Friday, 21 August 2015

Elderly and dependent ~ shopping for clothes

Shopping takes time, energy and determination.  It also requires a certain level of fitness, especially when shopping for clothes, which need to be tried on for size, suitability and fit.  For those who have difficulty with flexibility, balance, mobility and or fatigue the odds can be considerable, and going out to shop difficult or impossible. 

The question of how to shop for clothes for my frail elderly mother loomed large after she moved from one city to another and into a local rest homeHer move to rest home care was precipitated by a nasty fall which resulted in a fractureAlthough her fracture healed her physical abilities were decidedly limited.  I found I had a lot to learn, which is what I share here!    

Her clothing needs had changed: much of what had done well in the past was wearing out or no longer fitted; other garments were too hard to get in and out of; arthritic joints, instability, and difficulty in stooping had changed her ability to get dressed by herself. 

It rapidly became obvious that her whole wardrobe needed a revamp and that I would need to bring a selection of new clothes to her to choose from, with the understanding that I would be able to return unwanted items for a full refundI'm a reluctant shopper so the situation was daunting.  It did indeed prove an ardous process but I have got better at it over time and offer the following pointers: 

I found that there are four main points to get clear:

The first point is to establish a clear description of needs and preferences:  
  • Make a list and prepare for shopping in advance!  
  • Old worn-out garments that are still suitable but needed replacing can be put aside to take when shopping: it is a whole lot easier to hold an old garment against a possible replacement than to use a tape measure 
  • Likes and dislikes are likely be deciding factors in whether a garment is acceptable of not, so knowing what these are can be a big help.
Ellen's list included the following:
  • Colours and patterns: I established that Ellen would not wear black, grey, navy blue, cyclamen pink (so lamentably popular at present), as well as most bold colours, and would reject anything with polka dots or other busy patterns.  This simple requirement put most garments in most shops out of the running straight away!  She likes to dress elegantly and looks lovely in plain light colours.
  • Trousers need to have an elasticised waist for ease of fit as well as ease in getting them up and down without the fiddle of zips or buttons.  Think about doing this with one hand!
  • Underpants need to have soft elastic, and to be made of what is commonly described as 'breathable' cotton. 
  • Socks must have relaxed tops so as not to press on frail skin and blood vessels.
  • Slim-fitting tops, jerseys and jackets are out as she needs plenty of room to manouver her way in and out of them, allowing for arthritic shoulders.
  • Nighties - as above.  They also need to be able to be tumble dried, which many are not. 
  • Shoes are a size bigger than those previously worn to allow for cosier socks and slightly enlarged feet, the latter of which, I discovered, is very common in the elderly.   

Secondly, money for the person being shopped for is best kept quite separate from the shopper's: 
Whatever understanding you arrive at between you this needs to be absolutely clear.  Get receipts and file them carefully or pass them into the care of whoever is in charge of them as soon as possible

I learnt this the hard way: in the rush and confusion of the early months after I became Ellen's main support person I paid for a lot of her shopping myself, thinking vaguely that it could be refunded at some stage when things settled down.  This was not satisfactory.  Although I had power of attorney for property I hadn't worked out how to handle day to day expenses - there was so much else that had to be attended to, but at least I kept a diary and filed the receipts carefully.  None the less, when I finally got around to working it all out the need for reimbursement led to a great deal of confusion and extra work, and, I must add, personal discomfort about having to do soSubsequent consultation with an accountant underlined this vital point, that the funds used for Ellen's shopping should be kept quite separate from my own.  

I now have a separate wallet for Ellen's plastic cards which also contains a small petty cash fund which I revise monthly.  Receipts for purchases go straight into this wallet when handed to me, and once I get home they are filed in an arch lever folder in chronological order.  I'll write more about record-keeping in a separate article. 

Thirdly, locate shops that have good exchange and returns policies as well as stocking things that are wanted:
When shopping on behalf of someone else this is essential.  In big department stores it makes sense to ask about this before looking around, whereas in smaller shops it is easy to glance around first to see whether there is anything likely to be of interest.    

In my shopping expeditions for Ellen I found that this took much more time and effort than I expected: most garments stocked in the dozens of shops I've been into were completely unsuitable, and of those which might have had something most had indifferent returns policies in which their best offer was to hold a credit to the value of items that were returned.  Since I am spending my mother's money it is vital that I can get a full refund if garments are in any way unsuitable or not wanted.

Before setting out on foot it may be worth making enquiries if any retailers in the area offer a mobile shopping service.  I don't know of any, but surely this is a big market and you may be fortunate enough to live in an area where this is an option.  

Mail order companies or other retailers who offer on-line shopping may be of assistance, but do check about returns policies.   I have found Ezibuy, a company which operates in New Zealand and Australia, good in the past but do be aware that their returns policy adds a cost per item to any unwanted purchases.  I always found them good on the phone, so if in doubt phone them to clarify exactly what this means for you. 

In my traipsing around Dunedin shops I found some clear winners: 

The Warehouse: this New Zealand-wide store is the overall winner as they are a big department store where I can shop for a whole range of items and they have an excellent returns policyWhen I went there the first time I needed a range of clothing: socks, underpants, nighties, singlets and trousers, so I went straight to the returns counter and asked about their policy; I explained the situation and my need to know that I could get a full refund rather than a credit. Their instruction was simple: I could select whatever might possibly be suitable, pay for it at the check-out, and leave the labels on; they were generous in including underpants in this respect, which they need not have, stating merely that these were to be tried on over other underpants.  Anything that was unsuitable could be brought back to the returns counter and providing all items were in the same condition a refund would be made in the same form as the original payment.  This means that if paid for with any kind of bank card, the refund would be made to the exact same account, or if cash paid, then the refund would be in cash.  The time frame for doing so is very generous.  This gave me the scope I needed!  

Curve in Mosgiel: I was delighted to discover this shop and wished I had tried the shops in Mosgiel before launching into my extensive exploration of shops in central Dunedin as it would have saved me a great deal of time and effortHere at last I found a shop which stocked well-designed straight-leg trousers, with elasticised waistbands and in a good range of colours!   At that time it was the end of the season and stocks were lower than otherwise, but even so I found one pair that was exactly right, and look forward to going back there when their next lot of stock comes in.  Hurray! 

It helps to be known and I am keen to do business with businesses that know and cater to our needs. 

In the light of this discovery your suburban ladieswear or menswear shop may be an excellent place to start!

Frames footwear: my shopping experience here was first rate.  My first step on entering the shop was to ask one of the saleswomen for advice.  I explained that all Ellen's shoes now seemed a bit small, and that a larger pair was needed.  The saleswoman recognised the problem as a common one for the elderly.  I went on to explain that the new shoes needed to give her stability and to have soles with the right degree of gripOnce more she knew exactly what was wanted and directed me to a small selection which met this descriptionI wanted Ellen to be able to see the selection for herself.  Trying on shoes is relatively straightforward and the adjacent car park made bringing her to the shop as easy as it could be anywhere.  The saleswoman helpfully suggested the best time for us to make this outing so that we could be sure of immediate serviceThis advice proved to be excellent and our outing a success: Ellen was able to make a clear choice within about ten minutes of her arrival and the job was done!  And, yes, they do have a good returns policy 

Dowsons: I got two nice pairs of slippers here for a very reasonable price.  (It's always good to have a spare pair!The saleswoman very helpfully referred me to Frames for the shoes I described as being needed - big points for helpfulness, and their no fuss returns policy is also noted.    

I also recommend Seriously Twisted - a shop in the Octagon between George Street and Stuart Street where I got luxurious socks made from yarn spun from a combination of merino wool and opossum fur.  For the elderly having warm and comfortable feet is a must.  Providentially, one pair of these socks had been found in a charity shop, so I was delighted to find a companion pair at Seriously Twisted.  They were fairly costly but worth it.   Both pairs have the necessary "relaxed" top edge.

The returns policies of two of Dunedin's major department stores, Arthur Barnetts and Farmers, are disappointing in that they do not give refunds for unwanted items.  
     You can read Arthur Barnetts here, and Farmers here. 
At best they may exchange an item or hold a credit for later useThis policy is likely to result in them missing out on a wide sector of their potential buying public who, like my mother, are unable to come into the store to make their own selection; in the face of it although I have made good purchases for myself at both stores I do not consider myself to be in a position to spend there on anyone else's behalf.

To those in the business of retailing clothing one simple point needs to be made loud and clear: when a potential customer has difficulty even getting dressed in the morning and mobility on outings is limited, the expectation that these customers would be able to come in to their shop to try things on is completely unrealistic.  Those shopping on their behalf need to be able to return unwanted garments for a full refund.  

Fourthly: when it comes to trying things on and getting the right fit and fabric, think about it from the point of view of the person you are shopping for:
This sounds obvious, but isn't what necessarily what occurs to one at the time!  

My experience is that once a selection of items has been obtained the next hurdle is to be visiting at a time when Ellen feels up to trying things on.  At one time her energies were very low indeed, and dressing and undressing once a day was quite as much as she could usually manage.  However, after a number of visits when this was clearly impossible the two of us managed to make the grand effort - with good results.  Although quite a number of items were returned, there were some that were just right, and we were both very pleased.  

One garment I had great difficulty in getting right was underpants so it was just as well I managed to buy these with an assurance that I could return those that weren't suitable - on the condition that Ellen wore her own underpants underneath when trying them on.  With age ones skin becomes more fragile and inclined to feel discomfort, so they had to be just right: soft around the leg holes, and firm but not tight around the waist, the right sized gusset, nice breathable cotton...  Racks full of fancy nylon ones with lace and bright colours were by-passed without a second glance!  It took a number of attempts to find the right ones before success was achieved on the third such occasion when one pair was declared to be exactly right What a relief I thought about what would be an ideal number, and went back to the shop and bought four more pairs.  My relief turned to bafflement some weeks later when Ellen declared firmly that they were “too small”.  This was perplexing as I had tried them on myself and I am certainly bigger than she is and yet I had found them to be almost too large.  Of course I accepted what she said although I didn't understand it - until it occured to me to try them on again myself and to pull them up with one hand: Ellen is unsteady on her feet and needs to hold onto a rail when getting the pants up.  The problem became clear immediately: they were 
t-o-o    s-t-r-e-t-c-h-y,  
rolling over on themselves which prevented them from easily being pulled up!  She needed pants that were less stretchy.  Of course by then it was too late to return them but I had learnt my lesson!  I wondered if a budget-priced pack of pure cotton ones might be just as good if not better, and I was right:

I have yet to find a shop which sells good, plain comfortable nighties which can be tumble-dried.  On looking at a few of the offerings I produced from the shopping bag Ellen was unusually forthright: “I couldn't possibly sleep in that – I wouldn't be able to sleep a wink!”   If her sentiments are anything to go by gaudy nightware may be a leading cause of the insomnia that troubles such a large portion of the population!  I found that anything with complicated patterns or vivid colours would be rejected and that polka dots are out.  Jokey text is also out.  On the front of one nightie I came across an owl was depicted above the text “You are a hoot”, which might be amusing the first few times you put it on but after that probably tedious. 

A significant element in all of this is choice.  
With increasing age and disability one's range of choice diminishes, so in any area where there is choice it's good to give it solid support.  The ability to choose one's own clothes, and when and where to wear them, helps one's sense of well-being.  We all can and should be in charge of this part of our own lives.  

I am committed to keeping Ellen's choices as broad as possible.  
With regard to clothes she is fortunate in having a large wardrobe and chest of drawers in which to store them.  From time to time I check whether she wants to keep certain garments or not.  It doesn't bother me if she never wears some of them; that's really none of my business.  If she wants to have them there, there they shall remain.  Her shoes are a case in point: once we had bought the ones described above I brought all Ellen's other pairs home and gave them a good clean.  Most of them were still in good condition, and if she no longer wanted them at least they would be clean and tidy enough to pass on to a charity shop.  Only then did I take them back to her to have another look at.  And surprise, surprise, all but one pair fitted, but were suitable only for wearing with stockings or thin socks.  Some of them are more formal and smart, which is nice.  So she has them there, neatly on a rack, for use if wanted.  If she never wears them she still has the choice, and in a world of diminished possibilities the ability to do so is enriching.

I hope this article is helpful to shoppers as well as those on whose behalf they are buying.   

I also hope that some of the points made prompt some retailers to consider more widely those who need their services - their customers.

To find my other articles in this series click on the link below:
    You can find my other articles about housekeeping and shopping via the link below:

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