Autism and the Issues Around Buying and Wearing Clothing

Being autistic/Aspie means we struggle with making the most basic of choices.  Simple decisions such as choosing what to eat for breakfast, or what drink to buy from a shop can be fraught with difficulty.  Making this simple decision can cause us to blank out for several minutes.  Lost in our own world and staring at a shelf or a kitchen cupboard whilst trying to weigh up the pros and cons of each option.  Then finally making our choice.  The same is usually true when buying clothes or deciding which outfit to wear.  But there can be even more difficulties around this issue.

Sensory Issues with Clothing

People who aren’t autistic can choose any type of clothing, without it causing any discomfort to them afterwards.  But being autistic/Aspie means we have to seriously consider the sensory issues we can face with the clothing we wear.

Wrong Colour

This can even be as simple as the colour being wrong.  Such as it being too bright, like reds and yellows.  

Many people who are autistic/Aspie, including myself, would happily wear black all the time.  In fact I feel the happiest and most comfortable wearing black.  But to wear it all the time is often not socially acceptable.  Especially in places like the work environment.  

There are, of course, autistics/Aspies who are the polar opposite to this, which also causes issues.  They are hyposensitive to brightness and will seek out the brightest of colours.

Skin Sensitivity

Often the largest issue is our skin/touch sensitivity.  Which means that some clothes really irritate us.  Which can be so bad, it causes rashes.  Examples include rough fibres such as wool and acrylic.  That have to be completely avoided. 

Restrictive Clothing

Many of us don’t like things around our necks either as it feels too constrained.  Even if it’s a touch loose, it feels like we are being strangled.  So the basic shirt and tie that most people enjoy wearing can be serious uncomfortable or even unbearable for us.  Often causing problems if a workplace setting or school requires us to wear this attire.

Choosing What to Wear Each Day

As previously mentioned, choice is difficult and time consuming for people on the autistic spectrum.  As choosing what to wear is a daily task, it can be draining to continually have to do this regularly.  Especially alongside the other difficult choices we have to make each day.

How we Get Around our Clothing Issues

Many autistic people, find methods that work for them around clothing but some seem very odd to other people.  Some are probably more socially acceptable than others.

Perhaps the most extreme is to only wear one favourite jumper (pullover) all the time and only wash it once per week.  Sometimes this behaviour can cause hygiene issues and even single us out.  Which can even lead to negative comments or bullying.

Buying and Wearing the Same Clothes or Clothes From the Same Retailer

What many of us tend to do (myself included) is once we have found clothing that is acceptable, we buy it multiple times.  

One autistic person I am friends with, simply buys several blue shirts once per year (the exact same brand, same style and size) and wears the same type of shirt each and every day for work.  He will also do the same with v neck jumpers (pullovers) for winter.  The same with trousers and even fleece jackets.  So he always looks the same and wears the same colours.

I am not quite as bad as that, as many people notice him for being this way and often comment, or light-heartedly mock him.  Whereas I don’t like to stand out like this.  

But I am not a million miles away from this either.   I wear the same top but have it in different colours.  So have five soft cotton polo jumpers (pullovers) that are identical apart from their colour.  I have exactly the same brand of cotton v neck t shirts with the only variation being the colour.  The same trainers which I buy again and again when they wear out.  I have one pair in black and one in white.  I have worn the same type of trainers for over six years.  The same waterproof jacket in different colours.  Every pair of socks I own, is the same brand, and the only brand I will ever buy.  

Trying on Before We Buy

In the world of internet shopping many people will often buy their clothing from the internet and then send them back if they are not happy with them.   As autistics we have to be more selective.  It is often much better to go to a shop and feel the material before we even try it on.  Then only once the colour and material appear to be acceptable, go to try it on to make sure.  Once we have found an item of clothing that is correct then we can order it from the internet at a later date.  Or reorder it when it becomes worn or we require a different colour.

Trying on clothing in a shop does have its challenges though, such as having to make social interaction when asking the attendant to try them on.  Then having the difficulty of saying that the clothes are not suitable afterwards, and handing them back.

Strange Things I do to Help Me

As choosing clothing is so difficult.  Plus there are times when I find the perfect top only to find a retailer discontinues it.  I try to make my clothing last as long as possible.  Therefore, even though it is a massive chore, I will hand wash the more delicate items each day after finishing work so they keep their colour and become less worn.  I will also re-dye clothing (especially blacks) when they fade. 

When I use a washing machine, I only use a delicate setting and delicate wash liquid (as I am sensitive to almost every wash powder anyway).

Doing all these thing will often mean some items of clothing will last two or three years, and often look as new as when I bought them for most of that time.

Because I wear different colour clothing, I need it to match, and more importantly I don’t want the trouble of deciding what to wear each and every day; I make a weekly list of what I am going to wear each weekday for the following week.  

Other Things That Help

Other things that can help include: 

  • Cutting out labels
  • Shopping at the same retailer. As we know at least the sizing is correct.
  • Buying the same materials such as cotton or polyester
  • Wearing similar colours such as blacks and blues

Even though we have all these measures in place it is good to branch out a little bit and try something new once in a while.  Just to fit in a bit more or have a touch more variety. 

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