave sweater and light jacket offer multiple levels of warmth. Pants can be loose and flowing, either skimming the tops of the feet or cropped as culottes. Top it off with a long silk scarf (wrapped in 25 different ways), and you are ready to go!

2. Be mindful of fabrics

When it seems like every nerve in your body is tingling with pain, the last thing you want to do is put synthetic, heat-trapping fabrics on your skin. Look for natural, flowing fabrics like organic cotton, cashmere, and silk, especially for those articles of clothing or undergarments that are in first contact with flesh. Bras should be wire-free and made of soft, natural fabric, and undershirts or other intimate articles can be of either silk or cotton. Natural fabrics are less constricting and also keep your body cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Lightweight wool is also a great choice for shoulder seasons, as it is both warm and cool at the same time. Wool of any finish can be scratchy, so look for the best quality to minimize skin irritation.

3. Find your own style

The luckiest of the stylish can wear anything they pull off the rack, but for the rest of us, the cut of clothing is very important. There is no sense in cramming yourself into an uncomfortable skirt or dress because it looks good on someone else. Find your own style and shop that. Do you love the feel and look of free-flowing fabrics and long skirts? These are appropriate and comfortable for any time of year. Pair them with sandals in the summer and tall boots in the winter. Like a more structured look but don’t want to feel constricted or squeezed? Look for tailored jackets and pants in natural fabric blends like wool and cotton.

The trick is to find pieces of clothing that you love and then figure out why you love them. Is it the color? The fabric? The cut (e.g., is it on the bias or ruched/gathered)? Once you figure out why you love certain pieces of clothing, begin to build your wardrobe around those styles.

For days that are especially painful, find a “uniform” (like the capsule wardrobe mentioned below) and focus on accessories. Pants with an elastic waistband and a long, loose tunic top look great with flats and a beautiful necklace. This outfit is just as effortless as sweatpants and a loose t-shirt but infinitely more stylish.

4. Spend more for quality

This can be a tricky but essential part of style for chronic pain. It’s a catch-22: you want to look stylish and you want quality, but it’s hard to find well-made pieces you can afford. If money is tight, it’s best to focus on buying a few quality basics that will last and adding to your wardrobe as you can afford it.

Bras, for example, can be a difficult purchase for those with chronic pain, and the best quality ones can be $60 or more. Some suggest that this particular piece of clothing be avoided, but if that’s not possible, shop sales, and when you find a bra that works, buy a couple and care for them. Cheaply made bras will scratch, rub, bind, and poke, but a well-made bra will offer support in more ways than one.

Look for seams that are finished, quality fabrics, and no visible logos (why pay more to be a billboard for a clothing company?). Some forward-thinking companies are eliminating tags and printing care instructions directly on the clothes, a thoughtful gesture that can make a huge difference. Whatever you do, don’t buy something that only sort of fits, and certainly don’t buy any clothes that you think will be a motivating factor for weight loss or fitness. If you focus on buying only quality pieces, then you can always have them tailored when you need to.

Shop sales, clearance racks, and use coupons to save money, looking for classic pieces at these times (think trench coats, beautiful shoes, and sweaters).

5. Don’t let trends be the boss of you

Classics are called “classic” for a reason: they never go out of style. While some trends may be excellent choices for chronic pain patients (think long, loose dresses that skim rather than hug the body), some are a nightmare of discomfort and complicated straps, buckles, and buttons. You needn’t be ruled by Velcro, but you can safely ignore the plethora of fasteners that may be dominating fashion in the coming months.

If you want to be on trend without being trendy, focus seasonal purchases on accessories including statement jewelry, handbags or totes, scarves, and hats. For the end of summer and moving into fall, accessories feature bold prints, chunky knits, and dramatic hats. Add these to a capsule wardrobe of classics, and you are all set!

What’s your favorite stylish fashion fix?


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