We Wear What We Want

Autistic Style – Doodle Beth's Blog of Stuff | Autistic, Aspergers ...
[Image description: A young woman with pink hair halfway down her back, wearing headphones, sunglasses, a blue t-shirt and green pants, and a fuzzy stim toy on a lanyard around her neck.  The text reads: “Autistic Style”, “Headphones: Even if you’re not listening to anything, headphones are great for blocking out the sounds around you.  Plus people are less likely to talk to you.”, “Sunglasses: Great for when you’re somewhere bright and overwhelming.  Also good if you worry about not making eye contact – if they can’t see your eyes, they can’t see you’re not making eye contact”, “Comfortable Clothes: Super soft, no nasty seams or irritating labels.”, “Stim Toys: Stimming is a great way to help you feel calm.  Keep something with you that can keep your hands busy.

Credit to Beth “Doodlebeth” Wilson for this picture]

Recalling that autistic people interpret sensory stimulations differently than most people, it cannot be understated how important our favourite clothing is to us.  Our favourite clothes are those clothes that our skin has grown accustomed to the feeling of.  They make our skin feel safe, comfortable, and protected.  The absence of our favourite clothes makes us feel, for lack of a better term, exposed.  Even if we are still wearing other clothes, we feel vulnerable and unsafe.

I need to wear the same leather jacket whether it is +20 degrees celsius outside or -20 degrees celsius outside.  I never wear snowpants even when there is a blizzard.  I cannot wear sweaters, scarves, or anything on my head.  I will only make the seasonal change from my flat Converse shoes to my winter hiking boots once I have slipped on the ice more than once.  I wear t-shirts and jeans that were bought 7 years ago, and which I have worn 1-2 days a week since they were bought.

Colour is equally as important to the decency of autistic clothing as the fabric.  We must wear the colours which we have identified as safe, and which align with our comfort needs.  Each autistic person has different needs around colour, graphics, and styles.  I need all of my clothing to be in dark tones, either black, grey, or blue.  I will only allow graphics on my clothing if I can’t feel the graphic through the shirt.

New clothing also makes us feel insecure and unsafe.  I always hated receiving gifts of new clothing, even if my family had good taste.  New clothing meant unfamiliar sensory sensations, and any clothing I would have to wear would need to be broken in over a period of months.  Until those months had passed, I would feel every seam and thread constricting my body and angrily rubbing against my skin, which had grown accustomed to the clothes I had worn before.  I couldn’t be productive, or comfortable, wearing anything that my skin had not grown used to yet.

I also hate trying on new clothes.  New clothes means all kinds of new, unfamiliar, unsafe feelings on my skin.  I want to be anywhere else besides a change room of a clothing store trying on new clothes.

I have notions in my head about what I should look like.  Some of those notions include clothing that I don’t already own or have worn yet.  I would only make the transition from old clothing to new clothing if I felt that the new clothes brought me closer to my vision for myself.  I have occasionally surprised my entire family by all of a sudden wanting to wear white v-neck shirts, or cargo pants with chained pockets, or combat boots, because at the time that’s the vision I had for myself.  I had to do much of my own clothes shopping for that reason; anybody trying to gift me clothes was just trying to guess what my vision was.  After many years my family learned my preferences but that was a very long process.

Support the autistic people in your life by allowing us to wear what we want.  Even if it seems unfashionable to you.  It’s not about fashion to us; it’s about safety, and it’s about authenticity.  Autistic people should be given the acceptance to be authentic, and that means wearing the clothes that our bodies want to feel.

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