No, not this kind of uniform. (Google Images)

A friend and I have been having a recurring conversation in recent months about work uniforms. As in, developing one in order to make getting dressed easier.

I’ve read several interesting articles about this, including this one, this one, and this one. Some of you might remember the Uniform Project from several years ago, in which one woman wore the same dress — she had seven, one for each day of the week — every day for a year, but used accessories to change her look from day to day. I love that idea.

A number of well-known, highly successful people have uniforms, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama. And of course, we all know that Steve Jobs wore the same outfit for years.

I don’t know about y’all, the last thing I feel qualified to do at dark o’thirty in the morning is pick out clothes for the day, so I’m all about making things as easy as possible. My closet and dresser are particularly and precisely organized, so I can pretty much get dressed in the dark and know that I match.

I’ve long had a wardrobe based on black (with some forays into navy blue and gray) (crazy, I know), but in recent months I’ve found myself simplifying things more and more.

I recently KonMari'd the shit out of my closet and dresser, getting rid of stuff that wasn't working for me and completely revamping how I organize and store everything. The few colorful outliers are things I don't wear at work.

Most days, I wear black trousers (I have several pairs in various cuts, lengths, and fabrics), a black layering t-shirt, a cardigan (or sometimes a blazer), ballet flats (but the boots have started coming out), and some sort of eye-catching accessory (a scarf or necklace). I wear a lot of knits because they are comfortable and don’t need ironing.

I rarely wear blouses because they’re less comfortable and I find that I fidget with them all day. And not only will you never see me wearing high heels, I’ve gotten very picky about my footwear and won’t wear anything that’s not super totally completely comfortable, which means that several pairs of cute flats are no longer in my closet.

To keep things simple, I buy most of my t-shirts (both short and long sleeves) in limited colors and styles from only a couple of places (Old Navy and J. Crew). I do have an assortment of striped Bretons thrown in for good measure. Of the three or four dozen t-shirts in my drawer, only a dozen-ish are not black, navy, gray, or white. (One pale pink, one green, two purple, one cranberry, and five or six non-navy blues.)

As per the KonMari method, I now fold and store my t-shirts like this so that I can see everything at once, only my drawer has far less color in it. (Google Images.)

As for my cardigans, I have the same lightweight cotton one* in something like 10-12 colors, plus an assortment of warmer ones (in merino wool and cashmere, in varying lengths from cropped to tunic) for the colder months.

* The J. Crew Jackie, which is known as the Clare at J. Crew Factory.

As for colors beyond black, gray, and navy blue, I stick to only my favorites — blues, greens, purples, and reds. No yellow, no orange**, no brown (other than shoes), virtually no pastels, and definitely no neons. I prefer jewel tones with cool undertones because that’s what looks good on me.

** Okay, a few scarves have orange in the patterns and I have a few necklaces and bracelets with orange because my alma mater’s colors are orange and blue. Hey, a woman’s gotta show her school spirit from time to time.

Having this work uniform has been so freeing. I just don’t have to think about what I wear. I get dressed quickly and don’t worry about my clothes for the rest of the day because I’m work appropriate, not to mention both physically and mentally comfortable. In the four months I’ve been working, I’ve had only a handful of days when I regretted something I wore to work and my reaction was to get rid of those items that were problematic.

Is this repetitive? Sure. Do I care? Not one bit.

This begs the question of whether or not I get bored with what I wear. So far, no. I have plenty of accessories and shoes to amuse myself with, plus see my comment from earlier about having the same cardigan in a dozen colors.

I am at work to work, not be fashionable. No one cares when men wear the same things over and over again, so why should we women have to vary our wardrobes?

The female director I report to has a uniform too — trousers, simple shirts, a blazer or cardigan, comfortable shoes, and maybe a scarf. Her color palette is even more limited than mine and she wears virtually no jewelry. She is a highly respected professional with a great deal of responsibility and I seriously doubt that anyone ever says, “Gosh, [her name] needs to vary her wardrobe a bit.”

I am curious about the rest of you. Do you have a uniform and, if so, what is it? If you don’t have a uniform, is there a reason why?

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14 Responses to Uniform

  1. Smalltown Me says:

    I recently started working part time at the book store. My criteria? Something that won’t show dampness because it is freaking hot here and going back and forth shelving, inventorying, and selling makes me feel a little sweaty. Anything that goes with jeans or capris is fine, and I always accessorize with something from my collection. Vintage jet beads with the Madeline t-shirt, for example. My Lori Anderson pieces are always complimented.

  2. bdaiss says:

    When I was a property level employee I had a mandatory uniform: “dress pants” (not necessarily suit slacks, but not jeans) and logo’d button down shirts. When I first started, back in the stone age, all managers, women included, had to wear a tie during season. Patriotic too, natch. (Thankfully the ties went buh-bye a few years in.) My company also graciously paid for 5 new shirts each and every year. When I first started all shirts were required to be the same Lands End blue. But as the ties went away they also let us branch out into other colors. They preferred each department to have all employees wear the same color, but as I was a department of one I could pick whatever I wanted (mostly blue/green/black).

    Now as a corporate employee, they don’t provide anything logo’d. We’re welcome to buy our own, but personally if I’m spending $50 on a shirt, you bet your @$$ it’s not going to have the company logo on it. Since my office is still at a property, I follow their rules of no jeans and closed toe shoes. Usually no slip just in case I’d need to go upstairs. Definitely no-slip when auditing. In the winter (when I will likely only see my fellow employees and no guests) I may wear a skirt with tights/boots now and then. Usually when I have someplace to be after work and I won’t have time to go home and change. Or when I need a personal pick me up. 90% of the time you’ll find me in black pants (Target) and a cardigan (Target) or half-zip pullover (Target C9). I almost always have a scarf on, even in summer. Bottoms are usually black, but the last few years I started adding more color back in my life on top. Everything from neon yellow to pink to aqua to green to purple - my closet looks a bit like a rainbow. My overflowing box of scarves is similar in variety and hue.

    I really do need to clean out my closet however. I keep telling myself I’m going to do it once I ditch these 10 pounds. But lets face it. It’s been 18 months. I just need to do it. Oh - and those shirt drawers. I’ve been folding mine that way for YEARS (think I saw it in either Real Simple or the Martha). It’s so convenient. Also: Roy G Biv FTW.

  3. Julie says:

    my work career started out as a nurse, and I was skinny mini…so I loved buying white work dresses…I even had a few pair of culottes!. …back in the day I believe there were even culotte slips! I loved my SAS work shoes-those are still being made today!

    When I was forced into a career change (via the husband starting a new company and my realizing I had 2 dependents I would rather take care of than dump into daycare, so I allowed him to talk me into becoming the computer person for the elevator company) I then had to decide whether to stay in pj’s and work, or change into soft stretchy comfortable knits to work in…it was a toss up.

    As I became middle aged, still working out of a home/bedroom office, but empty nesting on the horizon, I found my weight ballooning up to 9 months prego heights, and became depressed. I had to figure out what to do with my enlarging body size, and wardrobe…had an attic full of “before” (menopause) clothes, and had to keep buying bigger sizes for the “after” (as in this is your body now) time.

    I reluctantly did the kon-mari thing and emptied out not only my normal weight clothing (so utterly out of style it’s laughable now) kept for at least a decade, but tons and tons of extra stuff in prep for moving (or, the hopes of it).

    Talk about feeling lighter! Then, for some reason, watching Kelly & Michael LIVE! on tv last May, when they were filming from Disneyland for the 60th, I had a revelation that I was not going to get there this year if I didn’t lose some weight, because the knee surgery I had over 3 years ago was not keeping me from walking without pain.

    So, I lost some weight. I did the balancing/juggling act of wearing clothes between sizes, and it was quite the mental circus act. I’m not complaining. I have the means to buy smaller sizes, but I”m not really going overboard. I am planning on buying knits, and solids in tops and bottoms, for the most part, and I do the rainbow color coordination thing in my closet for that.

    I also realized that shoes will become a comfort issue in my menopausal state of life, and while I do prefer fashionable, I accept functional as my way of life. Fitflops, 200 buck Asic running shoes (most I’ve ever spent on running shoes in my life) are my go-to’s now. With my weight loss a little over the halfway point, I can now say I can walk without pain, or fear of pain. I spent 2 days in Disneyland this past weekend, walking as I normally have during our annual October trips (all day, everyday) and those fitflop sandals I wore were what kept me moving. I will never be without them!

  4. Alice says:

    I recently turned down a job that among other issues, required me to wear a uniform. Although my clothes are all similar in style, I still like some variation in color.

  5. jen_alluisi says:

    A closet full of comfy knit dresses, most with short sleeves or three-quarter sleeves, and cardigans that go well with all of them so I can make them warmer in the winter (or leave the cardi at home in the summer) and leggings/tights for the winter (bare legs most of the time in the summer; we’re a casual work place). My jeans and t-shirts are for Fridays at the office and for weekends. I typically have just 1-2 pairs of shoes per season in black, and I don’t wear much jewelry - the dresses are varied enough to give me the variety I crave. Main wardrobe colors: black, gray, dark purple and rich teal, with occasional other jewel tones. I have one pair of summer and one pair of winter shoes in brown, but I almost never wear them - black just works best.

  6. ssheers says:

    Back in the stone age, I went to a school where the girls could not wear jeans to class. I wore cords. I hate the way they make that swishing sound. I have not worn cords since 1977. I wore jeans every day of college. In the 80s, when I had a real job, I had a certain number of outfits (skirt or dress, jacket, blouse, pantyhose, pumps, jewelry or scarf), and I wore one of them every day. Each outfit had its matching shoes/jewelry/scarf that I wore every time I wore that outfit. I need pockets for tissues because of my allergies. I also keep my keys in my pockets so I wouldn’t get locked out of the house/car when the kids were small. When I was a SAH mom with my kids in the 90s, I had a bunch of black Lands End sport knit pants (with pockets) and black sport knit cardigans (with pockets) that covered my butt that I wore every day with different shirts. At some point, I was told that I have spring coloring, so I had lots of orange and coral shirts. That was my uniform. I got a job teaching at a university part-time and bought a bunch of pant suits (with pockets): a black suit, a grey suit, a brown suit; I wore my suits with different colored shirts and necklaces/scarves. Now, I spend my time caring for my ill husband, and I’m back to the black sport knit pants. But now … drumroll … Lands End makes sport knit jeans !!!! Instead of the black sport knit cardigans with pockets that cover my butt, I have several other cardigans with pockets that cover my butt: a tan one, a green one, and others hiding in my closet that i will rediscover in the next few weeks. I have decided I no longer want to wear scoop neck or v neck shirts, only crewneck or jewel neck because I don’t want to worry about what people see when I bend over. Orange and red shirts now make my face look red, so I have a bunch of turquoise, green, blue, and black shirts. I have a million scarves and necklaces that I don’t wear. Yes, I am a fashion mess. Don’t get me started on shoes.

  7. ssheers says:

    I forgot to add: In the summer, when it’s too warm for my sport knit pants, I have several pairs of capris in neutral colors with pockets of course.

  8. Cassi says:

    I have one uniform for warm weather, and one for colder weather.

    In warm weather it’s a pair of cotton sort-of-capris (meaning they are intended to be full length, but on me they are capris) and a t-shirt. I like the CJ Banks or Lands End t-shirts.

    In colder weather I tend to wear black pants and a more tailored t-shirt because I’m teaching. I did recently discover Evans, and found a pair of jeans that are SO comfy, so that’s been added in to my wardrobe. I would actually wear jeans every day, but it’s hard to find jeans when you’re both tall and fat. My t-shirt colors tend toward green and blue, those being my favorite colors. I enjoy wearing beaded lanyards as a jewelry choice -I wish I could wear my necklaces, but since I have to wear a lanyard, that doesn’t work so well.

    Until just recently, my shoe choices had to be made for stability. Now that I have my balance back, I’ve been branching out a tiny bit, but I still aim for comfy.

  9. Patience says:

    Just as I was creating a work uniform for myself, our dress code was changed to casual. It’s pretty much anything goes, including jeans and shorts in my office, but we all have to keep a professional outfit in our offices to wear for meetings in the main hospital. If I have to look professional, I usually wear navy or black trousers with a blouse and cardigan. I’ve been really into Everlane lately. Their minimalist clothes are appealing to me and work well in a uniform-driven wardrobe.

  10. Ally Bean says:

    Your uniform work wardrobe approach sounds like a dream come true to me. I’m trying to get to the point where you are. Fewer choices in carefully considered colors could only make my life easier. I am inspired. Thank you.

  11. Becky says:

    I’ve long had a ‘uniform’ of black, demin, clogs or boots. I might throw some color in here & there (mostly pink, but some purple and brown). I prefer skirts to pants and my casual wardrobe is not that much different from my work wardrobe - probably because the office I work in is casual and when I teach cooking classes, I find black is best, especially the days anything tomato based is on the menu (I inevitably wear whatever the kids are making).
    I just bought myself some new black T’s from Old Navy and I have to say, for the first time in a very long time, I like them. My favorite black knit dress from Lands End is finally showing it’s age, so I’m looking for a replacement dress. The first one I bought isn’t quite cutting it, so I continue to look….I have no doubt it will take a good 5 ‘replacement’ purchases to finally find one that does replace it. Sadly, nothing from the current Lands End catalog is close.

  12. Yes, I wear a uniform. Horny Toad (now Toad & Co.) makes knit skirts, shirts and dresses that I LOVE and can wear year-round with t-shirts, cardigans and leggings if needed OR sandals without any socks. I wear the same silver jewelry regularly and like you I rely on black but brown instead of navy as my go-to color.
    I just switch out the top or cardigan for “color” and go on my way wearing the same basic boots and skirt most days and no one has ever said anything rude to me about it.
    Not that I’d care because I don’t have time and I hate to shop.
    Uniforms RULE!

  13. Lori H says:

    I wear my several pairs of black knit pants quite often. I am with you on the shirts that aren’t knit - any woven shirt makes me fidget all day too! Any button-down has to have a good bit of stretch for me to buy it. 100% cotton blouses - no thanks!
    Your uniform sounds practical and classic!

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