Manitoba·Opinion

Pink glitter canes and red matte lipstick: How style can fight the dehumanizing effect of hospital clothes

Hospitalization both literally and figuratively strips you of your clothing, says Megan Linton. But from glittery canes to "sweaters as sweet as clementines," she's used personal style to fight back against the dehumanizing effect of hospital clothes.

'I do not attempt to camouflage … but rather to glamorize, sexualize and stylize my disability': Megan Linton

Hospitalization both literally and figuratively strips patients of their clothing, says Megan Linton. But from brightly coloured canes to 'sweaters as sweet as clementines,' she's used personal style to fight back against the dehumanizing effect of hospital clothes. (Andrew J. Meade)

Hospitalization both literally and figuratively strips you of your clothing, medicalizing the fabric you protect yourself, and become yourself, with. 

Fashion, though, creates a counter-narrative, generating a strong dichotomy between patient and disabled person.

The underrepresentation of disabled women as autonomous, beautiful and strong — and the overrepresentation of disabled women as patients, as subjects, and infantilization — contribute to the systemic oppression of disabled women. 

A few years ago I fell into a deep depression, living with disordered eating, and other embodiments of experience. I dressed in loose, black clothing.

Black clothing has often been the embodiment of mourning, tragedy, and expressions of grief. While I was not mourning, the black clothing was the only outward expression of sadness I felt able to express, and was the only depiction of sadness I had ever seen expressed.

Disabled and mad bodies are rarely granted full autonomy; however, dressing, and the presentation we put out into the world, is one mechanism in which we can express ourselves.

After my first serious suicide attempt, I was placed in a psychiatric institution for the first time, in the southern United States. My lifelong ritual of waking up, straightening my long, puffy, anorexic hair and applying mascara, eyeliner and eyebrow filler was revoked.

My clothing was limited to suicide pyjamas — light blue, elastic-less, and sandpaper feeling. Underwear was searched, and bras were strictly prohibited. I became detached from my very existence, ashamed of my body, my face, my hair, my clothes, my skin, irritated by the harsh fabric of the pyjamas. 

Disabled and mad bodies are rarely granted full autonomy; however, dressing, and the presentation we put out into the world, is one mechanism in which we can express ourselves.

Drab hospital clothing removes an 'aspect of creative expression and embodiment' for patients, says Megan Linton. (Sasa Prudkov/Shutterstock)

The removal of this, indicative of the opinion of society and the medical industry's desire to other us and place us on the hierarchy of wellness, forces us to fight for the privilege of dressing. 

While guised under the title of safety, it feels and appears as a limitation of the expression of the most mad or mentally ill, sick, or disabled. Over time the confinement in forced hospital apparel, and the limited market of accessible clothing, has removed this aspect of creative expression and embodiment.

'I protest the invisibility of suicide pyjamas'

As I have left, entered, left, engaged with, fought with, been admitted to, discharged from, and been admitted again into the various hospitals and medical institutions across my life, my style has increasingly challenged the light blue, sandpaper pyjamas.

I protest the invisibility of suicide pyjamas, while fully embracing the illness of the pyjamas. 

I am constantly aware and pushing the limits of fashion, because no matter how I dress, my outfit will never be as shocking as the medical device that is a reluctant member of my arrangement. 

I do not attempt to camouflage my disability, though I recognize the validity of that endeavour, but rather to glamorize, sexualize and stylize my disability. 

I wear soft pink dresses, with red velvet polka dots, fluorescent pom-pom earrings, glittering pink socks, magenta lipstick, purple highlighter, and a pink cane. I wear black, deep-cut shirts, tight black jeans, sharp red lipstick, earrings made of leather and hoops, earrings made of fur.

'I wear bright colours, shocking ensembles, so that people can ask me or comment on my clothing instead of my cane,' says Megan Linton. (Submitted by Megan Linton)

Some days I use a black cane, gold tip. Then I'll change, wear dress pants, collared shirts, bolo ties, oxford shoes, frilly socks, gold dangling earrings, a lipstick called "twig," and use a cane made of softwood, a blue handle. 

'The boldly disabled femme in the room'

I shock people with the cane, with the exposed legs, my youthfulness, the mesh shirt, the heels when I am already 6-2, the  monotonous colours, the shocking yellows, golds, pinks, blues, reds, purples, velvets, the cane, the brace, the cast, the lipstick, the rhinestones.

I shock people with my existence, with the lack of desire to blend, to integrate into the abled society, but to be the boldly disabled femme in the room.

I use every aspect of my fashion. I wear my jumpsuits with pockets, extra pockets, my cane limiting the usage of my left hand, pockets necessary for my keys, phone, wallet, medication and lipstick.

I wear my jeans tight and high-waisted, so as to avoid the need to wear back braces. I wear bright colours, shocking ensembles, so that people can ask me or comment on my clothing instead of my cane.

'I wear black with fervour,' says Megan Linton, 'not as an ashamed depressed person, but as a mourning, proud, depressed person.' (Submitted by Megan Linton)

I still wear black frequently. Now it is part of the weekly routine of the hospitalized mourning our fallen comrades — mourning my friend, my roommate, the man who smelled, the man who always touched my cheek, the man I played crib with, the young person I did a puzzle with.

I wear black with fervour, not as an ashamed depressed person, but as a mourning, proud, depressed person.

I coat my eyelids in glitter, and long strokes of eyeliner, ending in perfect wings. I adorn my lips in deep red, purple, grey, slip on my black tights that are adorned with gemstones, pull on my four-inch black heeled boots.

I am the obvious hospital roommate, the random patient in the church, funeral home, synagogue, mosque, temple or house. 

I wear bright black, grip my deep purple cane, and no one has to ask me how I knew them — my funeral attire a badge of patienthood. 

I wear deep blacks, holding onto the inherent loss of patienthood.

I swallow bright orange pills, and adorn myself in sweaters as sweet as clementines, the complete contrast to the pale blue pyjamas.  


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Megan Linton is a disabled and mad femme, living in Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg. She is the National Disability Justice Commissioner for the Canadian Federation of Students and a student at the University of Winnipeg. She loves sprinkle donuts, mad activism and coffee with milk.

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