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