In the last few years, I’ve read a lot of articles about how creating a capsule wardrobe—paring back your closet to a small number of items that you wear over and over—can be beneficial.  When a recent weight loss meant I needed to buy some new clothes, designing such a work uniform for myself became super appealing.   

How Does It Help?

There are lots of reasons a work uniform can make your life easier.

  • First, it reduces the number of decisions you have to make on a daily basis which helps to prevent decision fatigue, a very real condition whereby the energy you have to make good decisions (aka willpower) is depleted based on the number of times a day you have to draw upon it (I write more about decision fatigue here).
  • Second, by reducing the volume of clothes you own, you make it easier to find items in your closet and it makes your closet more visually appealing. As a big believer in the idea of “outer order, inner calm,” I can totally get behind closets that aren’t stuffed to the gills and are easy to keep organized.
  • Finally, it makes good financial sense: even if you are spending a little more per item, by having fewer items, your overall clothing budget goes way down.

Moving from being intrigued by the benefits of a signature look and actually adopting one took some time, however.

My Path to a Work Uniform

From kindergarten through 5th grade, I went to a Catholic school where we were required to wear a uniform.  It wasn’t particular attractive—green plaid bottoms and a white top—and it was probably made less so by the Army green leg warmers I wore under my skirt (what can I say—it was the 80’s and the school had an unreliable heating system!).

When I transferred to public school in 6th grade, I didn’t miss the green plaid but I did miss the uniform.  Having to get up in the morning and decide what to wear was just miserable.  Being overweight didn’t help.  There wasn’t a huge selection of plus size clothing back then but even if there had been, I would probably have still hated deciding what to wear since no matter what I picked, it wouldn’t have made me look like one of the popular girls.

In my 20’s and 30’s, I tried to be fashionable but don’t believe I ever quite succeeded.  Inevitably, when I tried wearing one of my “stylish outfits” I would just feel awkward and like I was wearing a costume.  Afterward, I would wash it and stuff it in the back of my closet, once again turning to my favorites which, while they weren’t ugly or cheap looking, weren’t what I thought of as fashionable.

Whether you call it a capsule wardrobe or a uniform, cutting down on the number of decisions you have to make is just smart! #CapsuleWardrobe #DecisionFatigue #GoodLifeBetter

The people around me made it seem so easy.  Wistfully, I would compare their well put together outfits with what I thought of as my “interchangeable sameness.”

What I didn’t realize until pretty recently was that my interchangeable sameness wasn’t actually a bad thing.

Operation Interchangeable Sameness

One of the reasons it took me so long to figure out that I had a uniform was I kept getting hung up on the idea that to have uniform, you need to identify not just a type of clothing but a specific piece of clothing that you are going to wear over and over.  So, for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, this would be owning more than one of a specific t-shirt and wearing it most days.

In my case, it was easy to identify my uniform pants and shoes: black or grey slacks, black boots or flats, or maybe a black shoe with a small chunky heel if I was feeling adventurous.  But with tops, no matter how many times I tried to identify a particular color to embrace for every occasion, I just couldn’t do it.  Sometimes green is my favorite color, but other days it is red.  Black is a good color for me, but then so is bright white.

And then it hit me.  My uniform isn’t a particular shirt or color or fabric, but a particular type of shirt.  For tops, I like flowing fabrics, usually sleeveless, with a jewel-neck cardigan or suit jacket if the situation calls for it.  I mostly wear solid colors but am occasional drawn to a pattern. Stripes? By the time I was in my late 20’s I realized that striped tops go into my closet, never to come out again (unless I am taking a bag to the charity shop).  I don’t know why but no matter how much I liked it in the store, I never end up wearing it.

The Benefits I Have Experienced From Adopting a Uniform

Having a uniform has simplified my life in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

  • First, my clothes all go together so if one pair of pants is dirty, I can just grab a different one.
  • Second, it makes shopping so much easier.  Having already narrowed down what I am looking for before I walk in the door lets me focus in on the few things that I know could work and quickly decide whether I want to purchase an item or not.
  • Third, I no longer apologize for buying the same thing in three colors.  This isn’t a sign of laziness but something that I should celebrate!
  • And finally, I no longer feel the need to buy only items that are on sale or to shop only if I have a coupon (although it is an added bonus if that is the case).  Paying full price for something I know I will wear over and over again may sting but since my cost per use will inevitably be low, I can go for it without feeling guilty.

What’s Your Work Uniform?

Do you have or are you contemplating designing a uniform for yourself?  I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

Why Creating a Work Uniform Made Me Smarter

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