The Importance of Accessible and Sensory-friendly Clothing For Any Event

By | 2022-08-21T00:47:21+00:00 August 21st, 2022|Categories: Resources|0 Comments

Inclusivity in fashion is not a new concept, but it has been highly publicized as of late as voices advocating for diversity have grown louder. However, this call for improvements goes further than the need for different body types and backgrounds in fashion — it extends into the need for more inclusive and accessible clothing altogether.

What makes clothing “accessible” ranges from the ease of putting on and taking off items to how sensory-friendly the construction is. And while not all pieces of accessible clothing fit all needs, as options increase, so do opportunities for people to attend all kinds of events, from casual to formal.

Three soft knit sweaters, one grey, one beige and one brown

The Importance of Diversity and Inclusivity in Fashion

Vogue aptly described the gap in the fashion world’s inclusivity movements by saying: “Despite fashion’s rallying cries for inclusion, our understanding is pretty limited: We apply it to race, gender, sexuality, age, size, and religion, but rarely to one’s abilities.”

While more effort has been applied across the board to broaden the horizons of not only who is designing clothes, but who they are designed for, these efforts have mainly focused on creating greater diversity in race, body type, gender presentation, and other similar traits.

Despite these monumental strides, additional groups of people remain greatly underrepresented in both design and fashion trends, including people who live with visible and invisible disabilities, and sensory-processing issues.

Further, when brands do take efforts to promote disability-friendly clothing and other trends, it isn’t as easy as simply putting the item on the market and advertising it. Just like the sensitivity to the commodification of non-Western cultures that we see in cultural appropriation the same goes for creating products for and selling to people living with disabilities. If the brand designing and marketing this apparel doesn’t sincerely put in the work to understand the needs behind it, the efforts could come across as “empty”, misplaced, or simply, ineffective.

What Makes Something Sensory-Friendly?

While sensory-friendly clothing, surroundings, and other experiences are generally considered when discussing concerns applicable to people with autism, these concerns can also be relevant to anyone who struggles with overstimulation. For example, people with ADHD, anxiety, and even adults with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and Tourette’s syndrome can face overstimulation issues. That’s not even mentioning young children who may be easily distractible or easily irritable due to numerous environmental factors.

Sensory-friendly clothing, specifically, might include things like fit, fabric, application, moisture-wicking capabilities, and more. It could also include accessories such as fidget devices, which come in many forms, from apparel accessories to formal jewelry for adults, and tools and toys.

Suggestions for sensory-friendly clothing options include:

  • Natural fabrics to reduce itchiness or overall texture against the skin;
  • Easy on-and-off apparel without tricky fasteners, zippers, or buttons;
  • Clothes that don’t bunch up, or on the other hand, don’t cling too tightly;
  • A lack of tags or seams that could cause skin irritation.

Clothing items made with natural fabrics and without unnecessary chemical treatments are also some of the most sustainable and ethically sourced. In addition, these items typically come from smaller apparel businesses, meaning you can support your community when seeking sensory-friendly clothing as well.

Further, some people may even find that high-quality, comfortable jewelry or other accessories can act as effective anchors when feeling overstimulated during events. Simply wearing something tactile and distracting can be effective for many people, especially adults looking for something less noticeable when attending formal events or other social settings.

Accessibility in Clothing and Accessories

Sometimes referred to as “adaptive clothing,” these pieces of an ensemble are made to be easier to put on, remove, and generally wear daily. Many non-disabled consumers may not consider how difficult it is to button a shirt, pull a tight zipper, or even slide their arms through tight sleeves, but these seemingly “simple” actions can prove more difficult for people living with a myriad of disabilities.

Good housekeeping offers the following examples of adaptive clothing, including:

  • Articles of clothing that open from the side using magnets instead of buttons, zippers, clasps, etc.
  • Shoes that can be easily stepped into, rather than needing to be pulled on.
  • One-piece outfits that reduce the overall articles of clothing to pull on/take off during the day.
  • Specially designed clothing for wheelchair users.

In addition, accessories like jewelry, magnetic claps, easily-removed hooks, and broad clasps can be particularly useful. Investing in quality jewelry that won’t rust, tarnish, or leave discoloration on the skin is also important, as it reduces the need to re-purchase those accessories again over time.

This is especially important when considering how “new” jewelry or textures can sometimes cause sensory discomfort, and should also be considered when purchasing jewelry meant to last a lifetime, including wedding bands and other memorabilia.

Other forms of sensory-friendly jewelry include things like:

  • Spinner or fidget rings;
  • Silicon forms for oral stimulation (sometimes called “chewelry”);
  • Shaker objects containing beads and other noise-making pieces.

While some of these accessories may be more appealing to younger users than adults, the good news is that there are myriad options for all ages that are both effective as well as stylish for formal events. Still, there is more room to grow in the realm of comfortable and stylish clothing that is both adaptive and sensory-friendly.

In a Utah State University study involving a group of adolescents and their feelings around adaptive clothing in social situations, the researcher found that, “Over half of the participants said they had felt embarrassed or humiliated [in social situations]. The participants expressed frustration with clothing items, such as bras or dresses, that lead to these embarrassing moments, making it difficult to want to participate.”

Such research demonstrates the continued importance of accessible, adaptive clothing that balances practicality and aesthetics. The ability to dress both stylishly and comfortably for any event provides more confidence to participate in social functions, which in a truly diverse and inclusive world, would not be so out of reach for people living with disabilities.

How Event Hosts Can Help

Whether it be for a family gathering, meeting up with old friends, or something more spectacular like a wedding, hosts of any event can help not only in the way of general accessibility, but also in consciously choosing places where accessible clothing and accessories worn by guests won’t stand out or cause potential self-consciousness in guests.

Considering how sensory-processing disorders affect adults in many similar ways as younger children, offering accommodations will help ensure guests of all ages enjoy their time without worrying about potential discomfort.

While it would be impossible to accommodate all guests’ needs, first find out as much as you can about potential discomforts guests may be anticipating. For example, provide information on the type of venue and accommodations already offered, while also considering quiet spaces for someone feeling overwhelmed, installing regular breaks in activities/the excitement, and providing a schedule of the same activities beforehand.

Simple offerings like these can prove invaluable for someone dealing with overstimulation or overwhelming feelings, and allow them a better chance to bring the tools and clothes they need to stay comfortable. For marriage ceremonies, also consider the time of year of the event as well as the climate of your venue location when planning your wedding to see what other accommodations you can make in terms of dress code.

When it comes to dress code, consider your guidelines and “limitations” in regards to people who may live with visible or invisible disabilities, as well as those who struggle with overstimulation. Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Neckties could cause discomfort;
  • Tall heels could be difficult, if not impossible, to comfortably walk in;
  • Suit jackets could result in difficulty regulating temperature, and so on.

While this doesn’t mean you have to forgo a dress code altogether, it’s encouraged to be considerate about the options for guests, and provide those guidelines clearly.

While adaptive, accessible, and sensory-friendly clothing has been growing in recent years, there is still a long way to go in incorporating it into current trends and runway walks. By supporting brands that design and sell inclusive styles, and who work with people from those communities to do it, the fashion and formal event world can continue to move toward an equal ground for everyone, no matter their needs.

About the Author:

Before joining Tungsten Rings & Co., Zack Mason has worked in the jewelry industry for several years. Mason performed work on engraving, resizing, and jewelry working for several types of precious metals such as gold, platinum and even alternative metals such as palladium. Prior to working in the jewelry industry, Mason was a staff reporter for a local newspaper where he developed and tuned his writing skills. There are few jewelers in the industry with this type of experience. Read More

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