I’ve never been much for fashion. The art of layering colors and textures, carefully accessorizing and being on trend was never in the cards for me. I’ve always either been a season (or five) behind or, on my occasional attempts to be trendy, ended up looking like a character from a 1980s movie. What I am good at is simplicity. Casual and easy are elements I can really get behind when it comes to the sartorial arts.
When I started my professional life after school, I worked as an attorney – a real, “goes to court several times a week and has to look like an adult” attorney. And the fashion involved was fairly straightforward: A pantsuit or skirt suits and a vanilla array of closed-toe, sensibly-heeled pumps. Macy’s sold inexpensive women’s suits, and that place was my mecca.
I looked like an asshole.
And I’ll be honest: I kind of loved it. It was hard to go wrong with picking a one-color shirt or blouse and no one would particularly notice that accessories were completely forsaken. Sure, some may approach this profession and a formal court setting with a bit more flair, but for me this approach was easy, even if it was formal and somewhat rigid.
After a few years of practicing law, I quickly realized that, while a noble profession, law wasn’t a good fit for me. My transition to a corporate legally-related-but-no-law-degree-required job is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but it’s safe to say that I arrived in corporate America’s business casual world with a closet full of court attire.
And at first, I just went with it. I continued wearing my suits and pumps and thought nothing of it. As I made more friends than acquaintances, someone finally let me in on the unspoken impact of my legacy work attire – I looked like an asshole. By overdressing, I seemed unapproachable to my peers and appeared to be a gunner to my superiors. Sure, this was just a first impression, but that counts quite a bit regardless of where you work. Couple the suits with my naturally reserved demeanor and I have no doubt some thought I was a downright bitch.
Not being one to spend much time or money on clothes, I went shopping and picked up a few pieces that I felt could reasonably be blended with my more formal wardrobe to create hybrid outfits. My suit coats made way for sweaters and my formal blouses divorced the suits entirely to be matched with simple trousers. The percentage of my wardrobe devoted to work clothes doubled.
Since my transition from ‘business’ to ‘business casual,’ I’ve joked frequently that it’s unfair that the guys can just pull out any pair of pants and any button down shirt and walk out the door. For me, dressing in the morning became far more complicated. Considerations about color coordinating, accessories, appropriate shoes, and who was on my meeting calendar suddenly entered the picture. After all, you still have to look sharp if you’re meeting with someone above a certain level and a woman in a sport coat sends more of a “weekend horseback riding” vibe than a man in one. Welcome to normal female wardrobe problems, right?
I have no doubt some thought I was a downright bitch.
In November 2016, I’d had enough. I’d just gotten married – life was busy. I’d been promoted for about a year to a job where I was fairly senior within my department. I could afford some risks. I started to wonder what I could simplify in my life, to spend more time on the most important things, both at work and at home.
I’d heard about the Steve Jobs method of dressing to avoid decision fatigue and it was appealing, but I don’t look very good in a black turtleneck and the look didn’t give me much of a confidence boost. Whenever I had a big presentation, my go-to outfit was a black pencil skirt, paired with a colored shell and a black sweater. For the presentation, I could easily throw on a black suit coat. Before and after, the sweater was casual enough to not seem unapproachable, but still looked sharp.
A simple evaluation of my work wardrobe revealed two black skirts and amble tops that all looked clean and professional when matched with black bottoms. I had black shoes in a variety of heel heights – after all, I’d need some flexibility to adjust shoes to the agenda of the day. My black, versatile suit coat went on a hanger on the back of my door. My uniform was born.
I started wearing it the week after Thanksgiving. At first, I thought, “will anyone notice? I’ll just try it for a week and see.”
Yeah, no one noticed. By Friday, I was tired of the skirts and, after all, it is Friday, so I switched to some nice trousers with the same selection of tops. After a week of nobody noticing, I just kept going. This really drove home to me how little people really pay attention to things we ourselves are incredibly aware of.
If you can find a uniform that works for your style, comfort and office environment, I highly encourage you try it out for a week. I bet no one notices.
After the trial period and some work-project changes, my Friday uniform became a polo with my employer’s information embroidered on it. Since it was winter, I let sweaters join the ranks of tops in the mix, but the rest of the uniform is unaltered. As the seasons change, I’ll likely rotate sweaters out of the tops. I follow Project 333 and evaluate my wardrobe every 3 months, so I may decide to change it up in a future season, but I’ll be sticking with a uniform in some fashion for the foreseeable future.
Moving to the uniform has certainly made getting dressed simpler. Other benefits? Less laundry overall and less worry about laundry. My skirts can be worn twice before washing, and can be paired with any top – no worry if a certain outfit component is clean. Other than a minor repair to my favorite winter coat, I haven’t had to spend any money on work clothes in four months. Black shoe polish takes care of all of my work shoes.
After four months, more people have noticed that I dress similarly every day and I simply tell them it’s my way of “Steve Jobs-ing it.” They chuckle, nod and move on. If you can find a uniform that works for your style, comfort and office environment, I highly encourage you try it out for a week. I bet no one notices.