Of course this got me thinking how this might translate for all of us…
Say you have this outfit, and you love it:
This would be so easy to build – when you see a jacket that you love, you add it to your wardrobe! Any jacket, in pretty much any cut or fabric, could be worn with your white shirt and black jeans…
You would be free to buy a stack of jeans exactly like the ones that you like – just enough to have relatively clean ones whenever you want. (jeans are so forgiving…) And then you could add white shirts, blouses, tee shirts, or sweaters that appealed. Your only real criteria might be that they would fit under your jackets – you wouldn’t want anything with massive shoulder pads or a deeply dropped underarm.
At this point, you have 25 different combinations. If you got really wild and changed up your black pants (velvet? cotton twill? corduroy?) you could have as many as 125 different combinations from just 15 pieces of clothes…
So often, many of us shy away from the idea of a wardrobe uniform because it sounds like it would be really boring… I can assure you, the lovely young man I met today was ANYTHING but dull! And imagine the gorgeous investments you could make in your wardrobe if you knew that you weren’t going to need a lot of clothes…
What do you think? Could you do this?
Yes I like this. I am in front of total decluttering my wardrobe and as I like navy, purple, white and sand-like (gray-beige) colors with jeans addition this would be the ideal combination for the uniform-like dressing. For free time activities and festive situations a lot of flowers on materials and some black combinations.. I like your always fresh ideas. I can not wait for your May flower ideas.. as I am Maja.
Kind regards, Maja
I love the idea of the uniform. Doesn't mean you have to look like you are wearing a uniform. For it is an exercise in thinking about and finding out what you really like to wear and feel comfortable in. I know what I like and what I don't like. That is learning about myself. Part of my uniform in winter is a polar fleece on top of a long sleeved t-shirt or skivvy. Doesn't change all winter. My polar fleece does change weekly. I am warm and snug. Someone else would have a completely different idea of what pleases them. Thanks and Hugs Carol S
I think I do this. My very first job was in retail sales and we were required to wear a dress or "3 pieces", ie: skirt cardigan, top or pants, jacket, top, etc. Ever since then, I only feel "properly" dressed in 3 pieces (on the occasion when it is warm and I omit the jacket or cardigan I feel woefully under-dressed, personal feeling, not necessarily so)
I sew a lot of my clothing so making my pieces is as easy as choosing my favorite jacket and skirt patterns, then adding a shell. I am good to go.
In college I spent a year in the Middle East, a country where the outside was usually hot, the inside was air conditioned, and the people I spent time with were personally not so modest but horribly judgmental of other people's modesty. That was how I learned about 3 pieces – a short-sleeve when I felt comfortable enough, and covering my collarbone, elbows, and/or wrists when I didn't. It helps now, a generation later, in my office and professional life and even with kids – if one layer gets dirty, I always have another layer ready-to-go!
This is the direction in which I’ve been heading for a while now. My work dresses are black and dark charcoal gray, and with them I wear bright-colored cardigans with coordinating scarf and jewelry. I’m planning to make some jackets this year to add a bit of variety (and warmth, because lining). I’ve been trying to figure out how I could work this with a skirt but I’d want a top in the same color as the jacket/cardigan so we’ll see.
Love love love! I have my own version of a uniform. I admit that it's quite boring, but it works for me. First layer: a black tee shirt. Crew neck in the winter. V neck in the summer. Paired with black pants. Always with pockets. Second layer: a black cardigan. A few different style for the cardigan. Boyfriend, open front, etc. (Have several identical tees and pants.) Also a little black dress for weddings and funerals. Also a few colorful scarves, both solids and prints. Again, quite boring. But it works for me.
Gail Finke says
I don't think I'd be happy in that much black but I can see that would work very well, and so easy. Thanks for making me think about that, it's giving me ideas!
My son (who is 15) does this. He wears gray chinos and a gray (usually charcoal) hoodie, sweatshirt, or button up shirt (open). His wildcard is a graphic tee. He buys the most unique shirts he can find, usually from independent artists. This way he reflects his personality but allows for very easy dressing in the morning.
I love this idea..but what about those of us who live in a steam bath during the summer..suggestions please!!!
Maybe flip it? Black shorts/skirt/capris, white tee, distinctive sandals? or khaki bottoms, white tee, distinctive hats or sunglasses?
Margie from Toronto says
Not only could I do this – it is what I aspire to! This past Winter my uniform has been navy, black or denim bottoms – a white t-shirt, turtleneck or shirt/blouse, topped with a coloured cardigan or v-neck sweater (although even here I tended to stick to navy or black). I am working my way towards similar pieces for my summer wardrobe as well (although some white jeans will work their way in for very hot days).
I admit to a (very) few deviations in that I have some striped, polka dot and gingham t-shirts & shirts. However, they are all in navy & white or black & white so easily fit into the overall scheme.
Anything that doesn't fit into this scheme is mostly worn at home (and will be worn until it's no longer viable) – but any new pieces are part of this overall "vision". I really only need to add a few bottoms in the next year or so as I have enough tops and more than enough sweaters.
I don't find it boring at all – the different sweaters liven things up, and I find myself using more of my accessories to change up a look so they are no longer languishing in a drawer. I think it's all part of wanting to simplify my life and it just makes so much sense – at least to me.
I love the uniform idea. All winter my uniform is a turtle neck (in various colors), with jeans or a short skirt with fleecy tights( in black, gray,or beige), and a cardigan or vest ( in neutrals or colors to go w turtle neck) works for me with no thought involved.
Summer is the same using Land's End swim shirts as t shirts or a linen shirt, linen pants or jean skorts that look like skirts (I'm closer to seventy than 60 and shorts could be scary for the viewer) and cardigans or jean jackets in neutrals and denim, maybe some bright colors thrown in.
Makes life so much easier.
As I look into my walk in closet that is filled with all 4 seasons of my clothes, I have been thinking of what category of clothing to store away to make the closet look less filled, as we are selling this house and moving to smaller accommodations. Through this process I realized that I have a uniform of sorts all Winter long — a cotton turtleneck top, with one of several different colored 1/4 zip polar fleece second layers and either pants or jeans . So the turtlenecks will get put away into a container. It’s still chilly here in PA, but I can get by with a long sleeve top and a cashmere scarf or pashmina.
Good luck with the sale and move, Shrebee!
My husband and I downsized several years ago and we love it!! I am still adjusting to a smaller wardrobe, as you know, but I am determined to live with one (and only one) hanging closet area. Canvas boxes above the hanging space allows me to store long sleeve tops during nine months of the year when not in use. I’ve learned so much about wardrobe organization from you, Janice, and lovely followers.
Have a very blessed Easter.
your sister in style,
Mary Jackson says
I've been wearing a "uniform" for two decades – since I stopped wearing skirts and dresses. Black pants with a white top/tee and jacket in red is my "base uniform." I also have navy pants and dark jeans, but since navy shoes are so hard to find, I lean toward black pants. This fall I added various shades of gray to my tops and jackets, and even have a pair of gray pants, which I don't wear nearly as often. Since I'm retired, my needs are less, but I will continue to wear my uniform! Thanks Janice for a post without dresses, skirts, or shorts!
It must be nearly three decades since I stopped wearing skirts and dresses! I work with a 3-piece formula like the young man (and like Becky above I feel odd if it's less than three). The only real difference is that any of the three pieces could be the 'wild card' – I like that term (for me it means either a bold colour, say red, or a dramatic pattern such as stripes)! I particularly like bright coloured trousers, but black ones with a bright jacket are a more practical combination.
Flippin' brilliant! Apparently there's such a thing as "decision fatigue" – as in, you can only make so many decisions in a day. Note that many "power players" from silicon valley to Washington DC wear a uniform. I love your example, though, because the unique jackets wouldn't LOOK like a uniform.
Popular post. I have been thinking about going to a uniform. I could live in loafers, jeans, solid tee, scarf, and a short jacket (denim, black leather, boucle, knit). No brocade or velvet for this girl though! Your young man sounds like my youngest son! He wears tuxedo jackets with skinny jeans and a scarf, always a scarf. He lives in Montreal, probably no one even notices him!
Christine Moon says
This would take a lot of self control – and in our world today it would take someone with a very strong sense of personal style to stick to it! The influence of marketing and the influence of the World Wide Web are very powerful! That said, a uniform is very comforting. Easy, quick, distinctive and yet familiar. All good!
Seasonally I head down this type of path, but admit that the Labrador in me (“squirrel!”) is easy derailed.
I love the young mans sense of self. And to think that there are plenty of thrifting options available… nice! (And lovely that you reached out to him and connected! Thanks! Chris from Indy
I share your thoughts, and you had me at "the Labrador in me"!
Gail Finke says
It's not at all what I do but I really like this idea. For work, it would be fun to have a couple different pair of black pants (and a skirt), five identical white shirts (wear one a day and wash them all on Saturday), and 10 wonderful blazers or cardigans (some all-season and some seasonal). You could wear different outer layers for two weeks in a row and never get bored, but still have only 20 garments tops (probably fewer, because you could wear the bottoms twice or more per week). I saw an article once about a woman executive who had five of the same black suit (she switched each out every day, so it would take a long time for them to wear out) and wore a different jewel-colored blouse each day. That was it. So easy and very chic.
absolutely! It appeals to my love for unusual, artsy pieces, makes room for my colourful handknit shawls, and the bottoms could also be skirts and capris…
the only problem is, I don't look good in white, and I am a terrible stain magnet! LOL. Black tops drain my face as well. I need to find a neutral for tops that is easily available, and that can live with me!
Me, too! I buy from the warm side… There’s a particular creamy ivory (about the only light neutral), v. pale peachy apricot, dark chocolate brown, rust, mahogany, forest green (bluish, like bottle green), teal blue, & dark tomato red (which I loathe for me personally).
Carole Hustead says
I would be willing to try this. It would be very simple, yet give options for variety.
Kay dancingbrushpainting.blogspot.com says
Yes! I could totally do something like this!!! Different colors, but same vibe.
Thanks for the great idea.
Dear Janice, this is a great post and please, I would love you to expand on different kinds of uniforms, involving different wildcards types and different colors. I wear warm colors. Black and white are terrible on me and The Vivienne Files opened my eyes and I felt allowed to banish them from my wardrobe totally. Although I could manage with wearing black bottoms, I'm wondering about warm neutrals which could work for tops…
Beth B says
What a fabulous idea!
Singing my song! Have done this even before I retired. It started when I went to Europe for 3 weeks with one carryon and decided black trousers would be on the bottom all the time. My "joy of use", as Marie Kondo would say, comes from the quality of the pieces and the peace of mind.
Love your site – I've been checking in almost every day! Your "start with art" section has been so inspiring! I'm in the process of re-building my wardrobe, pretty much from the ground up. I suppose I have Steve Jobs-syndrome: I've been wearing the same 15 items – I am not even kidding – everyday for the last 10 years. 6 boat-neck knit tops, three A-line knit skirts/two pairs of pants, a dress, and two cardigans plus a pair of grey shoes. The shirts finally disintegrated (underarms wore out) and had to be replaced, but then I lost literally everything when my checked luggage was lost on my last trip home (filled with gifts). So if you do indulge in a minimalist wardrobe, make sure you carry it on! And don't dress like a slouch at the airport because you may be stuck in that outfit for a long longer than you planned!
Could I do this? Absolutely! In fact, such a uniform is laid out on a chair, ready for our flight for Paris today! You've got me thinking "perhaps I can fit my flowered bomber in the suitcase too?"
Thanks and happy holiday-
Maryann Lobb says
this is fantastic I can so totally relate to this. Please expand on this idea for more inspiration. x
Uniform! Yes! I've always loved the standard work capsule of jacket/sweater, slacks, skirt, but NOT twinsets. When I overhauled my closet last year using your teachings I realized it still works, and I can do it with flair! Like this guy!
Ivy Bromius says
This is a perfect solve for folks who like the capsule wardrobe idea but who love all kinds of colors and patterns. I how you explore this further, maybe showing uniforms with unique jackets, scarves, shoes, etc. Also different versions of the all neutral "background wardrobe."
About 20 years ago, this was my exact style for when I had to look "nice": black pants, white top (or black), and very distinctive jacket. I shopped a lot of thrift stores and found some great statement jackets (tweeds, plaid, bright colors, etc.) It was fun, and pretty easy. I just had to choose which jacket fit my mood that day, and whether to wear a white or black top… – nancyo
Really intriguing idea. What a great example you chose, Janice, to introduce this to us. I would love to see another blog post exploring the uniform idea. Maybe with a dark colored solid sheath as the foundation for an office-appropriate uniform? I've been meaning to do the math and figure out exactly how many dresses I would need in my mild climate to only wear dresses to the office.
Sallie D. says
I have been gradually shifting towards this as a wardrobe. For years I've been collecting jackets – I live in the Pacific northwest, where some sort of jacket is suitable about 10 months of the year. I have several show super jackets – one is knee length inn gold and burgundy tapestry that looks like it came from the Yellow Submarine. I cannot wear it without women stopping me to ask about it. I have a gorgeous bright coral suede knee length jacket, and a brown velvet swing coat. For me, it's now about choosing the pant, and the best top for under the jackets. I guess a lightweight turtleneck for winter, and t-shirts or tanks for summer. Thank you for a fun article.
Sallie D. says
*show stopper* was how that was supposed to read
My comment is very late to this thread as I’m reading my way through lots of older posts lately.
I really love the uniform concept and I realise this is pretty much how I dress every day. My basic uniform doesn’t really deviate from slim ankle length pants (black, blue denim or charcoal – wool, jeans, lycocell – moving from cold to warm weather); cashmere sweaters, tee shirts or button ups (in black, navy, mid-olive or shades of grey – again, weather dependent); worn with ankle boots, loafers, oxfords, low pumps or sandals (all black, or metallic).
All very unmemorable, and worn year after year. But like the young man described above the so-called ‘heroine piece’ in my case is a more colourful woolen coat, long cardigan or linen blazer. I’ve picked up many such pieces in thrift stores over the decades. They are what individualises my uniform, but a uniform is it, nevertheless! It make life so easy, working within constraints that you know will work.
It sounds to me as if you have a great system – I think if we all could find our personal uniforms, we would do a lot less wasteful spending, a lot less polluting, and we might all be happier getting dressed every day!
I read this back in 2018 when first posted. I came back to it today after going through my closet (yet again) to clear out the “unwanteds.” But clear out to make room for what? Been trying to figure that out for years. Easier for me to identify what doesn’t work for me than it is to identify what DOES. But after all this time, I think I’ve finally figured out the word “capsule” does not serve me well and the word “uniform” DOES. Uniform doesn’t allow for maximum possible combinations, but that’s OK. I don’t need that. I want simplicity and this is what simplicity looks like to me. I’m not a layering person. I only need top and bottom. My bottoms will be basic neutral and tops will be more “interesting” as in artistic and colorful…florlals, stripes, plaids, dots, whimsical prints, whatever. As long as they’re not boring. I’m excited that I can finally stop searching for answers, because I think I’ve finally found them…by identifying MY formula! Thanks so much for all your observations and guidance!