I was having a conversation with one of my friends recently where they had asked me if I had any tips for clothing shopping with sensory processing issues and tactile defensiveness. Clothing sensitivities are common in many people living with vision loss, including children and adults, and I’ve met many people who get overwhelmed when shopping for new clothes or that prefer to wear the same items over and over again. Here are some of my favorite clothing shopping tips for sensory processing issues, for people of all ages.
Document the fabric fiber compositions of favorite clothing items
I noticed that one of my friends often gravitated towards a specific type of shirt fabric and mentioned that they wished that their entire t-shirt collection featured items with this fabric. While it isn’t practical to replace all of their shirts at once, I looked at the clothing tag with a magnifier to document the fabric fiber composition so that they could search for items that were made with the same material. Fabric fiber compositions are often listed on online product listings as well, and contain the percentage by weight of each fiber making up that fabric- for example, the dress I am wearing right now is 95% organic cotton and 5% elastane.
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Take measurements of the wearer’s body as well as clothing items
When I am shopping online or in-store, it helps to have accurate body measurements for myself so that I can figure out how a particular item will fit me. I also like to measure the dimensions of some of my favorite/most flattering clothing items with a tape measure, and will compare the measurements of these clothing items to items I am considering purchasing- this is especially helpful when visualizing the length of dresses. For people who cannot take measurements of their body on their own, many tailors and alterations stores provide professional measurements for a nominal fee- I was able to get measurements taken for free when I had to get a few items hemmed.
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Try on clothing for 10-15 minutes and move around
I’ve tried on many clothing items that seemed comfortable when I first put them on, but after a few minutes I would discover that they restricted my movement or otherwise felt uncomfortable. When I am trying on online purchases or trying on clothing at home, I try to leave it on for 10-15 minutes to get an idea of how comfortable it is, and move around to see how the item fits. Of course, if an item feels itchy or uncomfortable shortly after I put it on, it goes in the “return” pile and I don’t force myself to keep wearing it.
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Learn basic clothing terms
One of my friends was telling me how much they liked a sweater they had, and mentioned wanting to get more, but had no idea what the style was called or how to search for it. Learning basic fashion terminology and garment vocabulary is helpful for people who are trying to figure out what types of items they like the best or which items are completely uncomfortable.
Some examples of helpful terms to learn include:
- Necklines- for example, my friend discovered they love cowl neck sweaters, but hated turtlenecks
- Fabric patterns and/or types- some people may have a strong dislike of certain patterns or fabric types/textures
- Silhouettes for dresses and skirts- I love a fit and flare dress or A-line skirt
- Pant styles- inclusive of jeans and other types of pants
Buy used/secondhand items from favorite brands
A few of my friends that experience tactile defensiveness have mentioned that they like to buy used or secondhand items from certain clothing brands because the items come pre-washed and are often softer than brand new clothing. Many online secondhand shopping stores allow users to filter by brand, size, clothing category, and even fabric.
Choose items that can be layered
I have a secondary medical condition that affects my ability to regulate body temperature, and this can extend to clothing sensitivities. For this reason, I try to buy clothing items that can be layered whenever possible, and add/remove layers throughout the day as necessary. One example is choosing sleeveless dresses and tops that can be layered with a longer sleeved jacket or sweater, instead of layering two long sleeve items, which can feel uncomfortable.
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Other clothing shopping tips for sensory processing issues
- Some people with clothing sensitivities may have a strong aversion or preference for items of a certain color, even if they have no usable vision. For example, one of my blind friends loves the color neon orange, while another friend has a strong dislike for green
- Compression garments such as leggings can be layered under dresses or tunic tops for wearers that prefer deep pressure
- I prefer to shop online over in-person stores because it is easier for me to find items in my size and examine clothing labels, plus it is easier for me to make online returns than to go back to the store