Styling a Very Special Client: Tips for Styling Stylish Teens with Down Syndrome

I have said for years that I don’t have a favorite client. This was true until a month ago. Now I have a favorite and no other client will ever come close to being as dear to me.

My client, Miss Spunky (alias given) is the first child or teen I have been hired to work with. Her mom is a dear client of mine. Several months ago, Miss Spunky’s mom reached out to me and asked if I would help her daughter get her wardrobe ready for the new school year which would be her freshman year of high school. Not only was I in uncharted territory with this request to style a soon-to-be 15-year-old, but styling a teen with Down Syndrome was also something I had never done. I immediately became passionately interested in doing right by my new client.

Miss Spunky is just that, spunky. Her personality is HUGE. She’s loving, gregarious, confident, playful and sweet. When she and her mom picked me up from the train station, she ran out of the car and met me with a big hug. She also tried to convince me that I could move into her house and just Facetime my husband or, maybe, see him once a week. Her plan was hilarious.

You can’t be unhappy when you spend the day with Miss Spunky.

I am sharing the process of how we got my client ready for the new school year with hopes that it might help others who can relate.

The Unique Needs of Miss Spunky

Prior to hiring me, Miss Spunky’s mom had been doing a superior job of selecting clothing for her daughter. Not only was she masterful with choosing the right clothing for the body shape and clothing needs that come with dressing a child with Down Syndrome, Miss Spunky’s mom also styled her daughter with such style and flair that she was often commended by others for it. The new issue being faced, and why I was hired, was to mature Miss Spunky’s look to more of a teen style while also selecting clothing for her special physical characteristics.

For one, Miss Spunky is petite at only 4’6″. It’s unlikely she will get much taller, which poses its own set of issues because large children’s sizes still fit her best. Starting her first year of high school, the goal was to find children’s clothing that made Miss Spunky look like a teenager, not a little girl. Next, the unique body shape that individuals with Down Syndrome have. These characteristics can include having narrow shoulders, a longer torso, and a belly. Additionally, it’s common for individuals with Down Syndrome to have weaker muscle tone while also having incredible flexibility making dexterity a challenge. As it was told to me, Miss Spunky has been able to teeter around in heels better than most adults since she was a toddler due to how flexible she is.

Empowering Style

With Miss Spunky’s unique body characteristics, I had to be extremely mindful of finding clothing options that worked for her body and also were easy for her to put on and wear comfortably as sensitivity to things like tags can also be an issue for her. Miss Spunky’s mom and I spent at least an hour on the phone reviewing these parameters.

The first steps were to find tops that were long enough for her longer torso, pants that were easy to pull on, shoes that had zipper closures so she wouldn’t have to lace or manipulate buckles, and easy-to-put-on dresses that she could wear with leggings. Of course, most importantly, I needed to make selections that matched Miss Spunky’s style and, as you will see, she is quite the fashionista. She loves clothes and dressing up.

It was also important to empower Miss Spunky through what I selected. Her parents have given her everything you can possibly imagine to thrive as an individual and to gain independence. In addition to giving Miss Spunky the right clothing, it was also important that we gave her the tools to help her dress independently and make her own choices.

Miss Spunky’s mom and I have talked over the years about the differences in how her daughter processes information and she told me she was looking for a way for her daughter to record and keep track of her outfits on her own. Having recently started using an Amazon Echo Look for my own wardrobe photos, I suggested one for Miss Spunky that could be set up in her bedroom. Through this device, she could keep track of outfits with photos that would directly appear on her iPad by simply asking her Echo Look to take her picture. I can’t recommend this suggestion enough for any parent looking to help their child with special needs to gain further independence with clothing. I even sent an email to my contacts who work on the device over at Amazon to let them know what a successful tool it was with Miss Spunky.

Next, the actual shopping for clothing. We simplified the shopping process down to what would work best for my young client, so instead of dragging her to a bunch of stores, Miss Spunky’s mom purchased a large assortment of all the online initial selections which were waiting to be tried on the day I arrived at their home. We made the day special, all gathered in Miss Spunky’s bedroom and took our time trying everything on and giving all the items a first pass. It was like the best fashion show ever. Comparing Miss Spunky’s stamina to most clients, Miss Spunky would outpace all of them, and her enthusiasm with every piece she tried on was infectious. It was like watching a kid open up Christmas gifts. Next, we broke for lunch and after that played dress-up as we made outfits from the keeps and Miss Spunky posed in front of the camera for, asking Alexa to take her picture.

Miss Spunky hamming it up for the camera…of course.

As far as the actual selections go, we weren’t limited to adaptive clothing brands, though definitely loved some of the items from Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive line, particularly this denim jacket with magnetic closures (which we would have purchased if Miss Spunky didn’t already own a denim jacket), and really had success with pieces from H&M, Mango, and The Children’s Place. All of these brands offered modern, grown-up pieces in their children’s sizing. In some cases, we were also able to select a few items from the women’s department because the European brands cut small enough. All of the pants were pull-on, the tops long enough, we found great cardigans (a favorite of Miss Spunky’s) and some really cute dresses. Miss Spunky also LOVES:

  • Leopard
  • Fringe
  • Glitz and Glam
  • Office Lady Clothes. That’s what she calls them.
  • Pants that move. After years of wearing lots of leggings, this was one thing she really wanted.

Miss Spunky’s Purchases

Here are some of the things that were keepers for Miss Spunky’s wardrobe.

Miss Spunky’s Looks

The most exciting part of the day was putting the looks together with Miss Spunky and watching her enthusiasm as she tried different outfits. Here are some of the looks.

Miss Spunky’s wardrobe needs and challenges are not uncommon

Reflecting on the day spent with Miss Spunky, I could really see how this style session was not unlike most. She has particular wardrobe needs and challenges, like the rest of us. What she can and can’t wear is something all women can relate to, and the goal was to take what she could wear successfully and create interesting variations of that look that match her style. My prediction? Miss Spunky will be the best-dressed freshman. Either way, she’s definitely winning my award.