RA Style Guide for Men

Undoubtedly having rheumatoid arthritis brings innumerable inconveniences, difficulties, and trials to life. One difficulty for men that can go unmentioned is the impact the disease can have on how we dress. The following are some tips and tricks I have put together based on my experience of adapting my attire to the disease.

RA-friendly men's shoes

Whether in the midst of a flare or not, shoes have become a daily hassle. I had a few pairs of dress boots, oxfords, and snow boots made of high-quality leather before I was diagnosed. When I developed RA, I was dispirited to find that I could not wear any of these without excruciating pain. A standard boot stretcher, as well as using a combination of rubbing alcohol and water on the leather to soften it during a stretch, has allowed me to moderately salvage them for occasional wear. The boot stretcher comes in handy for breaking in new shoes quickly as well. I also went up a shoe size, preferring a bit more room for my toes.

Sandals in the summer are my go to. However, I have found that on some days I need something a bit more supportive. If like me, the ball of your foot is in nearly constant pain, a tight-fitting toe box can be unbearable. There are two companies I have found that make shoes with a wide toe box that follow the natural curve of the foot, Lems and Altra. Both are minimalistic shoes, with no drop from the heel to the toe, and are lightweight and breathable. Lems has both an athletic looking shoe and a dress shoe. If you prefer a very supportive shoe with a solid structure, these are not it.

I also find shoes that are made of canvas, like Sanuks for example, are nice for short trips to the store or around town. A bonus is that they don't have any laces.

Any shoe that tapers significantly to the toe poses problems. Unfortunately most of the shoes I prefer for formal gatherings, or to strike my best professorial look while teaching, tend in this direction. If you end up going this route, I have found that some companies offer very thin, light, and easy to break-in leather. Pikolinos is the only type of thin leather shoe I have tried. The fit is nice, though durability is somewhat jeopardized. I find dress shoes that are more squared off at the toe seem to be a better route since the toe box remains wider for longer.

I also wear sandals or the aforementioned canvas slip-ons while commuting. I often change shoes in the parking lot when I arrive and leave work.

My experience of custom orthotics was one of moderate benefit. They definitely improve weight distribution but did not significantly help the pain I encounter when standing for long periods of time. After a few hours, nothing seems to work but being out of shoes and off my feet. I imagine the potential benefit of orthotics depends on the foot, the specific problems one has, and the shoe they go in.

RA-friendly men's shirts

Button-down collared shirts seem to make up the majority of my semi-formal and formal clothing. In the winter, I also have some very thick flannels. With RA, I have found that buttons can be extremely difficult in the midst of a bad flare. When undressing, I often unbutton only the top two buttons and pull the whole shirt over my head. I will keep the shirts hung up this way too, as getting dressed with swollen hands is faster and easier if I can just pull the shirt on.

Having a very nice looking pullover I find is sufficient for an array of circumstances in the spring, fall and winter, which allows me to forego buttons when needed. Zipper downs I find preferable as well.

RA-friendly Pants

I have a few pairs of pants with a string waist. They are great for around the house and trips to the store. Zippers and buttons for jeans and slacks seem unavoidable. One company I have found, Prana, makes masculine looking jeans and canvas pants with some slight stretch to the material. Their niche is rock climbing, so mobility in the legs is a target of all their pants. I find that slight stretch in the material is helpful for long periods of sitting or driving.

RA-friendly wedding ring(s)

I have two different sized wedding bands and a silicone band. Since swelling in my fingers can be minimal but last for weeks at a time, I often find that one sized band is more comfortable than the other. The silicone band is something I discovered during the onset of my disease when my hands were massive and fluctuating. These are great since they are super cheap, stretch, and will not get stuck on your finger. A quick Google search will bring up a tremendous amount of styles and colors to choose from.

RA-friendly kitchen and grilling tools

Since I am immunosuppressed, and my white blood cell count has been low, handling raw meats leaves me ill at ease. Though not really clothing related, you can now find me wearing a pair of blue or purple nitrile gloves anytime I am cooking or barbecuing. A box of 200 disposable gloves was about ten dollars online and put an end to my apprehension there.


If you have any tips that are not on my list, or suggestions to add, please share.

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