I will get arrested if I go outside wearing no pants.
April 30, 2010 10:05 AM   Subscribe

I appear to be allergic to the dyes in dark-blue fabrics, such as jeans. Help me think of ways to dress comfortably, attractively, and not like a refugee from the '60s. Bonus problem: I live in a cold climate. Skirts are not a year-round option.

For the past five months or so, I've been getting a recurrent rash on my calves, inner thighs, and backs of my knees. The rash seems to correlate pretty well with wearing dark-blue or black, fitted clothing (culprits: dark-blue woolen socks, blue and black opaque tights, every pair of jeans I own, and my running tights.) Dermatologist says it looks like allergic dermatitis and not KP, and suspects that it's related to the dyes in my clothing (I'm allergic to everything already, so my soap and detergent and lotion are all dye- and fragrance-free). I'm going for a patch test in a couple weeks to confirm that it's related to textile dyes, but I'm pretty sure that the dyes will prove to be at least one of the culprits (evidence: light-colored tights, skirts, and pants do not give me a rash).

So the question becomes: What the hell do I wear on the lower half of my body? My wardrobe is pretty much built around a formula: V-neck or boatneck tops over fitted bootcut jeans and other dark, somewhat fitted pants with a very slight flare. Long skirts look awful on me -- with the combination of my shortness and the child-birthing hips Nature has granted me, I resemble a hobbit, Renaissance-fair bar wench, or peasant woman from a Breughel painting, if you can't see at least some hint that my legs and hips are not the same size. Skirts that are shorter than knee length tend to send the wrong message to people: since I have a lot of boob, a lot of hip, and a waist that verges on disproportionately narrow, it's easy for me to accidentally dress inappropriately. I would really prefer to not have to go out every day feeling like I look either awful or like a porn star in my clothes; I already went through adolescence once.

I would just invest in a number of knee-length skirts and dresses in various fabrics (I prefer wearing skirts and dresses anyway), but there is also the Problem Of Winter. I live in a place where it generally stays below freezing between January and March. Knee-length skirts are going to freeze my nether regions if I can't put tights underneath them.

tl;dr: Clothing recommendations for the lower half of someone who is allergic to fabric dyes. Exceptionally helpful: suggestions which are flattering to a short woman with an hourglass-type figure (extremely narrow waist and large hips/bust) without making her look too overtly sexual for work or errand-running.
posted by kataclysm to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Gray jeans are in right now, so I'd start there. Avoid white pants unless you want to look like a tampon commercial.

Khaki-colored cords in the same jean boot-cut is an equally casual option to the jeans.

Light colored (again, grey-spectrum, probably) trousers (try the editor pants from express, they seem to look good on everyone).

Basically, try to find pants in similar cuts to what you like in grey or khaki-type colors, and you'll be fine.
posted by brainmouse at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2010

Would bootcut corduroys be an acceptable alternative? I wear them instead of jeans in the winter, pretending that I look a little more dressed up that way. But they're dyed, too, just not necessarily blue or black. Or woolen (cream-colored) tights under your existing skirts?
posted by theredpen at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2010

Could you wear non-dyed tights under the offending jeans/tights? That way, the fabric isn't touching your skin, and you can wear whatever you want.
posted by chara at 10:15 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Came to suggest the same thing as chara. If you can wear light or neutral colored stockings or tights under your skirts, why not under your jeans? Bonus points for the fact that they'll help you stay warmer in the winter; I employed the same trick both when I was traipsing all over my college campus in the coldest months and when I worked in a building that was perpetually freezing thanks to wonky air conditioning.
posted by alynnk at 10:28 AM on April 30, 2010

It's not particularly rare for someone to be allergic to a certain type of fabric dye. However, the dyes used on different fibers are completely different! It's highly unlikely that you'd be allergic to the indigo dye used in blue jeans AND the acid dye used in wool socks AND the basic dye used in acrylic AND the disperse dye used in polyester tights. So, what you should first try to figure out is which fiber content correlates to your allergy. You're likely to be allergic only to a few dyes in one or two particular fiber types, since the dyes used for different types of fibers are so different.

The different garments you describe do not have a single dye in common, but they do have many other things in common. Many fabrics, including those labeled as 100% natural fibers, are treated with formaldehyde-containing resins, to provide wrinkle-resistance or other properties. Formaldehyde-containing resins are also commonly used as dye fixatives for direct dyes, which are an inexpensive type of dye commonly used for cotton and other cellulose fibers. Stain-resistant garments are treated with a Teflon-like coating. Knit garments are treated with chemicals the reduce the rate of pilling. None of these chemicals have to be declared in any way on the label.

Even a supposedly hypoallergenic soap or detergent or lotion can contain a chemical to which you are allergic. Claims that a product is hypoallergenic do not apply to everyone. It is very possible to be allergic to dye- and fragrance-free detergents and lotions. There's no reason, unless you've tested this carefully already , to think that the detergent you are using is free of all problems. Your detergent is the one thing that every garment you wear has in common.

Getting the patch testing done is an extremely good idea. There's no point in assuming that you know what's causing your allergy, until you get the testing done.

If you are allergic to some dyes, then there are other types of dyes that are so different from them that you are almost certainly not allergic to them at all. The most common dye allergies are to the basic dyes used in acrylic, and the disperse dyes used for both acrylic and polyester, because these dyes attach only loosely to the fiber, resulting in a higher degree of exposure of the wearer to the loose dye molecules.

There is a type of dye that is extremely unlikely to cause any reactions in the people who wear garments made from it, assuming that all of the excess unbonded dye has been washed out properly after the dyeing process is completed. This dye is called fiber reactive dye. The dye bonds so permanently to cotton and other cellulose-containing fibers, as well as silk, that none of it will let go of the fabric, exposing you to unattached dye molecules that can cause sensitization. You can buy untreated undyed clothing blanks from Dharma Trading Company, or have a local seamstress sew clothing for you from undyed PFD fabric. It would be better to get someone else to apply fiber reactive dye to your clothing for you, because the dye powders can be allergenic before they are dissolved in water, though they are quite hypoallergenic once they have been applied to the fabric and all excess dye washed out.
posted by Ery at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was thinking that for cold days, lightweight or "silkweight" long underwear, in silk or synthetic, would be great for wearing under jeans, so you can still wear jeans, but have some protection from the dyes.

I'm also wondering if you've tried light-colored tights under your jeans.

Also, yeah, corduroys in a jean cut. In orange or green or even plain ole brown.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2010

L.L. Bean Perfect Fit pants come in several styles and colors and are available for petites. They are washable and wear forever. They are also plain enough to wear anywhere, including the office. They are cotton with some Spandex. Maybe you could order a pair and see if the dye is a problem. I wear them every day--long ones in the winter (with socks) and cropped ones in the summer. Hope this helps.
posted by Jenna Brown at 10:54 AM on April 30, 2010

Could you try some organic alternatives to cotton, in non-blue colors or undyed? e.g. linen, bamboo or hemp. Of course with undyed you're going to be pretty much left with various pale brown/cream shades.
These look pretty nice.
posted by media_itoku at 11:14 AM on April 30, 2010

We have a similar body type and style - I wear skirts and dresses throughout the winter, even during the February snowstorm in NYC.

I typically double up on tights anyways, so it's not out of the question to wear one set of pale tights over darker ones (bonus! if you wear knitted tights, you can mix and match cool colors). I honestly find tights and boots to be far warmer than jeans, which suck up cold air and put it next to your skin. Doubled-up tights are a lot more like running tights in that they insulate you! When I'm absolutely forced to wear pants, I still wear tights underneath them during the cooler months.

And lucky for you, bright colored jeans are back in style.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:16 AM on April 30, 2010

Ery: I do actually feel confident that my detergent and soap are not the problem. After all, I do have garments that don't make me break out in a rash, and all my garments are washed in the same detergent. I also use the same brand of soap, since so many soaps make me break out into a full-body rash. We're getting the patch testing done, but it's evident that whatever is causing the rash is specific to certain garments, which I reliably break out into a horrible rash after wearing them. (There's no problem, for example, with my light grey tights.) But we're getting the patch testing done anyway.

The problem is mostly that I am suddenly unable to wear about half my wardrobe, regardless of what specific thing in it I am allergic to, and I need to find new things to wear. (All my pants are pretty much identical copies of each other, because I absolutely hate shopping for pants.)
posted by kataclysm at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2010

Do you think you're allergic to dark grey tights? These charcoal ones are nice, and the heather graphite color here is also a good basic color (you have to select the color). Depending on what you're wearing, you could also branch out to dark browns.

100% cotton tights are also very opaque/non-porous, I think, so it would be even more likely that if you wore a light-colored pair as a bottom layer you would be able to wear something dark colored (jeans or black tights) over the top.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2010

Oops, the second pair I linked to isn't 100% cotton - it's 60% cotton. Still, I think it would work well under other tights/jeans and allow you to continue to wear the clothes you already own.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:39 AM on April 30, 2010

Since your goal is to eliminate pain and discomfort, not create a different kind:

If you find yourself prone to yeast infections, you should avoid wearing synthetic tights under jeans. (Ask me how I know. Sigh.) Natural fibres like silk or wool would probably be OK. Long underwear would probably be best because they are looser.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:50 PM on April 30, 2010

I do actually feel confident that my detergent and soap are not the problem. After all, I do have garments that don't make me break out in a rash, and all my garments are washed in the same detergent.

I think Ery's on track about different kinds of dye, so I find myself thinking about where you say you're getting rashes and in correlates pretty well with where the clothes you describe might rub, so your might not beak out elsewhere because whatever it is isn't actually getting to anywhere your immune system sees it. (Similarly, bacterial endotoxin will make your immune system go crazy because it uses endotoxin as one of its "I have a raging infection" indicators. But you have a digestive tract full of the stuff and nothing happens. Put just one little hole in your intestines and things get ugly fast.)

It might be worth a call to the manufacturer of whatever you do your laundry in and make sure they haven't changed anything or that they haven't gotten loads of calls because one of their suppliers changed something. (FYI: This phenomenon has made me absolutely covet Darth Vader's ability to choke people over the phone.)

Even if they tell you everything is just fine, before I threw all this stuff away and spent scads of money on new stuff, I'd consider running it through the washer once sans detergent or anything else (or getting them dry cleaned or whatever you can think of that won't potentially add new alergens).

Do you line dry your clothes by any chance? Because if someone took sandpaper loaded with pollen to my legs, I'm betting I'd have issues.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:57 PM on April 30, 2010

« Older How can I vote for Nick Clegg but not my local Lib...   |   Didn't file 1099B correctly last year, got a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.