Friday, January 4, 2008

Aspies and Clothing

Welcome to 2008! This post looks at the way in which people with Asperger's choose and wear clothing.

This is another one of those strange posts that I originally thought was only me. After a lot of online discussion, it appears that there is a common thread amongst aspies. I don't think I've seen this discussed properly in the literature anywhere.

Not following the the fashions
Okay, this bit has been mentioned in the literature as a one-liner. I guess what is being said here is simply that aspies often are dressed like dags. This fits the "aspie as a nerd" image very well. Aspies generally don't like a lot of change and as result, they will often wear similar outfits all the time. In fact, on a recent shopping trip,when I found a shirt that I liked, I bought a couple of pairs in different colours and I was quite tempted to buy a lot more copies.

What attracts aspies to clothing?
  • Colourful patterns
    In my younger days, I had a vast array of extremely colourful jumpers with patterns which I liked on them. I think the patterning part is pretty obvious but the colours are obviously intended to attract attention. I have a feeling that I was attempting to compensate for my lack of social skills by wearing colours which would make me more noticed.

  • Similarity to previously liked clothing
    I don't go looking for something new and exciting to wear but rather look for something to replace an item of clothing that either no longer fits or has worn through. My shoes have followed the same basic styles for years and I'm always buying the same colour shirts.

  • Lack of negative texture
    Some clothing textures just don't feel right on an aspie. We can almost always tell if clothing has a "bad" texture without even having to try it on.

  • lack of negative memory
    This is hard to explain, so I'll use an example instead. I once went off a particuar type of buttons for years because of their similarity to sliced bananas. I am over that phase now however there are still some buttons which make me squeamish just to look at them. I don't quite know why, but I know banana's are involved (btw: I've only started eating Banana's again in the last 6 months - after not eating them for about 10 years).

Aren't you hot in that jacket?
This is one of the most frequent things aspies are asked about their clothing. I remember walking home every day in 30°C heat wearing a jumper. I never felt the heat despite my mother's complaints when I got home. I simply thought that the texture of the jumper was nicer then the texture of my shirt. I was also afraid that if I took my jumper off, I would probably lose it.

I thought that this behaviour had disappeared once I left school. It obviously hasn't, I just don't have my mother complaining to me about it anymore.

Recently, I went to my sister's 40th birthday party. It was a coldish night, so I wore a long coat. I call it my "Matrix Coat" because it's a little like the coats they wear in the Matrix movies. I was very very comfortable with the coat on and even though it warmed up because the party was held indoors, I still did not take it off.

I must have been asked about 20 times (by nosey do-gooders) why I didn't take the coat off and "wasn't I hot in that coat...". In the end, I finally took the coat off in order to shut people up. I left the party about 10 minutes later, so I'm wondering if the coat was protecting me (making social contact easier).


Sorchah said...

I wear my coat at all times in the winter. I've never understood why coat racks exist in places other than a person's house.

Jason said...

(another poster from WP)

I go through hell trying to dress for business casual. I'm uncomfortable in anything but t-shirts and jeans, but I try to find polo shirts that I can live with. I can't stand the weave/mesh texture that's on the vast majority of them, and I can spot them a mile away. Once I find one I like, the button configuration is usually wrong, so I'm either choked or feeling like I should be wearing it to a bar. They can't have any logos, and have to be from a specific selection of drab earth tones.

None one I know will go clothes shopping with me anymore :)

Allen said...

Wow Gavin, that post really expressed my feelings. Sometimes I still have a tendency to wear bright coloured clothing. Luckily bright coloured ties are in fashion these days :-)

Vexcalibur said...

I seem to have had the opposite experience to warm clothing I very often get asked about not being too cold with the t-shirt I am wearing, but really, it might be raining and all I just feel better on my t-shirt...

Meredith said...

Hmm, interesting, that's my total opposite. I never could stand coats and even today I have trouble wearing longsleeve clothes and I simply cannot wear socks indoors. Recently I'd discovered that I may be heat intolerant, with those days of inability to sweat and the likelihood of passing out when it goes over 30˚C. I've always been mocked and regarded as a freak because of this, but I really have no idea how I could endure heat. On the other hand, I'm largely impervious to cold, both feeling-wise and in terms of immune system effects (that is, I didn't have a cold in 10 years).
But texture, yeah, that one I can understand. ThinkGeek's (or similar) cotton t-shirts with tags torn out, with some loose jeans or boxers; that's my usual style. No layers, because that makes me feel confined, and preferably nothing on my lower arms. This makes things complicated in environments where cutters are unwelcome, but I still manage somehow. (Actually, I use my impeccable GPA to defend myself against anti-cutter school officials.)

Damo said...

Another interesting animal. I see clothing as an essential requirement to cover up the socially unacceptable bits. Shoes are to be practical to get you from point A to point B. As for fashion, I see it as a waste of money and the masses trying to conform to the other masses and not stand out. It amuses me. Me, if I'm cold I'll put a jumper on. If i'm hot, Tee and shorts. Simple relaible and practical.

As for items. If I find something I really like, I'll get usually 2 or 3. Different colours. I don't do patterns or paisley. Too busy. Just simple primary colours. Logos, trademarks etc, meh as long as they're not too busy.

Yuo speculate as to the coat and its use for social interaction. I agree with your hypothesis. It was a shield.

Anonymous said...

Yep, another revealing point. You know, when I see phrases like "resistance to change," it seems so extreme that I wonder whether I'm an aspie. But as I read your experiences and think about mine, I can find the common threads even though we're so different!

I am an artistic aspie, so I have an interest in creative clothing and looking nice. At first thought I or anyone else would say that I try a variety of clothing, and I'm often creative/bold, even weird. But then I remember how my mom and sister sometimes remark that I'm "so rigid" and "unwilling to try anything outside of my liking." So indeed I have some rigid fixations on clothing - it has to fit nicely and not make me look fatter or give me a weird shape, it has to complement my skin color, it can't have any buttons on it for fashion (the only clothes with buttons allowed are button down shirts and coats), and moreover, it has to "click" with me.

an interesting difference between my likes/dislikes and a NT's likes/dislikes is that mine have specific or elaborate reasons behind them. my sister just say she doesn't like a dress, and i'll analyze why i don't like it. (goes back to your post on how aspies have life stories behind everything). i might like everything about a top except for one design issue (buttons), and i won't buy it. cardigans look frumpy to me and i don't want one even it it's cute (and girls wear them all the time). when i wear something i don't like, it shows on my face and drains me. when i'm pleased with what i put together i look like a different person.

sometimes when i'm stressed or pressed for time, i just say screw it to all my preferences and look totally dull - another swing between extremes.

Anonymous said...

Any suggestions for a suitable line of business/dress clothes? Tagless and polyester-free shirts, perhaps?

Gavin Bollard said...

I'm sure that there are shops out there providing clothing for kids on the spectrum (and probably at very high prices).

The thing is that different kids have different sensitivities so some kids might hate velvet for instance while others will love it.

You're probably best off doing normal shopping with your child in tow. My mother used to make a rule that we couldn't leave a shop until we had three shirts and three pants (or whatever it was that I needed). I'd usually find one that I liked and then we'd get it in other colours.

Tags are almost universally disliked but cutting them off will often exacerbate the problems because it makes them shorter and stiffer. Their remnants stick into the skin more.

Also cutting off tags makes it difficult to quickly put kids names on their clothing.

Instead, you might want to consider "wearing down" the tag. Scraping it until it becomes super-soft. Then your child won't feel it.

Alecta said...

I have a love of coats and bags because of how useful they are for me. Coats protect me from the cold and environment and provide a functional accessory. Bags are cool looking and totally functional. I have to have one or I'm worried about losing things.

Anonymous said...

I have aspergers and i can completely relate...i always wear a coat, even in the heat of summer and people are always asking me if i am hot or why i am wearing the coat, but i just am comfortable when wearing a coat.

faulty@40 said...

I can really relate to this. My particular needs as a kid were:
- what I had last time
- very plain
- clean, always fresh that day
- knee length rubber boots in black without socks or if I had to have shoes, black slip-ons - I found shoes too restrictive and preferred my loose fitting wellies which I could easily kick off
- no underwear as they itched
- shorts w/o underwear as a compromise with mum, otherwise I'd go about the house in just a t-shirt - I am quite heat intolerant

In summer I'd only wear polo kneck t- shirts and shorts. Bare foot or sandals.

In winter it was wellies without socks and plastic waterproofs - yellow or orange.

Both of these gave me some difficulty at school, which had strict uniform policies, no shorts after age, no wellies in school , black duffel coats (which I loathed). The only thing I got away with was not wearing underpants. It meant I had to have 5 clean pairs of trousers a week, but that suited me (my poor mum!). I used to strip off my trousers as soonas I got home, despite to my mum and sisters objections to seeing my bits !

freedom came with the uniformless sixth form (17-18yo prep for university for those of you in the US). I reverted to shorts, polo shirts and sandals in summer, cords with wellies or loose fitting DM boots in winter. Even though I had no diagnosis (not until I was 30!) the school tolerated my eccentricities, as they saw them. I didn't really have friends at school, so there was no one to be embarrassed by me.

I only moderated my dress when I went to university. I made some friends for the first time, who patiently helped me fit in a bit more.

I still hate woollens, fussy patterns or thin stripes, thick coats and jeans. I still wear and DMs a lot and still sock-less. I am still a nightmare to buy for or shop with. I know within a nano-second whether an item is a yes or a definite no.

I cannot explain why a lot of the time, they just don't look right. I think it has something to do with what I perceive as logical and illogical designs. For example the collar of a shirt is either just right or totally wrong. Another example is DM and Hunter boots, which I love, but I loathe and would not wear the cheaper imitations. I have nightmare buying suits - lapels, fabrics, trouser width... So many things that can be wrong.

I also have fixed views on what goes with what and how you wear them. I cannot wear a sweater over my shoulders or a shirt untucked, for example.

It is not so bad now as I do not care what people think, but in my twenties when i was trying to come out as gay, it was horrible. Not only did I not dress right, but I couldn't!

Anonymous said...

This is an old post, and I'm just reading it now because I Googled "Asperger's and dressing for business" or something similar. It is comforting to read all the comments here. I'm a 30-year-old woman with Asperger's. Recently got a new job, and I have to dress business casual, and I absolutely hate it. I am very sensitive to layers, waistbands, uncomfortable shoes. When I conform as much as I can, I am uncomfortable all day. When I go for comfort, I stick out like a sore thumb. I can't find the right middle ground. None of my friends/family understand what the big deal is. But it's a daily struggle for me. When I wear what everyone else is wearing I resent having to change and be uncomfortable. When I wear what I want I feel like I may get fired because I don't look as "nice" as everyone else. And even when I DO conform as much as possible, I'm still off. Because I refuse to wear makeup or heels. Thanks for listening. Just needed to vent.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon January 7, 2015
I also stumbled onto this site and I'm married to Aspies husband for decades without knowing he was one. I was wondering if you could pick your own fabric (linen for example) and have it tailored to suit your preferences. I really don't have a clue about how to advise you. I stay in the tropics all my life so I really don't know about dressing for the temperate regions. Warm regards.

Anonymous said...

Ditto here. I absolutely hate long sleeves. I'm too warm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for posting this! I know it's old, but I just found it.

I'm an aspie and know EXACTLY what you are talking about with clothing. I buy the same exact clothes and shoes time and time again, and when the ones I like aren't available anymore, I go into full panic mode because now I will have to go through great expense and time trying different new things until I find what works.

When I was a child, my parents couldn't keep clothes on me, so they just gave up and we became "nudists". Even now as an adult, the first thing I do when I get home is remove all my clothes and my heart rate lowers and by blood pressure drops to normal. I just cannot stand the feeling of things against my skin.

Now, I found out that my favorite brand/model of hiking boots (nneded for work) have moved production to China, and I just know they won't be the same. I have to go buy a million pairs of drab brown leather hiking boots now to find a pair that I can live with. I give the ones that don't work away and pretend they never existed.

Unknown said...

I think I've just found out my husband has aspergers (undiagnosed). He has worn the same round neck white tee shirts every day for 30 years. He dislikes many textures and will keep a coat even when it's dropping to bits. Dress up events are a nightmare. I would love to find a group or place I can discuss marriage to an aspire. I've been pretty unhappy for so many years and could do with chatting to similar women.

Jerold said...

As a 65 y/o man with Asperger's that was diagnosed at 61, I was always a bit puzzled at my eccentricities in dress. When I was in college and quite overweight, I always wore a sleeveless button down the front sweater over everything. I couold not leave the dorm room without it.

When I was in college, I saw other men wearing sleeveless shirts/tank tops. They were just becoming available in colors. I started wearing them and have rarely worn anything else since them. In the winter in Iowa, I would wear a parka over it. I never liked something me binding in my shoulders and armpits. I used to argue with my conservative mother because she would not let me even sleep shirtless. Even when I was upward of 270, I wore them non-stop except to work after I moved out on my own..

If people did not like the way I looked, I would remind them that I take up 5 degrees of their visual field and they could look at the other 355 degrees around them. I would occasionally use a line that Lois Lane used on Superman II when she told an alien Krypton woman who commented on her appearance that she "could use a nip and tuck herself".

In 1992, I moved to Florida where they are acceptable almost anywhere (did not move for that reason - a perk I discovered living here) After I lost 110 lbs through working with Overeaters Anonymous (they were very accepting of my Asperger's diagnosis), I will usually go bare-chested when possible as it is more comfortable (again more acceptable here in Florida).

I have not run into other Aspies with my particular "eccentric" dress style but I would be interested in hearing from some others like me.