Adulting For Autistics: The Power of Clothes for Confidence
As the saying goes, clothes make the man – or woman. As autistic adults, we can use this idea to our advantage to give us more confidence in social or overwhelming situations. When we feel good, we can cope better. When we feel at ease, we’re starting from a lower stress level. The right clothes can make us feel confident and strong, and that makes it that much easier to cope in an NT world.
We all have those favorite clothes – the ones that are GoodFeel textures, and they fit just the way we like, and they make us feel great. No itchy tags, no awkward fits, nothing you have to constantly fuss with. They just feel right.
For me, that’s usually a lot of soft textured, close-fitting black and a pair of solid boots. If I were to deconstruct that into sensory terms, it boils down to:
- A close, tight fit offers compression, gives me sensory input, feels supportive, and looks great
- Boots keep my ankles from rolling
- Boots feel substantial and supportive
- Black is my thing – can’t really say why, but I always feel powerful in black
Maybe for you, it’s flowy, silky things in shades of blue, purple, or gray. Maybe you love superhero t-shirts and jeans or maybe you feel most like yourself in pink frilly stuff. Whatever your favorite clothes are, they make you feel good, even powerful. And they don’t contribute to any overstimulation you might have to deal with.
Comfort Breeds Confidence
When you’re physically comfortable – not fighting with a fussy neckline or constantly aware of a tag in your waistband – you can be more comfortable being yourself in any given situation. If you feel like you need to mask (and I believe it’s a good tool to have in some situations), being comfortable in your clothes will let you focus more energy into masking, so it doesn’t drain you as much.
Stress becomes easier to handle when you feel good to begin with. We all know that if we’re irritated or already overstimulated, any stressor can push us further down the road toward a meltdown, but it also works the other way. If we feel good physically, we can take little stresses in stride and keep them from building up.
Socializing is an area where clothes can make a big difference. The inventor of the 1980’s “power suit” knew this – the harsh lines and big shoulders were designed to give women a way to take up more space in a boardroom setting. When you’re confident in your appearance and you feel your best, you’ll feel better being yourself. And being secure in your own skin and clothes will free up more mental energy for the social calculus that we all have to do. It doesn’t matter what you wear to feel good, just that it works for you.
Clothes Can Be Protective
For over a decade, I wore a black leather biker jacket. It not only made me feel like a badass, it also served as a shield between me and the world. Just as that leather would have protected my back from the pavement in a crash, it protected me from people who tried to ridicule me or make me feel inferior. When I wore that jacket, I felt strong enough to stand up for myself.
Some people might find that wearing the symbol of a favorite superhero makes them feel stronger and safer. Maybe a Darth Vader t-shirt makes you feel like a badass (I can’t argue with that) or sporting your Hogwarts house colors (Ravenclaw!) makes you feel proud to be you – and maybe just a little magical. Anything that makes you feel confident, strong, and comfortable with yourself will help you to be happier, no matter the situation.
The Power of a Uniform
No, I don’t mean school uniforms (I’m very against those). I mean your uniform. Lots of prominent people wear some kind of uniform. Steve Jobs is probably the first person that came to your mind – the black turtleneck sweater, jeans, and sneakers is an iconic look, if not high fashion. Or maybe you thought of Mark Zuckerberg’s gray t-shirt or hoodie and jeans. Ellen DeGeneres uses more variety, but her basic uniform is a fitted blazer, skinny pants, and a button-down shirt.
A uniform removes the need to dither over what you’re going to wear every morning. For us as autistic adults, eliminating one decision that we might otherwise obsess over can put a big dent in our stress levels. Taking a closet full of clothes that you’re not sure are “office appropriate”, “too dressy”, or whatever and turning that into an easy routine of “pants, shirt, layer” can ease your morning routine and stop you from fretting over whether you “got it right”. This is especially true for women because we’re judged more harshly on our appearance both at work and socially.
So do a little research to find the kind of outfit you need for what you do every day, and spend a little time finding the best-feeling way for you to do that. Then pick something comfy, GoodFeel, empowering, easily washable, and hopefully inexpensive, and buy it in multiples or multiple colors. Your uniform will keep you from having to stress over what to wear every day!
Clothes seem like such a small thing, but the right clothes for you can make such a big difference in how you feel. Finding the clothes that make you feel great is a great life hack for socializing and coping in the NT world.
What are your favorite clothes? Do you find the clothes that make you feel best give sensory input like my favorite outfits do? Have you noticed that comfy clothes keep you less stressed? Do you have a uniform and, if so, what is it?