Saturday, December 4, 2021

An Autistic Passion for Fashion

Emma Seely-Katz
humanrepeller.com

I was diagnosed with Autism fairly late, at age 22. None of my loved ones were surprised. One thing that might have tipped them off is my longtime obsession with fashion and clothing, which I realized belatedly could fit into the paradigm of “special interest.” When I thought about it that way, it became apparent that being Autistic can give one a unique and valuable way of approaching fashion that I think deserves more exploration.

For someone with heightened sensitivity, clothing and accessories can make or break an entire day out. Not only do things like texture and fit have the potential to trigger or soothe, clothes and accessories can be chosen for their visually or kinetically stimulating properties, their ability to store necessary items close at hand, their ability to address light, sound, or scent sensitivities… The potential to use dressing to create a tiny bubble of comfort, like a suit of armor, is so exciting to me and I believe it can manifest in an interesting and unique sartorial sensibility. 

Autism is a highly relational state of being—interactions with other people can be daunting as someone with a different way of processing sensory input, but they provide me with, and then give me the opportunity to test out, tools I can use to expand my conception of the world. Fashion is a similarly relational endeavor, and I find it helpful to approach it as another tool with which I can mediate my experience of being alive. I use it not only to soothe myself but also to convey to others who I am and what is important to me. 

The following are some suggestions for clothes, accessories, and miscellaneous accoutrements that might be good fits for those with Autistic or other hypersensitivities. I am nonbinary and wear clothes designed for all genders, so this guide is designed from that perspective. I try to include some pieces that are financially accessible in my guides, but they are all just style suggestions and can easily be riffed upon at a thrift store! If you enjoy this article, you can check out more at humanrepeller.com where I’ve written posts on how to dress like specific anime characters, utilitarian clothing, first date outfits, and more.


TUBE TOP

Model wearing a dark gray long sleeved tube neck top and matching pants.
[image: Model wearing a dark gray long-sleeved
tube neck top and matching pants.]

For people who want the look of a high-necked top without the constriction around the neck of a typical turtleneck, this top would be perfect! Black Crane uses high-quality fabrics and this top will certainly treat your skin well. 

EARTHWORM SHIRT

Short-sleeved red plaid button-up shirt with multiple front pockets showed containing itmes like digging spades, pencils, and a small spray bottle.
[image: Short-sleeved red plaid button-up shirt with multiple front pockets
containing items like digging spades, pencils, and a small spray bottle.]

This 100% cotton shirt won’t irritate sensitive skin but will provide a truly awe-inspiring amount of storage spaces to keep things close at hand to keep tics and triggers at bay. I always need lip balm, chewing gum, a pen, and a glasses wipe within reach or I can plan on having a miserable day, and this sturdy, reinforced shirt won’t let me lose any of them through a frayed hole.

LAKE SHIRT

Gray button-up long sleeved shirt with long neck flaps tied in front of the model's throat.
[image: Black button-up long sleeved shirt with long neck flaps
tied in front of the model's throat.]

This shirt is made of soft, lightweight cotton voile, can be tied and untied in times of stress (it looks great both ways), and is black so stains are less of a concern, which is a huge point in my book when I’m considering a dress shirt. The unique silhouette will be an instant conversation starter and indicates an interest in fashion that could lead to some incredible talks with new acquaintances! 

CLOUD COAT

[image: Photo of a model wearing a black quilted cloud coat.]

This iridescent coat is made from beetled linen, a special treatment that makes the fabric more durable and water-resistant, great for those of us (myself definitely included) who hate the feeling of wet skin and want a light but striking layer to keep us dry. The sleeves can be cinched with ties or left to hang loose depending on what feels better to you.

EMERGENCY SLEEP HOODIE

[image: Model, seen from the back, wearing a black hoodie with a small
matching pillow attached to their shoulders by three metal carabiners.]

This hoodie displays a sense of both levity and pragmatism–the decoration on the back detaches into a pillow that would be a boon on flights, train rides, or waits at the DMV, and can also be used as a bag if you have spare carabiners or a cord to attach to the three included carabiners. A huge preventative measure for Autism freakouts is to never be caught off-guard without necessary supplies, and with this hoodie, you won’t!

MOSAIC COLLAR SWEATSHIRT

[image: Black long-sleeved sweatshirt with
rainbow mosaic piecework around the neck.]

This sweatshirt is made of unbeatably cozy 100% cotton fleece and its unique mosaic pattern provides a ton of visual interest to the default sweatsuit that I often retreat to in need of comfort and range of motion in my outfit.

ORANGE BEAN

Orange L.L. Bean coat with brown collar and cuffs, with multiple colored patches sewn on the center front.
[image: Orange L.L. Bean coat with brown collar and cuffs,
with multiple colored patches sewn on the center front.]

I'm not recommending dropping $2K on this jacket (though if you have that kind of money, by all means!), but I think it’s great inspiration for an even cooler look: Thrift an old jacket (L.L. Bean coats like this one are dime a dozen at thrift stores) and go crazy sewing on patches that make you happy or send messages about yourself that you don’t want to have to verbalize! This patch shop is a great place to start.

TERRY CLASSIC SWEATPANT

Bottom half of a model wearing light blue mostly traditional design sweatpants.
[image: Bottom half of a model wearing light blue
mostly traditional design sweatpants.]

These are the comfiest, best-fitting sweats I’ve found thus far in my extensive travels across the sweatpant matrix, and can be matched to Richer Poorer’s sweatshirts for an easy, cohesive look for the days when you just need to feel like you never really had to get out of bed.

TERRY TROUSER

Lower half of a model wearing tailored dark blue sweatpants. Their hands are in their pockets and they are wearing a long-sleeved gray sweatshirt and white converse shoes with black laces.
[image: Lower half of a model wearing tailored dark blue sweatpants.
Their hands are in their pockets and they are wearing a long-sleeved gray
sweatshirt and white converse shoes with black laces.]

Another Richer Poorer pick, these pants have the same incredible comfort with a more tailored look—I would even dare to wear these into the office!


Brown and gray cargo pants that convert into shorts.
[image: Brown and gray cargo pants that convert into shorts.]

Temperature changes are a huge trigger for me, so I love convertible clothing. These pants look slick and have a built-in belt and ankle cinches for a perfect, not too-tight or too-loose fit, and zip off into a just-as-good-looking pair of shorts. These would be excellent for hiking or biking or just one of those days that starts at 60 degrees and ends up at 80!

CONVERTIBLE DOUBLE KNEE PANTS

Brown pants with multiple pockets down the front of both legs.
[image: Brown pants with multiple pockets down the front of both legs.]

Another transcendent storage solution, I own a pair of these pants and they were worth every penny. The possibilities for storage space and for mixing and matching (the pocket panels are removable and interchangeable with the other colors of the pants) are immense and exciting. The pants are a bit heavy, which I find comforting but is something to consider if hefty fabrics bother you. 

ULTRA STRETCH COMFORT PANTS

Photo of a Black model, from the shoulders down, wearing a red jacket and khaki stretchy pants.
[image: Photo of a model, from the shoulders down,
wearing a red jacket and khaki stretchy pants.]

There are many days when looking “put-together,” especially for work, is a huge weight on my mind and comes into conflict with my comfort and ability to move freely. Uniqlo has a great selection of pants that smooth out this conflict, including this pair!


[image: Model from the shoulders down, wearing a baggy white top, with their hands in the pockets of baggy dark gray pants.
[image: Model from the shoulders down, wearing a baggy white top,
with their hands in the pockets of baggy dark gray pants.]

I have struggled with body dysmorphia, compounded by Autism, creating a hyperawareness of my body and how it fits into clothes, and sometimes I just want to throw on a huge, baggy sack and be done with it all. These pants allow for this sensation while still looking cool as hell. They are marketed as genderless and would look great on people of any stature.

ACCORDION PLEATED SKIRT

Person wearing a gray long plaid accordion pleated skirt and black Oxford shoes, from the side, with one foot slightly raised in front of them.
[image: Person wearing a gray long plaid accordion pleated skirt and
black Oxford shoes, from the side, with one foot slightly raised in front of them.]

This skirt is made of rayon, meaning it won’t hold wrinkles–one less garment to agonize over leaving crumpled on the ground for a day or two. Its fun, sharp texture is invigorating to the touch and to the eye, and the length is perfect for showing off epic shoes or socks. 

BRUISED HOODIE DRESS

Model wearing a hoodie dress in thin fuzzy horizontal stripes of green and orange.
[image: Model wearing a hoodie dress in
thin fuzzy horizontal stripes of green and orange.]

This dress is an easy choice for days where coordinating a top and bottom sets you off on a mental rampage through a closet of clothing that doesn’t quite fit the bill. Its colors are unique and beautifully integrated, and the hood is perfect for temperate but windy days when a jacket or hat is not in order but you want to protect your hairstyle.

BOILER SUIT

Model from the shoulders down, wearing a navy blue one-piece long sleeved boiler jumpsuit.
[image: Model from the shoulders down, wearing a
navy blue one-piece long sleeved boiler jumpsuit.]

Another great choice for when selecting both top AND bottom is just too much, this incredibly affordable boiler suit will only look cooler with wear and tear.

RUBBER GARDENING BOOT

A pair of black ankle-height rubber gardening boots.
[image: A pair of black ankle-height rubber gardening boots.]

Wet feet are a personal dimension of Hell to me, and these rubber boots would shield me from it without compromising the unimpeachability of my outfit.

BONDI SR

A white lace-up tennis shoe with an extra-supportive sole.
[image: A white lace-up tennis shoe with an extra-supportive sole.]

I injured an ankle several years ago, leading to a cascade of pain up and down my body every time I walked for three damn years before I discovered Hoka Bondis. They genuinely changed my life, and this iteration is in the mail to me as I type. With water resistance, slip-resistant soles, and no mesh, these are perfect winter sneakers, but I suspect I’ll be wearing them year-round. Anything that decreases my pain also decreases my Autistic distress, as the two are deeply interconnected for me.

RECYCLED EAR FLAP CAP

An olive green felt cap with adjustable ear flaps.
[image: An olive green felt cap with adjustable ear flaps.]

This cap is cozy, adjustable, will shield your eyes from overstimulating sunlight, and has a fold-down flap that will keep your ears warm AND do a bit to muffle loud noises (or signal that you’d rather not be talked to right now). 

PLAID FLEECE BONNET

Model wearing a blue plaid contemporary fleece bonnet that ties under the chin.
[image: Model wearing a blue plaid contemporary fleece bonnet that ties under the chin.]

Another cap that will serve many of the same purposes as the one above in a completely different aesthetic sensibility, with the added bonus of keeping your neck warm. 

CARPET HEAD COVER

A model wearing a thick knitted cap that covers the ears, neck, and  part of the chest.
[image: A model wearing a thick knitted cap that covers
the ears, neck, and  part of the chest.]

The most heavy-duty warm of all the head coverings I’ve recommended, this unique piece will keep you feeling safe and swathed when you are out in the cold.

KNOTS BANDANA

A square blue bandanna with white drawings of various functional knots.
[image: A square blue bandanna with white drawings of various functional knots.]

Check out all the bandanas this site has to offer and you might find one that satisfies a hyperfixation of yours, whether that’s wildlife, maps, fishing, or snakes! This knot bandana is hanging above my bed right now but it also looks great tied around your neck or head and will quickly convey your interests to anyone who might catch a glimpse. 

LEATHER ID WALLET NECKLACE/CROSSBODY

Model from the shoulders down wearing a pale brown crossbody leather wallet necklace.
[image: Model from the shoulders down wearing a
pale brown crossbody leather wallet necklace.]

This handy little thing is the antidote to feeling suffocated by belongings: simply slip your important cards into the pouch, clip on your keys, and get the heck out the door!

ITA FANNY PACK

Black fanny pack with a clear plastic window on the front that is protecting and displaying a number of enamel pins, including ones of Winnie the Pooh and Mickey & Minnie Mouse kissing.
[image: Black fanny pack with a clear plastic window on the front that is
protecting and displaying a number of enamel pins, including ones of
Winnie the Pooh, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse kissing.]

One of my recent hyperfixations was pin collecting, and if you’re into that too, having a subtle but handy ITA bag to safely display them in saves a lot of headache worrying about them falling off and makes you easily identifiable to other people with similar obsessions, perhaps fellow Autists who are now your new friends! All because of a fanny pack! See, fashion is powerful. 

SONY WH1000XM3 NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES

White Sony noise-canceling headphones.
[image: White Sony noise-canceling headphones.]

These headphones have been reviewed as comfortable for long-haul wears, great at noise canceling, and easy to use, minus any wire tangling or snagging that comes with non-Bluetooth headsets. I like the silver colorway a lot, but the black is slightly cheaper! 

I hope a few of these garments were invigorating or inspiring to you, and would love to hear how Autism has facilitated or hindered your fashion sense! DM me on Instagram @humanrepeller or head over to humanrepeller.com to see more of my articles on the various facets of fashion I am into. 

<3 HR