Sensory Overload


Senses are integral to how we experience the world. Taste, smell, sight, sounds, and touch are tools we use to process information to determine what appeals to us. While everyone processes information differently, some deviate more from the average person than others. Therefore, what happens when your body processes that information much more differently than others?

Some people live with Sensory Processing Disorders, which will hereafter be referred to as SPD for short. SPD commonly affects individuals with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder known as ADHD; however, they are not the only people that have SPD. Many people are hypersensitive to one or more of the senses. The senses provide us with a lot of information, which can be overwhelming. When someone is overstimulated, they can sometimes suffer from “sensory overload.”

Additionally, senses often affect how people dress. While touch and appearance are the most common senses used to evaluate clothing, there are other ways fashion can interact with the senses. For example, if a person is wearing dangling earrings, you can sometimes hear those ring while in the wind or while walking. Textiles also have attributes that can trigger senses, such as the smell of finishes, the sound of legs rubbing together, the feeling of prickly fabrics on the skin, the pressure of tight fabric on the body, and the brightness of reflective materials or accessories. These factors can influence how appealing or unappealing a garment is to someone with SPD.

The mainstream fashion industry does not often design garments with hypersensitive people in mind. While there are increasing sensory-inclusive commercial clothing options for children, there remain few offerings for adults with SPD. Additionally, adults with SPD are not frequently represented in fashion media. This exhibition examines how different garments and accessories interact with the senses in various ways with a heightened attention to individuals living with SPD.

Curated by Carlyna Gray undergraduate student in Apparel, Merchandising, and Design and intern at ISU Textiles and Clothing Museum.