Plenty of professions require uniforms—chefs, pilots, and fast food workers to name a few. Sometimes uniforms are practical—you should be able to identify a policeman or a doctor quickly. Sometimes they’re meant to convey authority and professionalism—you might not feel so safe if your pilot showed up in sweatpants. Either way, they serve a purpose.
Office workers used to have an unspoken uniform: a dark suit, briefcase, and topcoat in the winter. But with the rise of the casual workplace, it's not unusual to see hoodies and three-piece suits in the same office.
Having the choice of what to wear is liberating, but it also comes with drawbacks. I expend quite a bit of mental energy trying to figure out what to wear to work: Are jeans okay? Should I dress comfortably or dress for “the job I want”? As a result, my work wardrobe is a bit bipolar. I’ll wear jeans and t-shirt one day and a full-on suit the next.
Wearing the wrong thing to work or feeling frumpy can throw off an entire day and ruin productivity. There’s a new movement to end those off-days by creating a self-enforced work uniform. Matilda Kahl, an art director at Satchi and Satchi, recently penned a piece for Harper’s Bazaar about her choice to wear the same thing each day. It ended up going so viral that Satchi created a "dress like Matilda day."
Steve Jobs was known for his signature blue jeans and black mock turtleneck. Mark Zuckerberg has shared photos of his closet, which holds only grey t-shirts and hoodies. “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community," he said.
Barack Obama wears a blue or grey suit each day. The president also says he would rather save his energy. "I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make," he's said.
And then there are the people who say they are energized by pulling together a nice outfit. But I’m not one of those people—especially on Monday mornings. The idea of a work uniform seems appealing if only because of the simplicity it could bring to my mornings—so I decided to try it.
I picked out an outfit that I thought was professional, neutral, and versatile and bought two of them. My coworkers Jeanie Ahn and Justine Underhill did the same. We decided to wear the exact same outfit for a week and not to tell anyone in our office what we were doing.
The first few days were a blast—mornings were easy, and I had some extra time to sleep in instead of deciding on my outfit for the day. I was happy with what I was wearing and even got some compliments. But it was a quick honeymoon period. By Wednesday, I was starting to have some issues with my outfit—the top was stretching out and getting too low for my liking. I had to keep pulling it up. Jeanie had similar issues. After a few washes, her skirt became too short. One lesson learned: When choosing a work uniform, quality is just as important as style.
Things also got boring—sure I was saving my “creative energy,” but I was feeling so uninspired by what I was wearing that most of the positives were mitigated. I love my job, but I’m not President Obama or Mark Zuckerberg. Let's face it, I’m not making live-or-death, billion dollar decisions here. I have time to think about what shoes I'm going to wear or what I'll make for dinner.
By Friday, I was happy to be able to express myself through my clothing again, and Justine shared my sentiment. Jeanie, however, wanted to keep going. I think that makes sense—Jeanie has two young children and a more hectic lifestyle than the two of us.
Overall, though, I did love saving time in the mornings and feeling on point at work, so I’ve decided that I’ll try a weekly uniform of sorts. I'll have a Monday outfit, a Tuesday outfit, etc.
And I'll do it knowing that nobody will notice. The biggest surprise to come out of the experiment is that NO ONE commented that we were wearing the same thing each day. Before our experiment, we thought that men could easily get away with wearing the same outfit every day, but that we'd get called out if we did the same thing. We were wrong. So in the future if I want to repeat an outfit, I won’t sweat it because I know no one is taking notice, for better or worse.