Feel-Good Fall Fashion for CIU
Even the thought of fall can make some people itchy. Why? A chill in the air means a return of fabrics that can make your skin crawl. It goes beyond finding wool uncomfortable—many materials and styles can trigger chronic hives, a.k.a. chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) or chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), diagnosed when hives wax and wane for six weeks or more. For the 500,000 people in the U.S. with this diagnosis—mostly women aged 40 to 59—shopping for fall fashion can feel as fun as a swollen rash. Keep reading, because we’re here to take the pain away.
Look Good, Feel Good
“Hives are a form of allergic or immunologic reaction, and can be divided into acute versus chronic based on how long the episode lasts,” explains David E. Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology in Mt. Kisco, NY. That means chronic hives are no different in appearance than regular ones—they just last longer, with flareups caused by foods, preservatives, chemicals, medications, heat, cold, UV light, and (attention, CIU fashion lovers) pressure or irritation from a tight waistband or a scratchy fabric. That’s why we’ve compiled some fall trends to give your wardrobe flair, without a flare.
Shearling is one of the softest, fluffiest types of wool and will certainly keep you warm on a cool fall night; but if you have an allergy to lanolin, the natural wax present in wool, your hive-prone skin will have zero chill time. Instead, go for the faux: Try a twist on the traditional shearling jacket like this Double-Breasted Faux Shearling Coat (Avec Les Filles, $279). The bold shade will make it clear that you’re anything but sheepish.
It’s the trend that everyone from Paris, France, to Paris, TX, can agree on this season: Fluttery, flirty fringe is everywhere. And while a floor-length fringed ball gown feels a little OTT right about now, a leather jacket with the dangling detail is just right. This Ecru Faux Leather Fringe Jacket (Top Shop, $110) hits the sweet spot for style, price, and itch-avoidance; the smooth-feeling fabric is unlikely to aggravate your skin.
This season, buttons without holes have our whole-hearted endorsement. Because decorative buttons are attached to the outside of the fabric, there’s much less of a chance that they’ll apply pressure to your skin and a trigger a hive. You’ll find the ‘80s-style adornments on sweater sleeves, blazer breasts, and jeans pockets. The Helena High-Rise Flare jeans (Ramy Brook, $255) feature front-panel buttons in a sailor style plus a slimming dark wash and boot-cut bottoms.
When the fashion world decides that wearable blankets are chic, who are we to argue? We’re happy to get comfy in capes, ponchos, and oversized wraps, with one big caveat: nothing scratchy! “On a simple mechanical basis, many types of wool are rough and irritating, causing the mast cells in the skin to respond and release their histamine,” explains Dr. Bank. Still, all wools are not created equal: Cashmere has finer, smoother fibers than regular wool, so it’s less likely to make you scratch. This Cashmere Poncho (Rag & Bone, $495) is an incredibly soft way to indulge in this cozy trend.
A dressier take on the sweater this season is the tweed jacket—but think professional rather than professorial. This more feminine take on tweed maintains the patterns woven into the fabric without the notoriously stiff, scratchy wool. The Open-Front Cropped Jacket In Contrast Tweed (J. Crew, $138), is made from super-soft (and machine-washable) synthetics, but looks like the real deal. Throw this on over a T-shirt and you’ll be the glammest gal at the Google Meet.
Lingerie All Day
Many of us are literally rolling out of bed and logging on to our work computers right now, so lingerie-inspired outfits seem perfectly of-the-moment. You’ll want to avoid anything constricting, like a bustier or corset, or too elaborate, like lace or lots of straps, all of which can trigger hives. Opt instead for simple, silky slip dresses and camisoles. (Your new tweed jacket provides perfect cover for more conservative, waist-up video calls.) We love the cut and color of this Kora Cami (Club Monaco, $98.50), in a satin polyester that feels light and slippery against the skin.
A Fresh Crop
Exciting news for ankles: Cropped pants are back for fall! Everything from wide-leg palazzos to tailored trousers make the cut. You’ll want to stay away from joggers—yes, they’re adorbs, but the elastic around the ankles can set off your CIU. But you’ll love these Richmond 7/8 Pants (Boden, $90); they come in a rainbow of different colors and are made from 97% cotton and 3% elastane, so they won’t rub you the wrong way.
Boho style goes upscale this fall: Think haute fashion rather than Haight-Ashbury. And, while these assemblages are more elegant, you’ll want to make sure to choose a patchwork print rather than a true pieced-together expanse of fabric—when there are lots of seams, one of them is bound to cause topical irritation. This Ivonne Patchwork Blouse (Anthropologie, $138) is a mash-up of feminine florals that feel weightless on your skin.
- CIU in the U.S.: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2019). “Prevalence estimates of chronic urticaria in the United States: a sex- and age-adjusted population analysis.” jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(19)30362-7/fulltext
- Hives Triggers: The American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.). “Ten Ways to Get Relief From Chronic Hives.” aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/hives-chronic-relief
- Lanolin Allergies: Contact Dermatitus Institute. (n.d.). “Wool Alcohols: Lanolin.” contactdermatitisinstitute.com/pdfs/allergens/Wool%20Alcohols%20(Lanolin).pdf