A signature look: on adopting a uniform


Chances are high that you’ve read Matilda Kahl’s piece on adopting a work uniform, and I’m curious to know what you think. In case you haven’t, a female art director writes about her decision to restrict herself to “15 silk white shirts and a few black trousers,” with a few embellishments or weather adaptations here and there. She nicely articulates some of the binds of fretting over what to wear, of over-spending to continually update one’s look, and some of the liberties that might come with the same thing every day (à la the guys in a suit). It’s at once a simple topic and a fraught one—layered with issues of gender and class.

It’s interesting that so many of us with tremendous choice and freedom about how we appear wish to narrow it, isn’t it? I immediately thought of the “capsule wardrobe” movement. (Again, one of those things I feel like everyone has heard of, but then I realize that my corner of the web is really just a small one.) The idea is to limit oneself to a few classic or favorite pieces for a season to mix and match. A few blogs have documented the building of their capsule wardrobe extensively—setting a rule of 37 pieces or less in one’s closet per season. Once you’ve chosen those items (shoes, bags, included), you don’t buy or add anything else. The potential savings are huge—to one’s time and to one’s wallet.

Putting aside a sort of guilt that comes with feeling like you have too much, I would have mixed feelings about actually putting a uniform into practice. Or rather about seeing everyone else put it into practice. I love fashion and style and admire those who put effort into decorating themselves in ways that attempt to reveal their personality and tastes. It’s something I actually miss about New York—you pass so many people who work very hard on their look; every day someone would turn your head with the way they’d mixed patterns or styled their denim and it’s inspiring!

But I see the appeal for myself and am reminded daily: Aron goes to work in scrubs—basically work-appropriate pajamas—nearly every day. We save so much money on dress shirts and dry cleaning. Laundry on his behalf here is all black socks and underwear. And when it’s time to pick up around the bedroom, I envy that almost none of the clothes strewn about are his. He never puts on a his scrub shirt and then quickly takes it off, tossing it aside, because it hits his arm at an unflattering point or looks too baggy to go with his pants. (Though they are all slightly ill-fitting on his 6’8″ frame and that would bother me far more than it does him.) And if it gets dirty mid-day, he just exchanges for a fresh one.

Kahl brings up a Mashable article about how successful men wear the same thing every day—ostensibly to avoid “decision fatigue.” (Which is a real thing!) The fewer decisions one has to make about things like their wardrobe, the more brain-power they can devote to actively deciding other things.

Vogue‘s Anna Wintour actually more or less does this too, and has been noted for having a “signature look” and hairstyle for years.

Of course, so has Hillary Clinton.

What do you think? Do you wear a uniform to work? Did you wear one to school? Do you have a default “uniform” in the more liberal, creative sense? (Striped mariners, chambray shirts, and white collarless button-downs, anyone?)

I’m inspired to work on some more fashion posts after reading this. Thinking something about distilling one’s closet into some classics and seeking out the best examples of those classics. What items would you put on that list?

P.S. A chore list for spring-cleaning and simplifying life with “the Marie Kondo method.” Also, I felt compelled to look up some reads on school uniforms, which interesting do not improve school performance, despite clear perceptions to the contrary.

[Caroline de Maigret photographed for Madewell]

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