While most special needs garments are produced and distributed by smaller, lesser known companies or through OEM channels where the actual manufacturer hides behind a different brand name, that doesn’t mean big outlets don’t get involved. One of those is one of the UK‘s oldest clothing retailers, Marks & Spencer. Let’s see what they have on offer in the adaptive clothing department, as they call it, and whether it could be relevant to your needs and wants.
Colors and Patterns
One of the advantages of bigger outlets is the plentiful choice of colors. This is more or less a natural byproduct of large production runs. The same factories will produce conventional T-shirts and the like, anyway, so what’s to stop them from using the same textiles also for these more specialized things? Exactly! There’s a certain simple logic behind this that takes advantage of the existing infrastructure and logistics whereas smaller dedicated production companies are just the opposite. They have to invest extra time and money to find the right type of cloths and stock the bales in sufficient quantity, find yarns in matching colors and with adequate strength, buy snaps, buttons and zippers.
All that being the case, the Marks & Spencer bodysuits are available in around 12 different colors and patterns when all is said and done, ranging from simple solid colors to striped patterns to floral motives. However, before you start to get too excited about this, the one dark cloud in your bright day is of course that the actual availability of each color will hugely depend on which size you plan on getting. This tapers off considerably the larger they get and your options get more limited. The rationale here is of course that a thirteen-year-old may not necessarily want to run around with all too child-like patterns that a younger kid might not mind at all.
As a male of a certain age I settled on the conventional colors that I would deem acceptable to myself, but of course this could turn out differently for you. In particular I immediately fell in love with the pastelly-minty, turqoise-ish green and the nice sky blue, so there was no way around getting those. I also threw in a black one, though I believe originally I had my sights on a different color that just wasn’t available in that size.
For the alternative cut pattern I went with a marbled/ Heather grey and a dark ultramarine variant. The latter is by all means quite dark, even if I account for my limited photographic equipment, and depending on the lighting conditions can have a somewhat purple tinge as opposed to the typical cyan/ petrol colored shades you find on products from most competitors.
So far color stability is excellent, though I haven’t washed the products as often yet as some of my other onesies for reasons that will be explained in the next paragraph. In the long run I would predict that the darker variants will eventually begin to look grey-ish or mottled with irregular discolorations like they always do, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Overall, though, the dye seems to adhere very well to the cloth, so this could be a long time before it fades. At least during laundry I didn’t notice the water getting all murky just from the color washing out.
Size and Fit
I got these bodysuits very early this year based on someone mentioning them on a forum, being that I was totally unaware of them before that. After they arrived and I test-fitted them, I was quick to put them away again because yes – they turn out very small and at the time my tummy was still too bulbous to really put them to use. Only in the last few months have things gotten to a point where it would be acceptable and practical to actually wear them and I took them out again.
Aside from my own body’s inadequacies I once again totally blame this on the UK size system based on correlating a certain body size with a certain age, which for all intents and purposes is at the very least confusing, at worst simply misleading, especially to the outsider. While things worked out, after all, for the KayCey Vests where I was similarly puzzled, here they didn’t really.
The crux of the whole matter is that M & S did not specifically put in any design work that would deal with some of the differences in the physique of younger children vs. that of adolescents and adults. More or less it seems they decided to simply scale an averaged standard design up and up and with every step simply extend the lengths of some key elements without adjusting the overall proportions. I’m not saying that this couldn’t have worked on some level and will humbly concede that being a bit overweight doesn’t help, but even so – the mistake here is that they erred on the wrong side, that is on the slender and small one. Had they started out larger and loftier to begin with, it might be more useful.
As they are, I can wear the products, but have to jump some hoops. The clothing tag sewn into the suits for ages 15 to 16 states an equivalent European size 176 which I’m sorry to say is simply incorrect. According to my official ID card I’m 1.79 m tall and if the onesies were made to spec, those three centimeters wouldn’t really matter much. It would still be snug, yes, but definitely not as tight as these ones are. So for what it’s worth and my belly notwithstanding this is more like a size 170 or 164 even. Keep that in mind when you order yours – you literally need to think one or two sizes smaller and if you are even larger than I am, you’re simply out of luck.
The actual secret to success when putting this on apparently has a lot to do with the very long triangular crotch section/ flaps. The trick here is to carefully exploit the stretchiness of cloth and pull it really hard. Especially after laundry when it has tightened up again the whole thing seems to have shrunk back one size, so you have to mangle it quite a bit. Predictably the longterm effects of this won’t be that great and one of the seams is bound to give one day, but there is little one can do to change that.
Due to the tightness you also have to be extra meticulous with the winged/ easy access neck hole. I’m not going to lie to you: I feel the pressure on my shoulders when wearing this suit and even though I do like things to be tight to some degree, it can get annoying. Therefore it is crucial that at least you don’t exacerbate the issue and make sure everything is resting smoothly and not wrinkled up. The same goes for the sleeves and you have to decide how acceptable and bearable those slight issues with potential pressure marks are.
In the lower regions things are a bit easier, though I have to say that the extremely narrow button row is not the best solution I can think of. For us males it makes things perhaps look a bit too triangular and feminine. It should definitely be wider. In combination with the necessary stretching and elongation it also makes for very high-cut leg holes, which potentially peek out of your pants and reveal your diaper that way, after all. It’s not for everyone. All in all you can get used to all those little quirks, though.
Unfortunately none of that matters in any way with the T-shirt style variant. The mechanics simply don’t work due to the extra seam that has been inserted to create the illusion of a regular T-shirt’s overlapping edge. It adds so much resistance and strength that it’s simply impossible to tug and pull the textile so it would ever stretch out long enough. That’s why I was never able to actually wear any of those, which is a shame, given how potentially “normal” and inconspicuous it would look plus what options it would open up, assuming they’d expand the line with dual color designs or something like that.
As should be clear from the previous section, diaper fixation should totally be a non-issue, given the tightness. Even if your body proportions are more favorable and actually match the size of the product (or vice versa) it would be easy enough to go one size smaller in case things get too loose. On the other hand you could run into issues with an overly tight suit squeezing out your diaper, depending on what incontinence products you use. You have to find a good balance here.
Materials and Manufacturing Quality
For a relatively cheap mass-produced product the quality is actually pretty decent. Okay, the illusion of those “pressed/ ironed to shape” products slightly falls apart after the first wash when you don’t iron them again as I do. The wrinkled areas where seams have been forced together and the textile has been sewn together under tension become evident, but overall it’s not that bad. At least there isn’t the dreaded “China twist” warping the entire upper section. Instead the curling is restricted to areas where you would kinda expect it, anyway, meaning regions where the cloth has been wrapped around at the edges or where multiple seams converge.
All major seams are done with flat-locked stitching, which neatly avoids thick rolls of cloth that could further contribute to the size issues and make it uncomfortable to wear the products. Some of the seams show small irregularities where the sewing machine had “hiccups”, but overall nothing too dramatic. The color of the yarn typically matches that of the cloth as do the rings of the snap buttons. The latter are thankfully pretty strong or else it would be impossible for me to use the product in the way I do now. Since they are so close together you also do not get the typical mouth-shaped openings in the areas in-between that I have been critical of on some onesies from other vendors.
Pricing and Availability
Naturally I ordered my examples of this product through the Marks & Spencer website. If you live in the UK you may be able to get it through an in-store on-demand order as well and in some stores in larger cities they may even have a few pieces on the rack at any given time. That mostly applies to the larger sizes since I tend to think that smaller ones up to kindergarten or early elementary school levels may be more readily available in the kids section of their physical stores.
By comparison to most other products the prices appear almost ridiculously low with even the 15 to 16 years age size coming in a 7.50 GBP. That makes it easy and relatively risk-free to try them out if you come anywhere close to the actual size. If you order online, naturally there may be some additional shipping cost or you have to order a larger number of items to qualify for free shipping. On that note – the items will not be listed on the localized landing pages and you will have to manually switch the web page to the UK version and do a search for “adaptive clothing” or “bodysuit” for them to appear.
Availability should be okay within the limitations laid out in this article. It also seems they are not necessarily restocking these products due to – by their standards as a big retailer – lower overall demand, so chasing for a specific color and size could be a bad customer experience and require a lot of patience and multiple tries. This also includes the possibility of products disappearing entirely and/ or being replaced with different ones.
There’s no way around it: This product’s only saving grace is the low price which makes it feasible to give it a whirl without risking too much financial loss. Even if it’s not suitable for you, you could give it away or find someone who would be willing to cough up those pennies. Otherwise I feel that this isn’t one of my better purchases and unless something fundamentally changes I don’t feel the need to repeat the experience.
To me it’s a case of a big company truly not understanding (or being unwilling to care for) the very specific requirements of the target demographic and not investing the necessary research and resources to develop the products in a useful way. It’s really my impression that this is more a case of “It’s good for our corporate reputation and public image and we need to have this in our portfolio.” more than anything else.
It could be just fine for some kids, though even then some genuine doubt lingers. I have a hard time imagining someone with spastic issues or a deformed spine slipping into those all too narrow body suits without some difficulties. So overall it likely still misses the mark and would only apply to “normal” people without major physical handicaps, as terrible a word as this is to use here. It’s really a pity, as the nice colors, the acceptable quality and the good affordability would make it totally worthwhile otherwise.