A hand is pushing away clasp necklaces and a pile of buttons.

Dressing Do's and Don'ts with RA, Part 1

Last updated: May 2022

I want to start by saying my tips for dressing with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are ones that work for me based on my age, my RA status, my gender, etc. 

These may or may not make sense for you, but I do hope they will be helpful in some way as you navigate dressing with a chronic joint disease.

RA alters our body shape and self-image

For me, part of mentally coping with a disease that tends to alter our body shape, not to mention our self-image, is to enjoy my clothes. 

If you looked in my closets (yes, I do mean closets in the plural sense), you would see every color, style, and fabric. I love to feel good about how I look. 

It may not be other people’s cup of tea but, how I feel and the way I perceive myself gives me confidence and a mental lift. The difference after RA entered my life was keeping that joy of dressing while dealing with the reality of RA.

Comfort should not be sacrificed

I dress for my RA status at any given time. 

Part of that means having a pretty wide assortment of options so that you can enjoy your clothes, feel good about how you look, dress for the occasion, and yet do it while taking your RA situation into account.

I will admit - When I was younger, the way something looked was the single most important factor in choosing what to buy and wear. RA, motherhood, and age changed that. 

I began to realize that comfort need not be sacrificed to look and feel good. Nowadays, there are so many attractive, comfortable, wearable clothes on the market that it is just not necessary to feel uncomfortable to look good.

Tips for dressing for RA

As far as the RA aspect of this, I began to notice that any small clasp features or buttons were the worst for me; they were a disaster. Trying to button a shirt with swollen, painful hands made me scream in pain and frustration. 

Snap closures and wide neck openings

So I began to look for tops that used snaps or had a wide enough neck opening that I did not need to unbutton them to get them on. Better yet? No buttons at all but, again, wide enough to fit over my head without inducing pain in my shoulders. 

Gone were the days of a narrow neck opening.  I have a few but only wear them when my RA is under control and there is no pain in my hands, shoulders, and neck.

Consider fabric and fit

Fabric and fit are huge considerations as well. Any tight or non-forgiving fabric has been removed from my clothing line-up. Ditto fitted. 

I like a looser, flowy, gentle fabrics like knits, fleece, etc. No more linen or wool for me. 

One exception to this is leggings, which, if fitted properly, are comfortable and the compression actually feels good on my legs. I like to wear these to exercise as they support my joints.

Why I like looser fitting clothes

The other nice thing about looser-fitting clothes is that many of us with RA have our ups and downs when it comes to weight, thanks to our medications and ability to exercise at any given time. 

That said, I don’t want to feel bad or worry about my weight all the time. So, choosing clothes that have some allowance for a few pounds either way is important to me, too. 

I like tunics, elastic waistbands, etc. Thankfully, styles change and, at the moment, there are lots to choose from on the market!

In Part 2 of this discussion, I will talk about shopping with RA and some more tips for selecting an RA-friendly wardrobe.


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