The Case For Uniform Dressing
When I was in eighth grade, after several school years’ worth of exploring my personal style with minimal constraints beyond a misogynistic dress code (made all the more humiliating and oppressive by my, let’s say, precocious development), my middle school decided to institute a uniform policy.
To go so suddenly from my handkerchief skirts and extra long layered tank tops to a white polo and khaki pants was jarring to say the least. There were other students that managed to make the best of it with cool sneakers and whatever accessories were popular at the time (remember those belts with the LED screen where you could have your name scroll across?), but, my clothes shopping was mostly relegated to Value Village: by “equalizing” what everybody wore, I was no longer able to wear weird, thrifted outfits to hide the fact that I just couldn’t get trendy clothes, not that I didn’t want to (though, I didn’t really want to).
Naturally, because of that year of pure hell wearing the same three shirts and two pairs of pants everyday, I do not consider myself a uniform person. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in a self-imposed dress code.
Steve Jobs reportedly had a closet full of custom Issey Miyake turtlenecks and Levi 501 jeans in order to reduce the number of decisions he had to make everyday by at least one—figuring out what to wear—in order to “save up” for the more important choices. Now, obviously, as a stylist and fashion-lover, I’m fairly biased as I believe that choosing what to wear is one of the most important choices you make everyday. But, I do get it.
Rather than framing uniforms as a solution to the “frivolous” and “unnecessary” process of getting dressed, I like to think of them as The Ultimate In Personal Style. That is, when they’re on purpose.
Types of Uniforms
One common complaint I get from my clients is that they have “plenty of clothes” but always default to wearing the same thing for one reason or another. This, the Accidental Uniform, can be defined simply as a style rut.
Style ruts can come about in a lot of ways but what they typically boil down to is: convenience. And how do you overcome reaching for whatever’s convenient? Remove the convenience.
If you wanna stop wearing leggings everyday, hide your leggings from yourself. Put them under your bed, or in a bag at the back of your closet. Just remove them from arm’s reach and, while you’re at it, organize your wardrobe in such a way where the alternatives are front and center.
Unless your uniform is mandated by your job, it’s not super likely that you’re running around in fully identical garments paired in the same way every single day like Doug Funnie.
But, if you are seeking ways to avoid “Decision Fatigue,” maybe you might wanna consider it? Just hear me out.
I’ve mentioned The Uniform Project, before, in Accessorizing 101.
In this “sartorial critique of disposable fashion…” Sheena documented herself wearing the same dress (she had 7 copies of it made) every single day for a year, with the added challenge of relying only on her own wardrobe, secondhand items, and donations from friends: nothing new.
The idea of a single signature piece is just fascinating to me, if not a bit impractical…except when it comes to things like occasionwear.
I personally only have 2 dresses I rotate for formal events, almost like my own fancy uniform. While most people’s instinct for things like weddings and holiday parties is to buy something new, the right go-to can be styled endlessly to the point where no one will even notice that you’re wearing the same thing or, if they do, who cares ‘cause you look so good?
For many, your “go-to” for fancy stuff is a little black dress but, in “You Don’t Need a Little Black Dress” I offered a few alternatives:
All of these (as well as your little black dress, should you decide to stick with the classic) can easily be restyled a million times with different shoes, accessories, even over and under layers (I love a little evening jacket!). Just because you’re wearing the same thing, doesn’t mean you have to wear the same thing!
For those who are actively looking to adopt a personal uniform, the “Elemental” uniform is what you’re looking for, which can basically be defined as a go-to Outfit Formula. And there is no better or more famous example of someone with a go-to outfit formula than one Miss Anna Wintour.
Andy Warhol once said he doesn’t think Anna Wintour can dress. You can be the judge of that (and, while you’re at it, feel free to form some very strong opinions regarding whether she’s lost her touch and should step down from Vogue considering her years-long stream of lackluster covers and editorial choices), but what you can’t deny is her consistency.
Of course, she switches it up depending on the season, but her winter looks are my favorite to really show off how much fun you can have with only three pieces: in this case, a long dress, an equally long coat, and a tall boot.
Notice how she also tends to stick to a certain silhouette: finding what works for your ideal look and staying loyal to it is a way to ensure that every piece works together and is completely interchangeable, even as you mix patterns and textures.
Many of us have at least one elemental uniform (even if it’s also accidental): think about your go-to when you’re going out for the evening, or what you wear to work, or what you throw on to run errands. For the most part, it’s going to be things you find easy to wear, so, when trying to come up with an elemental uniform for the rest of life’s situations, the first question you should be asking yourself is: what do I like to wear? Figure it out and lean into it. My clients often apologize for owning “too many” T-shirts, or pairs of ankle boots, or whatever, but I think it’s great to have that one item that you simply like to put on. And it’s okay to have many versions of that thing. And it’s okay to always wear it in the same way i.e. paired with something else you also really like to wear. I’m giving you permission.
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