Do You Have a Work Uniform?

Bryn DonovanStyle15 Comments

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Sometimes getting myself dressed for work seems way harder than it ought to be. Every once in a while, I change clothes three times before leaving the house in the morning, all the while shaking my head at myself: Seriously? You haven’t figured this out yet? The outfit that seemed okay in the morning can suddenly seem really not okay at all by the afternoon: too silly, too sloppy, or too uncomfortable. It also bothers me if I feel like my style choices are all over the place. That’s why I’m feeling really pleased with myself, to the point of smugness, for settling on a work uniform.

It happened because I have changed sizes in the past couple of years, and the fancy dress I had been planning to wear to the opera for my birthday didn’t fit any more. I found a navy dress at J. Crew, marked down a bit, and bought it because I could wear it to the office as well. It was a little more than I was used to paying for dresses, but I figured I would get a lot of use out of it. By the way, I am not getting anything from J. Crew for writing this article. I wish.

It’s called the “Memo” dress. It’s made from the same kind of wool material as a suit, and it’s lined.

Model wearing a black v-neck dress and bright blue shoes

Photo from jcrew.com.

Here it is on me at the opera last February. Not the best picture of the garment, but you get the idea.

Bryn wearing the same dress and pearls

When I first got the dress, I thought it was nice, but not remarkable. After I had worn it a few times, I realized that I always felt put together when I wore it, and that it was extremely comfortable. Does that ever happen to you – falling in love with a piece of clothing gradually? I got a second one in green. Then, because I really did need more things to wear to work since so many clothes didn’t fit any more, I bought it in hot pink and a medium blue on Ebay.

Somehow a similar thing happened with shoes. I loved a pair of navy pumps, Calvin Klein “Dolly,” because they are comfortable and look sharp, so I got them in hot pink patent and taupe patent as well. Sadly, Calvin Klein is not giving me free merch, either.

Shiny taupe pumps with pointy toes

Photo from zappos.com.

So now I have a plan for the rest of spring and summer at work: one of the dresses, one of the pairs of pumps, and different jewelry and scarves. I’m wearing them with hose, because if Kate Middleton is doing it I can too. What’s more, my legs are always getting bruised up because I daydream and don’t watch where I’m going, they’re also so pale that they’re bluish-white, and self-tanner or similar products are a hassle. I like Hanes sheer hose in Travel Buff, because it’s close to my super-pale skin tone.

I have one short-sleeved black wrap dress that can also join the rotation. On Fridays, I’ll wear something different and casual: I have a couple of maxi dresses that are perfect. In the fall and winter, I can still wear these dresses with opaque hose and maybe a jacket or cardigan. Since I don’t exactly work up a sweat in my office, I can wear the dresses a few times before cleaning them with Dryel in the dryer. I do get them dry-cleaned professionally every once in a while.

It’s so easy that it makes me really happy. A friend of mine told me about how she read that President Obama has a set “uniform,” as well as the same breakfast and lunch every day, in order to avoid having to waste mental energy on trivial decisions. I am only about 1% as busy as the POTUS, but I still like the simplicity. Because the dresses are dressy, I feel professional wearing them, and that improves my focus. And although it seems silly to say it, I think having a consistent look makes an employee seem more solid and reliable. Even if I’m wrong about that, it does make me feel more confident.

Of course, this took an investment up front, but it wouldn’t have to cost a lot of money to have a “uniform.” One guy at my company wears a white shirt and tie to work every day. Genius, and it could be done very inexpensively. Someone buying only thrift-store clothing could settle in to a similar outfit formula, such as suit jacket + jeans every day. One of my best friends only wears black and some white, which cuts down on decision-making and is a pretty easy way to have a signature look.

There may be a little bit of a taboo in wearing the same clothes every week, as I plan to do, but I think it would be great if we all got over this. I think having a few well-made, classic dresses is going to make me happier than random impulse purchases. But having made an investment, will I be able to stick to it and not buy much else? I think so, but I’ll let you know if it doesn’t work out.

Do you have a work “uniform”? Would you like to? Or are you a firm believer in variety?

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Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.
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Bryn DonovanDo You Have a Work Uniform?

15 Comments on “Do You Have a Work Uniform?”

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  1. Profile photo of nonsensikel
    nonsensikel

    I love that dress! It’s so classy. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one rockin’ the panty hose. I definitely get some side-eye when I wear them, but eh. I also have bluish white skin and then there the little tiny spider veins…so yeah. Hose make my legs look fabulous, so why not?

    My work uniform consists of scrubs, but one day I hope to break out of that. :)

  2. Profile photo of [E]queSarahSarah
    [E]queSarahSarah

    I actually have a dress code at work. It used to be: white collared shirt, black or grey pants, black or grey skirt (or dress), black shoe. To mix it up a little, we could wear a black sweater, vest, or other black layering piece. Oh, how I miss those days. Also the days of not being required to wear pants. Now, I have five pair of dark wash jeans, a variety of navy crew-neck cardigans (JCrew Claire or New Jackie style), stack of white camis to wear under the cardigans, a navy blazer, and a variety of white and chambray button-downs. It’s very blah, but it is really, really easy. And the advantage or having to wear long pants all the time is that I don’t have to cover up the tattoos on the inside of my ankles.

    1. Profile photo of Kym G
      Kym G

      I am having a super immature day today, apparently, because when I read “Oh, how I miss those days…of not being required to wear pants” all I could imagine was having a job that allowed you to come in in just underwear. I am cracking myself up today.

      1. Profile photo of Opifex
        Opifex

        Back in ye olde high school days a friend of mine walked into the lunch room and announced at the top of her lungs that she wasn’t wearing pants. Mind you the school uniform required us to wear skirts, but you would be amazed at how many people did a double take anyway.

  3. Profile photo of Opifex
    Opifex

    New job requires me to wear suit jackets. These are not cheep, so I don’t have very many. I end up cycling through the same 3 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, 4 jackets, and a bunch (like 7? I have never actually counted) of different blouses each day. Dull suit + interesting blouse seems to work well for me. With a few exceptions everything goes with everything else so I just have to grab three items that are clean and go. I also put great stock in not buying shit that wrinkles, so I can avoid ironing as much as possible.

  4. Profile photo of [E] Hillary
    [E] Hillary

    One of my favorite things about the bookstore was that my “uniform” was jeans or shorts, a t-shirt or tank top, and a flannel or hoodie as needed. I have to look for a grown-up job soon and am dreading having to wear real clothing for the first time pretty much ever.

  5. Profile photo of Moretta
    Moretta

    One of the most stylish women I know has done something similar. She had a very flattering dress made in multiple colors, and has some stylish basic pumps. She accessorizes as she sees fit, and she always looks amazing.

  6. Profile photo of [E] Rachel
    [E] Rachel

    My job actually has a dress code, so I’ve worn all black every day for almost fifteen years. It makes getting dressed in the morning really easy (grab one from the tops side, one from the pants side, add shoes and go), but it’s boring as all hell, and it’s hard, when I’m shopping, to pick out things that aren’t black. I feel like it’s cramped my off-duty style.

  7. Profile photo of Mickey
    Mickey

    Lovely dress. I have the Dolly pump in black, and it is super comfortable. The beige/taupe up there is pretty great.

    Do you feel you will get bored with this “uniform”? I’m doing something similar right now with maternity wear (leggings + maternity top), and repeating the same 5-6 tops weekly has become boring. But at the same time, I don’t want to buy a lot of tops that I won’t wear again in 6 months. It’s not helping that I’m also still wearing snow boots even though it’s MAY!

  8. Profile photo of Jessica Werner
    Jessica Werner

    When I finished grad school, I went through my closet and tried on anything even remotely work-appropriate, and then ruthlessly got rid of what didn’t fit after three years and a pregnancy. I then made as many outfits as possible from what I had left and took pictures of them, so I wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear. I supplemented with a JC Penney trip (don’t laugh, the Liz Claiborne collection is well-made and affordable), and made (and photographed) more outfits. I probably have a month’s worth of clothes from four bottoms (three pants and a skirt) and six shirts.

    1. Profile photo of Nerd Girl from Camelot
      Nerd Girl from Camelot

      I am in awe. I am trying to do something similar with my wardrobe, I student teach this fall and I want to look professional. I hit up a sale at Land’s End (wooo Sears) and have combed through my stuff, but I feel like I am too much a fan of dresses ( I own a gazillion dresses. Mostly blue ones) to have an easy rotation of outfits.

      1. Profile photo of Rachel
        Rachel

        been there-totally get the need to look like a “real teacher: :) I was doing my student teaching in a high school, walked into a “different subject” staff office with my mentor teacher, and the other teacher greeted mentor, then looked at me and asked how he could help me. NB-I was wearing an ankle length skirt, turtleneck sweater, and had pencils and a conductor’s baton stuck in my ponytail.

        What grade will you be working with? My extensive sub experience has taught me many dressing do’s and don’ts for various age groups. I would love to share (see-me being all teachery and I haven’t even finished my coffee :))

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