Zippers, snaps and clasps can be a real pain in the neck for people with full range of movement.
But compound those inconveniences on someone with arthritis and you've got a frustrating, often painful problem.
Chris O'Connell's eyes were opened to that situation in 1984 through his association with the International Games for the Disabled held in Long Island, N.Y.
In the ensuing years he learned that 37 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis. He also got to talk to a number of those individuals.
"Pants, in general, are a problem," for people with arthritis, O'Connell said. "You hear some of their stories, and it just about makes you cry. How they have to lay on the bed to pull up their pants and how it takes 30 minutes."
Last spring, six years later, Easy Dress Fashions were launched by J.C. Penney Co. Inc., with O'Connell as manager of special-market catalogs. The women's fashions, available through catalog only, included 50 items taken from Penney's regular line that had been converted to Easy Dress Fashions.
The catalog includes a sampling of clothing from each segment of the women's market from sportswear to work suits and dressy outfits. Which is to say that the fashions are just that fashionable, not just functional. It's the obstacles not the look that have been minimized. This has been accomplished through the use of:
Wavelok, a lighter and softer form of Velcro, which replaces buttons, hooks and snaps;
Pull loops inside waistbands on skirts and pants;
Pants with partial-elastic or full-elastic waists;
Roomier armholes for easy access; and
Jackets, skirts and pants with extra roomy pockets.
While the new line was launched in relative obscurity last spring, this fall Penney's went public with Easy Dress Fashions. As O'Connell explained, the spring catalog was a trial run to get some kinks out and questions answered like which styles and sizes sell best.
So far, with the Spring '91 catalog ready to roll out in February, Penney's is happy with the sales results. The market appears to be there. The estimated clothing purchases of the 17 million women with arthritis is $4.2 billion.
Though the main sales audience is women older than 55, O'Connell believes the convenience of Easy Dress Fashions makes it marketable to just about everyone.
"This is a new dimension in apparel," O'Connell said in a phone interview from Dallas. "We plan to move outward from that base."
Men's Easy Dress Fashions are expected to be introduced in 1992. It will take that long to get manufacturers for the project. Penney also plans to add a line of Easy Dress Lingerie.
"When we did our research, we found the problem dress areas and ranking to be pantyhose, bras and back-opening clothes," O'Connell said. A surprise on the list was cuff buttons. "Those are hard if you have restricted movement," he said.
O'Connell said Easy Dress Fashions are no more costly than the regular catalog fashions. He said that that same price strategy will also apply to the men's line.
The 24-page Easy Dress Fashion catalogs are available at any J.C. Penney catalog desk. Or, customers can get a copy by phoning toll-free (800) 222-6161.
(Other catalog companies that serve this audience in some way include Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Comfortably Yours; Fashion Able; Techni-Flair; M&M Health Care; and Buck & Buck.)