4 Reasons To Adopt A Work Uniform, And How To Do It

Imagine always knowing what you’ll be wearing tomorrow – and always loving it. Now's the time to do it.
We can all do better than a black turtleneck, but Elizabeth Holmes and Steve Jobs nailed the utility of a work uniform.
We can all do better than a black turtleneck, but Elizabeth Holmes and Steve Jobs nailed the utility of a work uniform.

One more alarm clock going off and one more day of work ahead. With all the decisions you’re about to make, wouldn’t it be great if you already knew what you were going to wear? And, even better, if you knew it was something that’d be completely comfortable and flattering?

Of course, many jobs require a uniform, but there are lots of other workplaces that allow employees to wear whatever they want (or whatever aligns with the corporate dress code). Whether you spend your days in a classroom, a kitchen, an office, a co-working space or just your local coffee shop, this might be the perfect time to create a work uniform.

How It Works

First, banish all thoughts of the bleak uniforms adopted by Steve Jobs or Elizabeth Holmes. You don’t need to wear a black Issey Miyake turtleneck every day of the year. But you do need to think about what basic elements you like to wear and feel good in. If there’s a blouse you adore and always get compliments on, why not buy one in every color? If you’ve finally found a pair of pants you don’t want to pull off the minute you get home, buy a few pairs and start wearing them every day. The uniform doesn’t need to be restrictive, but it does need to suit you perfectly.

“I’m always pro-uniform because it’s like branding oneself to make your life easier,” said Amanda Sanders, a fashion consultant and personal shopper. “Personally, I’m a wrap dress kind of girl, and it’s the go-to item that makes me feel pulled together and fashionable when I need to get out of the door while dealing with kids and chaos. Investing in classic items that won’t go out of style and can be worn for multiple occasions, both in and out of the house, can add versatility to any wardrobe.”

Stylist Rima Vaidila said “creating a capsule wardrobe is a must-do.”

Having a strong collection of essential, high-quality pieces as the ‘base’ for your closet is the smartest thing busy people can do,” she said. “Most people already do this subconsciously, so you may as well lean into it.”

Scientists, Stylists And Minimalists Are On Board

Still on the fence? Consider what the experts say.

Reason 1: Fewer choices means less stress

There’s a modern phenomenon scientists call choice overload, and it makes us very unhappy. Although we think we want lots and lots of options, it turns out that when we get what we say we want — hello, jam-packed closet and overflowing shoe collection — we have a harder time making any decision at all, and we’re more likely to feel like we’ve made the wrong one. If you’re looking for ways to reduce stress in your life, eliminating the “what should I wear?” question might be a good place to start.

Reason 2: You can be comfortable all the time

You can decide to wear only clothing that makes you feel good and look good.

“Before the pandemic, most of us viewed workwear as its own category — something you changed out of the moment you get home,” said Karen Lee, co-founder of Lezé The Label, a line of sustainable workwear made from recycled materials. “We felt we needed to be stiff and uncomfortable to look professional. Because of the pandemic, people realized they can get things done in sweatpants. Now we’re looking for comfort and versatility in garments that can be worn in and out of the office. So honestly, I feel that the concept of workwear has changed, and I’m not mad about it.”

Sanders suggested buying some “super-chic yet deceptively comfortable pieces, such as button-ups or cardigans.”

“There’s no need to jump straight into stiff pencil skirts and thick, sweat-inducing button-downs,” she said.

Reason 3: Minimalism means freedom

Imagine a life free of all those outfits you “might” wear someday. In his book Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism,” Fumio Sasaki writes, “We don’t need to have a lot of clothes to live a clean, comfortable life. While others may like to vary their looks, there’s a stylishness to wearing the same clothes that are perfect for us and using them as a kind of personal uniform. Though some people might judge you if you’re always wearing the same style, I think that will eventually become a thing of the past.”

Reason 4: You can save money AND time

Forget fast fashion and the way supposedly “cheap” clothes end up wreaking havoc on your budget. When you stick with classic items you can wear again and again, you can save yourself a tidy sum. And when you eliminate the try-on, take-off, try-again cycle of shopping and dressing, you’ll have loads more time to focus on what matters most to you: your great new work idea, some cuddles with the kids or even just another round on the snooze button.

Mark Zuckerberg's hoodies and Anna Wintour's sunglasses have become iconic parts of their work uniforms.
Mark Zuckerberg's hoodies and Anna Wintour's sunglasses have become iconic parts of their work uniforms.

Start With The Right Pieces

“You need to consider the basics,” said stylist Nikki Steele. “Consider having a clean pair of straight denim, a straight pair of black, navy or brown trouser pants, a straight knee-length skirt in black or navy, a white button-down blouse, one blazer or cardigan in black or navy and one in your favorite bright color, and pairs of loafers, slides and heels.”

But, of course, if your idea of comfort doesn’t jive with those particular items, replace them with whatever is most appropriate for you.

Wardrobe stylist Ann Marshik noted that people have been dressing more casually since the start of the pandemic, so a smart work uniform might consist of “denim and a shirt or T-shirt with an oversize blazer or shorts. After work, you can toss that blazer and be ready for a walk or bike ride.”

“Once you find that uniform and keep to it, it really does make things easier,” she said.

Ask Yourself: Is It ‘Uniform-Worthy’?

“My North Star is always how an item of clothing makes you feel, because if you feel good, you can do good work,” Lee said.

She suggested asking yourself a few questions before deciding if an item is uniform-worthy: “First, ask if you can go to an all-you-can-eat meal in it? If the answer is yes, then you can probably sit at your desk all day without discomfort or restrictions.”

Next, she advised, think about how functional the garment is and how easy it’ll be to keep it in good condition.

“Can you move in it? Sweat in it? Roll around in it?” Lee asked, noting that you should consider the specifics of your day-to-day, like whether your job requires you to travel, give presentations or chase after kids. “Make sure your garments are high-performing to match your lifestyle. Look for fabric that’s stretchy for flexibility, but also somewhat structured, so you can look polished.”

“Finally, consider how easy it will be to care for the garment,” she said. “Whether you’re a freelancer, corporate builder or mother extraordinaire, you’re busy. Look for garments that are machine-washable and don’t require dry-cleaning.”

“My North Star is always how an item of clothing makes you feel, because if you feel good, you can do good work.”

- Karen Lee

What To Avoid

Some stylists suggest limiting yourself to just a few basic pieces for your uniform, but that doesn’t mean your look has to be boring.

“Of course a work uniform is extremely helpful, and you must have go-to’s if you feel grumpy one morning and don’t want to think,” said stylist Julia von Boehm. “But the looks should not be repetitive or monotone, and they should each work on their own.”

Steele said fun accessories can help you avoid that dreaded “monotone.”

“Pop on that bracelet or earrings in your favorite color, and match them with a pair of fun-colored shoes and handbag,” she said. “If you work in a more conservative industry, wear colorful socks that you can notice whenever you cross your legs. It will make you smile, even if you’re just sitting at home on Zoom meeting.”

Now Let’s Do This

“I’d recommend doing a few test runs of your uniform ideas to see what works for you,” Vaidila said. “Think about your favorite work look and wear a few iterations of that combo for a week or so to test it out. Once you decide on your uniform combo, it’s 1,000% worth investing in high-quality pieces and following the care labels to ensure they last.”

Finally, don’t worry about setting yourself up for a summons from the fashion police.

“One of my style rules I share with my clients is: If you like an outfit and how it makes you feel, then put it on repeat,” Steele said. “No one will notice, because most people are too concerned about themselves to give it a second thought. Think of your last Zoom call or in-person meeting and try to remember what anyone was wearing. You probably don’t recall, but you do remember if someone seemed confident and had their act together, and that’s what a great outfit can help you do.”

Dresses You'll Want To Twirl In