I’m a blind woman with an interest in fashion and personal style. I rely on others for visual feedback on color and to some extent fit, and for demystifying what I read about fashion trends. I feel like I’ve spent the last year asking friends, “What’s the deal with this yoga pant thing, anyway?” When I kept seeing ads for the Stitch Fix service, and a couple of my blind friends had tried it out, I decided to give it a go. Here’s my experience after two “Fixes”, and some notes on how to use the service as a blind person.
What is Stitch Fix?
Stitch Fix is an online personal styling service for women. You fill out an online style profile, and a stylist selects five clothing and accessory items which are shipped to you. You have three days to try on the clothes, after which you keep and purchase what you like, and send back the rest in a prepaid envelope. You pay a $20 styling fee for each Fix, but if you buy one or more of the pieces, it goes toward your purchase. If you keep all five pieces, there’s a 25% discount.
Why I Decided to Try Stitch Fix
Maybe you’ve had a moment like this, an exasperated “I hate everything I have to wear,” moment. For the last few years, I have lacked that magical unicorn of shopping partners, that one friend who can flip through sales racks and thrift store isles, finding that one top that she tells you she would never wear, but you should really try, and it ends up being the shirt you get the most compliments on whenever you wear it. I have local friends who will go to the mall with me, answer my questions on style and color as best they can, but my friends who really relish the shopping experience now live far away. I have a few looks I enjoy, leggings and sweater dresses, jeans and flowy tops, but I wanted to increase my confidence in my professional wardrobe, and have some outfits that felt “Put together” without a lot of guess work.
Accessing the Stitch Fix Site
When I first tried to set up my profile on the Stitch Fix site, I thought I would be thwarted by accessibility issues. With my PC screen reader of choice, while images were labeled with descriptions detailed enough to suggest someone had thought about accessibility, nonstandard controls had been used for form fields, and I couldn’t complete basic steps like selecting my dress size. A friend suggested I try the iPhone app instead, and that experience was much better. I was able to complete the entire style profile, though it’s a lot of questions all on one screen, and sometimes the Voiceover focus would jump to another part of the profile requiring much scrolling on my part to find my place again. I also tried accessing my style profile on the Mac, and found that to be a fairly straight forward experience as well. Anyone who uses a screen reader knows that our user experience can very vastly when apps are updated or site designs are changed, but at time of writing, Stitch Fix is usable on iOS and Mac, though I wouldn’t call it a gold star experience. If anyone from Stitch Fix is reading, I’d love to talk in more detail about how the site and app could be better for visually impaired users.
Pinterest and Instagram and Style Cards, Oh My!
To some extent, the ways in which you interact with your Stitch Fix stylist are visual, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to convey enough about my preferences via the written section of the style profile. You are encouraged to link to Instagram and Pinterest profiles as a way of showing your stylist what you like. As I don’t find either of these services to be workable for me, I did my best to describe my body type, clothing preferences, and lifestyle in the profile, and hoped for the best.
The other visual aspect of the process is the stylist note and style cards. With each box, your stylist sends you a handwritten card, which bubbles with enthusiasm for the clothes within, but also provides some suggestions on how to wear the pieces, and what else in your closet they might go with. There are also cards with illustrations of some style ideas for the pieces. With each Fix, I’ve needed to have a friend read me this information, and describe the color of the clothing. While I imagine a hand written note is a lovely touch for most shoppers, I’d love to have the option to receive this information in an email. So given these caveats, how did the service actually work for me?
My First Fix
When I opened my first Fix and ran my hand over the articles of clothing wrapped in tissue paper, I was thrilled. I had told my stylist I loved soft fabrics and interesting textures, and the neatly folded garments in my box were a lovely mix of both. There was a soft tweedy jacket, a luxuriously soft stretchy top, an airy feeling blouse, a pair of boyfriend jeans, and a twisty metal bracelet. However, when I tried things on, I was less thrilled. The blouse and jacket didn’t fit my body shape, the lovely soft shirt was a drab dark color, and the jeans were more distressed than I prefer. I was disappointed, because I liked the clothes, and unlike a trip to the store, I couldn’t just quickly try another size or similar style. Instead, I gave detailed feedback during the checkout process to explain what didn’t work for me. For the pieces that didn’t fit my body, I explained exactly how the fit was wrong for me. For the pieces I had preference issues with, I detailed those as well. I felt a little awkward being that critical to my sweet stylist with her hand written bubbly notes and all, but hoped it would lead to a better second Fix. Then I waited a month or so and tried again.
My Second Fix
For my second Fix, I wrote a note to my stylist with some requests. You can do this when you schedule a Fix. I requested some specific items: dark jeans, a blazer, and colorful tops for spring. And, that’s exactly what I received, that and a very strange necklace, but more on that in a minute. The tops were both soft and comfortable, but in styles I might not have thought to select on my own, which is one of the plusses of using a personal stylist. When I tried the items on, almost everything fit perfectly. I really felt that my stylist had listened to my fit feedback from the first Fix. Everything also went quite well together. Both tops matched the blazer, and of course everything matched the jeans. Sadly, the jeans were very long, and I decided to return them. The other 3 pieces were exactly what I had hoped for, and I’m feeling confident about wearing them to some professional events I have coming up.
And then there was the necklace…A heavy bib made of big, round, bright beads. The friend looking at the clothes with me agreed that it might be nice for someone, but definitely not for me. This made me realize the importance of being very specific with my stylist. I had included a line about liking chunky jewelry. For me, this meant sturdy pieces, maybe with a little punk undertone. The necklace was chunky, but in a totally different way. Time to hone that style profile a little more.
Will I Try it Again?
Despite the access issues I mentioned, I’ll continue to use Stitch Fix every now and then to give my wardrobe a boost. If you’re thinking of giving it a try, use my referral link to get a small discount on your first order. If you’re blind or visually impaired, know that there may be some accessibility bumps along the way, and you may need to recruit a friend in person or via Facetime to gather the information on the style cards, but it’s a fun way to learn a little more about fashion. And if your first Fix doesn’t go well, I’d suggest giving it at least one more try. The feedback loop with your stylist is one way this service really stands out from other types of online shopping. Have you used Stitch Fix? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Today was a day much like any other. I went to work, grabbed dinner with a friend, and walked home from the train in the waning sunlight. But this day contained 3 interactions, noteworthy in their ordinariness, that make it stand out as a good blind travel day. I met 3 strangers who were pleasant exceptions to the code of help.
Stranger one approached me after I crossed a street a couple blocks from work. “Hi, there’s a lot of foot traffic on this block, would you like to walk with me?” I knew immediately what she was referring to, a monthly daytime event that fills an entire block with long lines, booths, and people walking in random directions. I accepted her polite offer, took her arm, and we walked together for a block, introducing ourselves, and chatting about our careers and the neighborhood. I have previously navigated this event many times on my own, but because help was respectfully offered, I opted to spare myself the navigational complexity and enjoy the chat. The key here is that help was offered. The woman was neither flustered nor insistent, and I could have declined her offer without a fuss just as easily as I accepted it.
Stranger two saved me the inconvenience of missing a train. I was hunched over my smart phone like your average American commuter, reading tweets and ignoring most everything else. If there was an announcement that my train would be arriving on the opposite platform from its standard location, I missed it entirely. A man quickly tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention, “you take the Such and Such train, right? It’s behind you.” I thanked him and turned around to catch the train, glad that he hadn’t felt the need to tug me toward the door, he was simply a fellow commuter offering useful information.
Stranger three made me happy by offering no help at all. We were crossing a busy street at the same time, when he turned in my direction and said, “Hi, how are you today?” I’m pretty great, stranger friend three, thanks for asking.
I was about to walk down the stairs when the man grasped my arm at the elbow, and asked a second later, “can I help you?” It was late evening, and I had just stepped off the train, having chosen my boarding location strategically to be able to execute a quick U-turn to the stairs upon exiting the train. It wasn’t too crowded, and I was lost in thought. I’m a thirty year-old female commuter, and I take this route every day. So why was this stranger obstructing my path?
There was a long white cane in my right hand. I am totally blind, and My cane is a travel tool, a hollow tapered tube of fiber glass with a small steel disc at the end. I use it to get tactile and auditory feedback about my environment. But in this moment, it became a lightning rod for the social code of help that trips me up far more often than any physical obstacle in my environment ever does.
I’m not a mind reader, but based on the actions of those around me, the social code of help seems to go something like this: “I see a blind person, they must need help. If I help them, I am doing a good thing.” I doubt it’s a coherent stream of thoughts, rather, it’s as deeply engrained as “The light is green, I can cross the street,” because it happens so spontaneously, and so often. Sometimes the help is physical, I am abruptly taken by the arm or shoulder and propelled, in or out of train doors, toward an escalator, across a street. Sometimes it is verbal, “the light is green,” “There’s a seat over there,” “keep going straight.”
“Erin,” you might be asking, “what is your problem with all these helpful people who just want to make sure you are safe?” Let’s deconstruct the social code of help to see why help isn’t always helpful.
First, the code starts with the fact that I’m a blind person. Now I know my blindness is noticeable. I’m using the aforementioned 5 foot long cane, and navigating the world using nonvisual techniques. My phone chatters in a robot voice, I might stop in the entry of the Starbucks to listen for the end of the line, I might be reading the dusty Braille sign on the train platform to confirm that I’m where I want to be. If those details get noticed before my awesome thrift store dress or the fact that I ride your commuter train every day, so be it.
Next, the assumption that because I’m blind, I need help. Here’s where things start to get tangled, because in fact, I don’t always need help. Most often, I definitively do not need help any more than those offering it do. I use my cane to find stairs and obstacles, I use traffic flow to decide when to cross the street. But more important than the hows and whys of my techniques, is the fact that I am a competent adult who assesses risk and asks for assistance when I need it. I was not on the verge of falling down the stairs when the man grabbed my arm. What if every time you left your house, the majority of the interactions you had indicated that people were assuming your incompetence? A stranger flags you down, hops in your car, and starts driving to your destination for you. Are you grateful?
The final part of the code, that help is a good deed, further serves to muddle the interactions. I often find myself trying to reassure the stranger of my competence. “I’ve got it,” “I’m good,” I know where I am.” If there’s physical contact involved, my defensive reaction to being a woman being unexpectedly grabbed is in play. I shouldn’t have to quash these self-protective instincts, but I also don’t want massive jolts of adrenaline multiple times a day. Often, I mix a physically defensive response, an abrupt stop and jerking away of my arm, with a polite verbal response, a smile and a “No thank you.” If my reaction isn’t sufficiently sugar coated, “I was just trying to help,” the stranger will respond, his or her confusion at my violation of the code evident. These moments leave me feeling dishearten, and they probably leave the stranger feeling confused, offended, or disappointed. If I’m not in the mood for conflict, my other choice is to accept the touch of strange hands on my body, just smile and say thanks. When I take this route, I can only describe the after taste as the flavor of eroding dignity.
The code of help is only a small part of a larger social construct about disability. Systemic change is a long and uphill battle. If you’re reading this post, and you are a nondisabled person, I invite you to institute some small changes in your practice of the code of help.
- Assume competence. Always remember that you’re having an interaction with another adult who has been going about their day without your assistance until this moment.
- Ask before you act. If you do feel like help might be warranted, and it may be, because preferences and abilities are as unique as the individuals who have them, start with a verbal offer. A gracious offer gives far more room for a gracious acceptance or decline than forced help does.
- Personal space rules apply. You probably wouldn’t reach out and grab just anyone, so avoid doing so to people with disabilities.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be undertaking a conscious effort to find new and better responses to moments when I find myself tripped up by the code of help. I invite you to share your own experiences in the comments.
There’s a lot of information on the web already about Voice Over accessibility in IOS 7. As a blind user, and an Assistive Technology Specialist by trade, I was anxious to experience all IOS 7 had to offer. So tonight after work, I popped dinner in the oven, dropped the IPhone on the dock, and started the upgrade. Fast forward an hour or so, that way I don’t have to divulge my unhealthy dinner choices, and it was time for my first look at IOS 7. Its major shiny bits are well documented, but the beauty is often in the details, so here are 5 small things I love so far:
- Siri can have a male or female voice. This matters to me as a technology trainer, because new IPhone users have sometimes been confused about when they should talk to the phone, and when they should touch the screen. Two separate voices will help to clarify that question, even if it leaves me in a quandary over what gender pronoun to use for my beloved virtual assistant.
- Using Voice Over, you can use a 2 finger double tap to activate dictation when in an edit field. No more hunting for that tiny dictation button when I decide I want to dictate a message, I simply use the same gesture to start and stop dictation. When sending texts, I can easily access dictation, then swipe to the send button. My process for texting just got faster and more fluid.
- Siri automatically starts listening after asking you a question. Previously, I had to hold down the home button each time I wanted to speak to Siri, even as part of a multistep process, like composing and confirming a text. Doing this reminded me of playing with walkie talkies as a kid. “Send it, over and out, Siri!” But now, if Siri requires a response, it plays the 2 tone beep indicating that it is listening, without any button pushing from me. Texting while multitasking just got easier.
- Control center! Ok, everyone else is talking about it too, but from an accessibility standpoint, I love not having to swipe through a lot of settings to quickly activate Do Not Disturb before heading in to a meeting, or turn Bluetooth off and on if pairing my Braille display is proving problematic.
- Siri can read emails: Speaking of multi-tasking, and at the risk of this turning in to an ode to Siri, I was pleased to find Siri can now be asked to read email. So far, I am finding this less efficient thanworking with Voiceover, but I think it will have real potential for beginning users who are still mastering Voice Over gestures.
Stay tuned for additional thoughts on IOS 7, as I put it through its paces in the coming days.