I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately toward moving even more closely toward a personal uniform. Pieces of this have been slowly happening the more I’ve come to find what my tastes and preferences are for things.
When I first started to learn more about the topic of dressing nicely and #menswear in general, it was very overwhelming. Besides the depths of information you could mine via forums, blogs and sites, there was also seemingly an equivalent amount of infinite products and combinations you could purchase.
Taking a look back through my WIWT archives, I’m really all over the place. A lot of stuff is pieced together and I was buying items an individual units, not as part of an overall cohesive effort to recognize where each piece fits into my wardrobe as a whole.
I had a lot of shirts in different colors, which meant a lot of ties in different colors. This meant getting more pocket squares in a lot of colors. And so forth, the wardrobe expanded. I’d get an odd jacket here and there and then get a tie for the jacket. The cycle got out of control. I went from only filling up one tie hangar to needing four of them and thinking of getting a fifth. At that point, I really had to reassess what was going on.
A large part of my wardrobe wasn’t been worn very often. I found myself going back toward the same look more often than straying from it and doing something a bit wild and different. Sure, I could put together some interesting looks and dress loudly when I felt like it, but being a rebellious personality isn’t my thing — it was a reaction toward being bored in a bureaucratic work environment and thinking, “I should do at least one fun thing today,” and coming up with odd things to wear was part of that.
But now, things have changed in my life. The new job environment, for one, is much more relaxed and wearing my bureaucratic uniform with a noisy twist is somewhat out of place with the lifestyle I have now. This has all gotten me thinking how I want to re-approach my wardrobe and style.
(Image via AP)
The desire for a uniform is something that I’d been kicking around for a while. I started giving it serious thought after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and his experience working with designer Issey Miyake. Steve Jobs’ uniform emerged from their collaboration together to design an Apple employee uniform:
He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.” Jobs noticed my surprise when he told this story, so he showed them stacked up in the closet. “That’s what I wear,” he said. “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”
Complimenting that passage was an essay by John Gruber who recalled the time he saw Jobs up close and noticed the obvious parts of his uniform with one striking detail: grass stains on Jobs’ shoes:
Surely, my mind raced, surely he has more than one pair of those shoes. He could afford to buy the factory that made them. Why wear this grass-stained pair for the keynote, a rare and immeasurably high-profile public appearance? My guess: he didn’t notice, didn’t care. One of Jobs’s many gifts was that he knew what to give a shit about. He knew how to focus and prioritize his time and attention. Grass stains on his sneakers didn’t make the cut.
I like the idea of only worrying about something once and never having to think much of it again. I see the hobbyist appeal of clothing and the creative outlet it gives people, too. But on the flip side of the coin it would be great to make a decision and never have to deviate from it much again. That “daily convenience” does have some value to some people.
As I began to edit my wardrobe down mentally, I noticed the items I’d keep were meant to all just work together seamlessly. The less variation, the less time spent on the tyrannical paralysis that comes from the abundance of options and choice.
I also began to think about what I wanted my clothing to convey about who I was as a person. This is really cliche to say, I realize, but it’s really true about how you get judged by what you wear. I realized that if I were to pick a uniform and stick with it, then each element would have to be saying the right thing.
More importantly, it would have to be extremely versatile, able to work casually and professionally throughout the day. In addition, I wanted it to be easily modifiable throughout the seasons in a simple manner. It also needed to give me the functionality I wanted for my EDC of items I carried with me. Finally, each element either had to be something I could easily stock up on or would last me a significant amount of time (maybe even a lifetime). I didn’t want to find myself wearing out an item and then not being able to easily replace it.
With this in mind, I thought about other people well-known for the uniform they wear and a few came to mind immediately. The first was Thom Browne, who distinctively wears a grey suit, with a few red, white and blue accents (namely, to maintain his branding, but they are also meant to introduce color on a neutral palette):
(Image via Hypebeast)
Now, say what you will about how Browne plays with the suit’s classic proportions or his more “out there” fashion designs, but the takeaway for me was that he recognizes that if you start with a neutral base, you can inject a small amount of color that will be magnified since it’s surrounded by so much blandness around it. Importantly, wearing shades of the same color without much contrast also makes the color in your face stand out more noticeably.
I also thought of Bill Cunningham, who has made of career of documenting street style through photography. One of the interesting parts of the documentary about his life (“Bill Cunningham: New York”) was where he talked about his humble uniform. It’s simple: he picks up a workman’s jacket in France and wears it simply for its functionality found in all the pockets which he uses to store his photography gear.
(Image via PMc)
What you wear should be functional. I hadn’t even really thought to use my blazer pockets to hold my stuff until I saw this video featuring Sid Mashburn, who explained that he uses it to carry everything he needs throughout the day. Nowdays, I can’t imagine not wearing a blazer just for that reason. So, whatever I ended up choosing would have to give me that functionality throughout the year. Seasons can change as can actual items being worn, but the functionality should remain consistent.
When it comes to uniforms that balanced casualness and formality, I thought also of Andy Warhol’s semi-well-known uniform of a blazer, repp-striped tie and blue jeans. I think this came pretty close to where I wanted to move towards. You’re arguably more dressed up than just wearing a shirt and jeans, but denim also means you’re not too over-dressed for an occasion.
(Image via LIFE)
Some would consider Warhol’s uniform a bit of an ironic statement to adopt an aesthetic from the Ivy-League look. I’m not much of a historian or expert on the artist’s life, but I do know that I really like wearing my navy blazers the best and most days at some point I’m in my pair of Levi’s 501s and an OCBD. In the end, I’m probably heavily borrowing from this look, which was borrowed to begin with itself.
Here’s the uniform I’ve picked.
In truth, it’s not ultra restrictive as you might think. There’s still a lot of variance and I’m keeping some items on hand still for certain occasions. But on the whole, this is what I’ll be wearing Monday thru Friday.
Shirt: Blue button-down collar dress shirt — While white shirts look nice and clean, I think they wash me out a bit. Also, I wanted to move toward a blue palette and this is the base layer to build upon. The button-down collar is less formal than a spread collar shirt might be and works best at time when layering is needed from a v-neck sweater or a tie is not worn. For most of the year, I’ll be wearing OCBDs from Brooks Brothers, however, last year I discovered that I really needed summer shirting. To solve this problem, I’ll be getting some MTM linen-cotton blend shirts for something lighter.
Neckwear: Navy neckties — Wearing and knotting a tie is one of my favorite things, so I think this is a great place to have a variety of options. I’m going to be sticking to simple patterns (dots, bar stripes) and the simple palette of only including white and/or red as secondary colors used. I don’t want anything too complicated or flashy.
Pocket squares: Coordinating with the tie I choose to wear will be much simpler now, but I still would like variation to exist. I have two Kent Wang squares with contrast trim in blue and white, another white linen square, two white linen squares with red floral designs for summer and a E.G. Cappelli silk square that’s got a paisley geometric set of designs in blue, red and gold. Again, I’m sticking with elements of red, white and blue that could easily go with the rest of my uniform.
Jacket: Navy blazer — This was a simple one to pick. I have several for different times of the year in worsted wool, flannel and an unlined tropical wool one for summer. I have another linen-cotton unlined one for summer weekends with a faint light-blue pinstripe and a cashmere one for cooler temperatures. I have a few “blogger blue” ones to also rotate in, too, during warmer weather. Regardless, the idea is to keep my jacket centered on the shade of blue. It’s simple to work with and looks great.
Pants: Dark denim — It’s comfortable and fits great. Again, it keeps with the blue palette, too. My day-to-day is a bit too casual for needing grey trousers five days a week now like before.
Footwear: Unsure — I’m not quite sure what to pick and will be giving this a lot more thought. Regardless, I’ll be rotating in the various shoes in my wardrobe for now until I really have something I feel strongly about.
I’ll also be keeping several other wardrobe items on hand beyond just the elements of my uniform. As great as a uniform is, it’s never going to be batting 100% for you in all situations.
Here’s the rest of what I’m keeping on hand:
Grey wool trousers: one tropical wool, one mid-weight wool, one flannel — At some point, I imagine I’ll need to wear trousers for slightly more formal occasions. My fix is to simply have a trouser on hand for each season.
Worsted wool suit: dark grey, navy — When the blazer and trousers won’t cut it for formality or for business meetings, I’ll be needing a suit. I’ll also be keeping two spread collar dress shirts (white for formal events and evenings, blue for business and daytime).
Sweaters: solid v-necks in lambwool, tennis sweater, chunky knit cardigan — The v-necks will be for layering in colder weather (one grey, one burgundy). The tennis sweater is also a great layering piece and can be great for milder weather when you might take your jacket off. The chunky knit cardigan is for when I just want to be warm around the house or running to do errands.
OCBDs: pink, white, ecru, red & white university stripes — There’s no way I’m going to give up my Brooks Brothers button-down shirts. They’re great for wearing casually and I’ll be wearing them on weekends when I want to do something a bit different.
Seasonal suits: seersucker, grey donegal tweed — These are great because they’re more casual, yet weather appropriate. Plus, they have the added benefit of being able to be broken up with the jacket and trousers worn separately. I’ll probably put these to use on the weekends as well.
Tuxedo: midnight blue dinner suit — Because sometimes you have the opportunity to wear black tie and shouldn’t miss the opportunity to do so. Also includes the obvious tuxedo shirt, black bowtie, cufflinks, solid white silk pocket square, black over-the-calf socks and black captoe balmorals.
Reds: red gingham button-down shirt, red go-to-hell chinos — For the most casual of days when I feel like having fun. Both still fit nicely into my blue palette.
Certainly, within this realm there are wardrobe staples that I’m glad to have and would never get rid of, even at my most minimalist wardrobe state. Others are a necessity to have on hand for the job. Additional elements are seasonally incorporated because of dropping temperatures. And some could be shed, but I’d miss them terribly.
And this is where attempt at a uniform begins — after an entirely too long of a thought process and even longer blog post. It is all a journey and experiment. I’m pushing myself toward one direction and away from another. It’s still much more narrow than it was before and a lot more focused.
There’s the added benefit of also being much more focused when it comes to future purchases, where all I have to do is ask myself, “Is this part of the uniform?” Interestingly, the only remaining purchases I need to make are MTM shirts for summer, otherwise, I own all of the elements now.
I’ll likely be picking up a necktie here or there if I find ones that really strike me. If I decide on a footwear uniform, I’ll make a purchase in that direction, too. But for now, it’s good to know that I’m really set with my wardrobe each morning I wake up to do work and go about my day.
I won’t say this is something everyone should do or that it’s even all that interesting or that it’ll make you the best-dressed person alive or that your uniform should look like mine. I will say that it’s for me and where I’m at in my life and I know it’ll work well.
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- a-differentcloth said: bravo!
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- oneagainstnature said: Fantastic post. Well-written and reasoned. A personal uniform is something I’ve adopted throughout the past year. It’s still being finessed, but I love this idea. A personal identity that leaves a signature. Thanks for the great read, Kiyoshi.
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