Fashion Uniforms: Anything but Boring

One of my favorite parts of Bazaar magazine is when they have a fashion insider share his or her typical day. What time they get up, where they get their work done, what they eat, and how they relax and recharge. The most recent issue featured Vera Wang, recently they featured Michael Kors, and when I read these features I am reminded that hardworking fashionable people rely on uniforms.

If you were to make a caricature of Michael Kors, what would he be wearing? Probably a black tee shirt, jeans, maybe a black blazer and a pair of aviator sunglasses. How about Vera Wang? I’d put her in a tunic and leggings in shades of black and gray, a fresh yet bare face and sleek long hair parted in the middle. Carolina Herrera is known for her crisp white shirts, Anna Wintour for her razor-sharp bob haircut. Those who are busy, even if they live and breathe fashion, know the value of a uniform.

There is nothing wrong with a uniform. I know I got a tiny bit of flack with this post because a few of you felt I was saying uniforms are a bad thing. On the contrary. I have a problem with those who obsess so much about having the perfect capsule wardrobe or the perfect colors or the perfect whatever that they miss the fun in fashion. I think uniforms are brilliant for the busy, the world travelers, and for those who don’t want to obsess over fashion.

Find what works, and wear it. Simple as that.

Does anyone look their nose down at Michael Kors because he ALWAYS wears black tee shirts and aviators? Do you see gossip rags snarking about his boring wardrobe? No, because he has perfected his uniform. His tee shirts fit like a dream, his blazers are tailored to perfection, his jeans are the right wash and cut. He may wear “boring” clothes, but his attention to detail and quality make his ensembles interesting, crisp, and stylish. Michael Kors may have a uniform, but he will tweak it slightly to fit with the trends – the length of the jeans, the size or metal choice of the aviator frames, even the depth of his perma-tan. He understands that even uniforms need to change with the times.

My friend April sent me this article from the Detroit Free Press and I love it because it discusses how more and more celebrities are embracing personal style uniforms. The idea of a fresh new look every single day is exciting and perfect for a woman like Anna Dello Russo, but it’s not really sensible or even enjoyable for the rest of society. If your wardrobe contains sequins, camouflage canvas, distressed denim, glazed leather, monkey fur, plaid kilts, and gold lamé cocktail dresses it may be fun to look at, but it’s not as fun to dress for the every day. Having a signature style is easier on the wallet, easier on the soul when getting dressed each day, and better for your personal style.

I catch myself often getting up in the blog hype and buying outside my personal style. Each time I do, it makes dressing more stressful, my wallet less happy, and my uniform more muddled. It’s easy to do – you see a trend, you want to adopt it. You see a fun color, you want it in your closet. Some times those trends are just what you needed to kick start your style or take your wardrobe staples in a fresh and new direction. But some times those trends just cloud your vision.

In the article from the Detroit Free Press, they interviewed Elyssa Dimant, a fashion historian; she categorizes uniform dressers into three categories:

“The first is the person who can’t be bothered, who wears the same pieces because he knows it fits and wears well,” she says. “The second is incredibly calculating — Coco Chanel is in that category — someone who feels very strongly that one should have a select number of pieces at any given time and in perpetuity to establish identity. They are identity wearers. 

“And then the third is just drawn to one sensibility, to one group of aesthetics, so it’s less about projecting an identity and more about what they are attracted to,”

None of these categories of uniform dressers are doing it wrong. When I read the description of the first, I thought of Michael Kors. He has a uniform he knows looks good, fits well, matching his personal style, and is so easy he doesn’t have to think about what he wears and can concentrate on designing for others. The second is something I believe in and have done in the past (brilliant for those with small closets or travel a lot), but I find some people take too far into unhappy obsession. The third is what I hope to follow when I don’t go on some trend whim. With the third I think of celebrities like Vera Wang and Gwyneth Paltrow who have very defined personal styles but not specific garments or silhouettes that they always wear.

Before you purchase, think about WHY you are buying a garment. Is it filling a hole in your wardrobe? Does it go with what you already own? Does it work with or fight against your personal style? Does it fit in your life? Or are you purchasing it because you think it will help you be not boring or more stylish?

One garment will not change your life. A designer bag will not suddenly make you a fashion maven. And a uniform does NOT have to equal boring.

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  • http://www.knosmo.com/ Kelly O

    I love this. I tend toward a uniform look, but it works for me, especially with a two-year-old. Half the time I don’t have time to over-think what I wear, so I need it all to work so if I accidentally grab the “wrong” thing, it doesn’t look just awful.

    I used to be one of those “must buy ALL THE THINGS” type, especially if it was on sale. I’m finding now that I’d rather invest in great pieces that I can wear over and over again, and save the trendy things for accessories or less-expensive pieces I don’t mind not wearing more than a year or two.

    And honestly Allison you’ve helped me learn those things about myself, and learn that it’s okay to just be myself with my style and not worry about what other people might think of it. I would totally buy you a beer if I lived in DC. (My husband probably would too… the closet is a lot less packed!)

  • andie

    this is a great post! I would like to think I have a “uniform” and sometimes I get bored with it and that’s when I go shopping— or I see others buying or fitting into a uniform I like and then I want to go shopping. This post is really making me think and question what my uniform is!

  • rachel

    I definitely think it is more a sign of youth to follow trends and as you get more refined so does your wardrobe you tend to buy pieces that will last a lifetime rather than a season.

  • http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/ Trystan L. Bass

    In a reunion episode, the designers on Project Runway (season 4 maybe?) did criticize Michael Kors for wearing such boring clothes. He admitted he wears a basic uniform bec. now he focuses entirely on the fashions he designs for others now. But he talked about his ‘wild youth’ when he loved dabbling in all kinds of trends & enjoyed playing with fashion on himself.

  • Cyndi L

    Great article, putting things into perspective. We always think a large wardrobe is necessary to be able to dress for any occasion, but it’s not. I’ve just embarked on a journey to find my own style and make my closet work for me. At first glance, you will think we don’t have anything in common – I’m 59 and no longer in the work force – but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your blog. I too am petite (5’3″) and currently larger than I have ever been. I am learning so much from your outfits, Ask Allie feature and shopping suggestions. You give me hope that I can one day again look forward to looking in the mirror with the knowledge that I look great! Thanks, Allie!

  • Denise

    Hi Alison! How ironic, I did a post on this for my Wednesday Workday series last week. http://decidedlyd.blogspot.com/2012/10/workwear-wednesday-having-uniform.html

  • http://www.franticbutfabulous.com/ Heidi/FranticButFab

    I am totally with you! I wrote a similar post in June (http://www.closet-coach.com/2012/06/12/how-to-save-your-style-sanity-with-go-to-outfits/) and I brazenly admit I stole the idea from a series of posts Vahni did on Grit and Glamour :)

    It also reminds me of the recent Vanity Fair profile of President Obama in which he explains that he only wears a couple of different colors of suits so he’ll have one less decision to make each day (http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/10/michael-lewis-profile-barack-obama).

  • http://twitter.com/laguiri laguiri

    Thank you so much for this. I have always felt that I have no sense of style precisely because I really like a few staples – for example, all my handbags are squarish and I have lots of white dresses. This post encourages me to keep perfecting the LBD-with-funky-accesories look for work, too :)

  • Patti_NotDeadYetStyle

    Brilliant post, Allie. I love the three categories quoted in the DFP article. I too am working my way toward the third category (I hope!) At least I am getting clear about what is *not* part of my uniform, and that helps!

  • Ginger

    It’s good to have a closet of looks that go on easy in the morning and flatter, but you don’t want to get so set that you lose diversity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Ednabrushesclouds Lynn Maxon

    At the ripe age of 59, this lightning finally struck me. Granted, I found the perfect piece, a turtleneck tunic sweater, bought it in two colors and wore the hell out of them last winter. Totally amortized the rather high cost. This year, all I had to do is get it in basic black (it was out of stock last year) and perhaps another pair of slim leg pants. Voila, winter wardrobe for under $250. My magpie-like obsession with chunky jewelry lets me switch up my look daily. I’ve spent the past year working on a summer version, centered around boxy, black t-shirts. It’s bliss.

  • Jennifer

    I think I”m going to commit this post to memory. In the last year or so, I’ve had less time and money to spend on acquiring new clothes, so have moved into a uniform mode almost by default, and I think I’ve never been better dressed — or felt better about how I’m dressed, which is what’s really important. I really like the way you connect personal style (good, desirable, what we all strive for) with a uniform (which has less positive associations).

  • dc style factory

    nice one. when i work with a new client, it can be overwhelming — all the trends, possibilities, etc. so i boil it down…capsulize it, if you will, based on lifestyle, body type, personality, etc. then we gradually broaden from there, push limits, etc. that is really when their own personal style starts to crystallize. they find out what truly works and what doesn’t. it’s WAY too much fun to be a part of that process. i am going to definitely make this post a must-read for my peeps. :)

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