Fashion Uniforms: Anything but Boring

Capsule Wardrobes Fashion Advice

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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