Slay Your Spring-Summer Style (With Chronic Hives)

by Cheryl Kramer Kaye Health Writer

I’ve lived with a chronic hives diagnosis for more than a decade. Chronic hives, a.k.a. chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) or chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), are no different than regular hives, except that they crop up again and again, anywhere on the body, for six weeks or more—sometimes waxing and waning for years, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And just like regular hives, they’re itchy, swollen, red, and hot—so I’m not exactly eager to set them off ... or show them off. A fashion-lover like me has to choose her ensembles wisely.

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Fashion Flare

What causes chronic hives to flare up? “That’s the million dollar question for patients,” says Sebastian Lighvani, M.D., director of Allergy Experts-New York Allergy & Asthma. For some sufferers, hives show up “as a kind of auto-activation by your own internal immune system,” says Dr. Lighvani. They can also be triggered by external factors like medicines, skincare ingredients, foods, stress, heat, and friction. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting in on the most stylish trends of the spring and summer seasons. We found the pieces that will help keep your hives at bay—while you slay.

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Puff Piece

Add some romance to your wardrobe with a pretty, puffy sleeve that barely touches your skin. The current incarnation is more Princess Di than Dynasty: feminine gathers rather than shoulder-pads-of-power. Avoid full sleeves that have elastic at the bottom; pressure from elastic is a common trigger for CIU called dermatographism, says Dendy Engelman, M.D., of MDCS Dermatology of New York City. Dr. Engelman sees hives “in the exact same distribution as the bands of a patient’s workout pants or the straps of her shoes.” This Linen Blend Short Dress (Zara, $39.90) has a little extra room to move where the sleeve ends.

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Dot Dot Dot...

Fashion is having a polka party, and you’re invited, even if you have CIU! Every size, from tiny points to oversize circles, is having a moment, but, generally speaking, the bigger the dot, the more casual the piece. This navy Hazel Belted Linen Dress (Boden, $170), is a winning look for work. The fabric is 100% linen with a cotton lining. While Dr. Lighvani explains that “natural fibers aren’t inherently more or less irritating to hive-prone skin”—even if wool is a natural fiber that makes many hive-sufferers itch at the thought!—a soft-to-the-touch cotton, like this one, is usually a safe bet.

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Flirt Skirt

You don’t need to be on a runway or red carpet to rock a slit skirt—a flash of leg is everywhere this season! How much thigh you show is a matter of personal comfort, as is the fabric you choose. The Zoe Skirt (Reformation, $148), is a viscose-rayon blend that doesn’t feel scratchy against the skin. If you have solar urticaria—chronic hives triggered by UV rays—don’t forget to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to your legs since they’ll be exposed, and take an antihistamine before you head out if your doctor recommends it.

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Unruffled by Ruffles

Feminine touches are a popping up all over. Skip the lace and tulle, though, which have unrefined edges that can make you itch. Instead, try ladylike ruffles, which won’t ruffle your feathers. (On that note: Skip feathers, too.) I love this Pleated Ruffle Top (see similar) (Alex Mill, $65), a basic button-down made delicate with ruffles at the neckline, shoulders, and cuffs, plus it comes in a pretty, peachy color. The 100% cotton fabric and slightly cropped fit make it breathable and billowy, a boon if you have cholinergic urticaria, or body heat-induced hives, which can be particularly tricky to treat.

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Star in Stripes

Ready to embrace your curves without too-tight fabric chafing against your skin? Then make a beeline to horizontal stripes, which have a wonderful way of enhancing a woman’s shape. Take it even further in this snug-fitting silhouette of a Striped Dress (Milly, $425). The dress is mostly viscose, a fabric that feels silky against your skin, plus the fit-and-flare cut won’t flare your CIU. Wait for it: You’ll soon be seeing folks line up for this style in every price range and fabric. (If you heed our advice, you’ll have yours first.)

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Bermuda Beauties

Bermuda shorts have the dubious honor of being an essential element of the prepster uniform: Just add a polo, pop the collar, and you’re good to go. But this season’s Bermuda shorts come in more sophisticated styles (not so damn boxy!) and wearable fabrics—leather, denim, and super-silky satin! I’ve fallen hard for the Eric High-Waisted Bermuda Short (Alice & Olivia, $150) in hot pink. Sure, they might fit in at a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off theme party, but you’ll feel comfortable dancing the night away to Cyndi Lauper in these.

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Coat Tale

It’s not like the trench has ever been out of style—it’s a classic piece that should be in every woman’s wardrobe. But you don’t have to spend a couple grand on the famous one (rhymes with sherbury) when you can find a chic trench for a fraction of the cost. This Soft Trench (Club Monaco, $279) feels like it was made for chronic hive-sufferers; the shell is 100% lyocell, which has an incredibly smooth, supple feel and a relaxed fit. Now, excuse me while I find my credit card—and feel secretly pleased when it rains.

Meet Our Writer
Cheryl Kramer Kaye

Cheryl Kramer Kaye is a veteran writer, editor, and on-air personality, with twenty-five (gulp!) years of beauty, fashion, and lifestyle stories under her belt. She’s currently the beauty director for, a website for women aging boldly, where you can watch her “That Beauty Series” videos and enjoy cameo appearances by her 10-year-old twin boys and hunky husband.