Making your wardrobe efficient and easy.
In the simplest terms, a personal uniform is an organized system for getting dressed. The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ was coined by London boutique owner Susie Faux in the 1970s. A capsule wardrobe refers to a collection of a few essential items of clothing that won’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats. Though it may seem unusual, there are examples of personal uniforms all around us. Steve Jobs was always in a black turtleneck and jeans. Michael Kors is never out of a black suit and a pair of aviators, Albert Einstein was famous for his gray suit and sockless get-up, and best-selling author Tom Wolfe opts for white linen suits. Some of the most famously fashionable women have a personal uniform, too: Anna Wintour, Vera Wang, and Carolina Herrera are a few notable examples. Some of history’s most creative, innovative, productive, and stylish individuals have worn the same thing every single day. Coincidence? Probably not.
You might be thinking but won’t that be boring? Think of it this way: Monday through Friday, sticking to your uniform saves time and energy for those things that really matter, without sacrificing fashion or appearance. You will also save money, as you aren’t purchasing as many items on a regular basis. And, chances are you’re doing it anyway. We all have a few favorite outfits that we wear at least once or twice a week. Take a moment to think of yours. If you have one, that might be a good place to start in designing a uniform of your own.
If you’re looking to streamline your wardrobe and minimize the amount of time you spend deciding on an outfit every morning, consider these core principles:
Quality over quantity. When it comes to buying items for your wardrobe, your ethos should be “fewer and better.” Spending the money up front for an item you will own, love, and wear for years is well worth the investment. When we focus on more instead of better, we end up with items we don’t really love that wear out quickly. Go for quality to ensure a return on investment.
Style over fashion. Once you have a uniform, you will be more closely acquainted with your personal style. Stick to your style instead of popular fashion trends. Those will come and go and the money you shelled out for “jeggings” or knee-high boots won’t seem worth it when those are in your “get rid of” pile. Your closet should feature timeless, classic pieces that you love and can wear again and again.
Function and versatility above all. Select items that are neutral enough to work with several outfits at varying levels of dress code. A gray sweater can go over a pair of jeans for a casual dinner with friends or under a navy blue blazer for a work-appropriate look. Look to fashion magazines, blogs, and even Instagram to find creative ways to use and reuse your high-quality items.
The next step is to design your wardrobe so that it fills a uniform’s needs. A good rule of thumb is the law of three’s: three tops, three bottoms, three pairs of shoes, three dresses, etc. One of the three can be casual, one can be more of a statement, and one can fall somewhere in between. This allows you to mix and match for a variety of outfits and have something to wear to any type of event. You can also rely on your fancier items to spiff up a daytime outfit for a nighttime activity. You might switch from sneakers to a pair of heeled boots to meet friends for dinner, but the rest of your outfit can remain the same.
For some, this approach may seem sparse and even spartan. Remember that the goal of a uniform is to reduce the stress of getting dressed. If you love accessories, such as jewelry, handbags, scarves or sunglasses; don’t hesitate to incorporate those into your look. Remember Anna Wintour? Her uniform includes oversized sunglasses and a statement necklace. Similarly, seasonal or special-occasion items might exist in categories of their own. Sarongs and ballgowns aren’t the items you are considering for daily wear, so holding onto them won’t hinder efficient dressing. Your uniform should work for you, so it can be what you wear most of the time, what you wear on work days, or what you wear for a given season.
Are you ready to cut down the time you spend getting ready, save money, and feel put together and well-dressed in every moment? Then you’re ready to design your own personal uniform.
Three Steps to Your Personal Uniform
- Clean out your closet. As Marie Kondo advises, if it doesn’t bring you joy, it goes. Take everything out of your closet and go through each item one by one. If it isn’t something you would wear today, get rid of it. Exceptions can be made for seasonal or special occasion items, but if you had a black tie event tomorrow and you still wouldn’t reach for that item, it goes!
(See ASE’s article on Marie Kondo’s first best-selling book and on her second best -selling book.)
- Orient your uniform around what’s left. The items you love and would put on this minute are your best clues as to what your uniform should look like. If your closet is full of grays and blues, soft sweaters and wearable jeans, your uniform might consist of a high-quality cashmere sweater in navy blue, black, and gray, as well as a pair of blue jeans and a pair of black pants to cover your bases. If, on the other hand, your closet is full of brightly colored skirts and dresses, you may be better served by silk tops in a few different colors and styles paired with sleek skirts you can wear for business or for fun. Those pieces you reach for almost every day are your foundation: once you determine what they are, you can build your uniform around them.
- Take a ‘shopping hiatus’ so that you only buy what you really need. Keep in mind your environment and your preferred color palate. If you give yourself a week or two before you begin to fill the holes in your pared down closet, you’ll find that you’re likely to buy things that you genuinely like, that you will wear, and that will stand the test of time. This approach favors thoughtful purchases over spur-of-the-moment splurges. If you find you have a hard time resisting an impulse buy, force yourself to wait 48 hours before you decide. If it’s something you really love, you’ll probably still want it and it could be a worthy purchase. If you’ve forgotten about it by then, keep moving.
Clothing brands are starting to design for the minimalist wardrobe. Designer Misha Nonoo has just launched her Easy 8 Collection. Eight pieces create 22 looks. MM. LaFleur has created a Bento Box. A stylist can put together a box for you after you fill out a questionnaire if you are unable to get to one of their stores. Each box contains 4 – 6 wardrobe staples.
Designing your personal uniform should be a fun and exciting process. For tips, guidance, and support, try Unfancy or Project 333. If you’re looking for a deeper dive, read The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe, available on Amazon.