Opt-in uniform, or wardrobe minimalism? A simpler me.

It’s a bit odd to be writing this post as it’s a pre-emptive strike, or rather defence. I’m expecting commentary and criticism at some point but it’s yet to come and will, at first, come in-person I suspect. But it will be necessary as i’ve embarked on a behaviour which, although I see it as perfectly rational, is definitely going to be seen as a little eccentric.

I’ve switched to a uniform. Loosely based on ideas like the capsule wardrobe, wardrobe minimalism and the well-publicised strategic approach taken by Jobs, Zuckerberg, Einstein and (albeit rather more inconsistently) Obama, I have decided that I’ll pretty much be seen in the same thing every single day at work.

I’ll get to the why later (although I’m sure you’re already ahead of me), but first, let me take you through exactly what I mean by ‘the same thing’.

Practicality and basic hygiene mean this isn’t the exact same item, of course. At the moment London is in the midst of a typical temperate summer, so the first consideration is environment. My office environment is casual (with the occasional client contact) and the expectation isn’t much higher than looking presentable. Beyond that, I’m surrounded in the city and the company by people that both know fashion and have the disposable income to indulge in it. So, for now, I’m going for:

Grey V-neck T-shirt. Quality decent weight cotton, sized to fit neatly and slim but not skinny. I’ve got 5 of them. A mix of Abercrombie & Fitch and J Crew. Absolutely no pockets or detailing beyond a logo.

Denim. Again, decent quality, slim but not skinny. Swedish brand Nudie because I love their approach to sustainability and repairs as well as the attention to detail in the fit and washes. A simple, classic leather belt.

Shoes, a work in progress, but I’ll need to switch between in-office Nike and the occasional more formal shoes. I’m probably going down the line of a brown boot to tie-in with the denim. Dune, Timberland, Bertie even Clarks. These will last beyond the immediate season of course, and I walk a lot to-and-from the office.

As the weather deteriorates I know I’ll not get away with the T-shirt, this isn’t Cupertino after all, so I’m going to choose something that will go equally well with the denim and boots. Probably merino long-sleeve, quality from somewhere like Icebreaker.

There will be things I occasionally need to add. I’m expecting I might need a simple V-neck sweater to pair with a decent, tailored white shirt for more formal client meetings. At the most formal I still have my suit of course. When the weather really closes in I’ll be buying British and getting a down jacket from Rab, standing on platforms is about the most miserable part of winter in the UK for the provincial commuter and as much as I love my Buffalo, that’s more for active movement.

Quality & provenance
I wanted to really focus on fewer items, but in doing so, invest in quality clothes. Checking the fit and cut really suits me, I want it to make it seem like I at least made the effort in choosing the products; even if I made it once about 6 months ago. It makes sense to spend £25 on a T-shirt and to buy 5 of them rather than go to a discount place getting 10 for £6.99 that look like dishcloths. Ditto a good investment in the denim and the shoes. I do like the idea of buying British and Swedish where possible. I love brands that think about their products and process, like Nudie and Icebreaker. Organic cotton is good of course but I do accept I won’t hit the moral high-ground with every supplier.

Weekends
I don’t think I’ll be in the uniform at the weekends. This doesn’t mean that the approach is put aside, I’m still keeping my options pretty limited. I’ve had a huge clear-out at home and sent a load of stuff to charity. I want less choice, less sentimentality, more quality and fit. I want to be ruthless and specific about what suits me. There are certain styles and approaches that are pretty much timeless and that seems ideal, classic colours and cuts.

Running & training
I’m an Adidas-dressed runner. Their kit suits me and I want it all to work together. I want to go out for a run knowing it functions and looks right, I know the specification, ranges, weights, seasons, colours and fit of Adidas. It’s an investment in my running gear that I’ve made over several years and I’ll continue to run as an Adidas runner for the foreseeable future.

So, why?
I really haven’t been fashionable for a while. In fact I’ve looked pretty bad for a number of years. I’ve been wearing things that in some cases are ancient and date back far too long. My wardrobe got so out of date that I felt the only way to get fashionable again was to spend a fortune on personal shopping and get a large number of new outfits. To do that I thought I’d need to look for some cheap stuff and have the odd expensive brand here and there. I signed up to Thread and had some poor stylist send me batches of outfit suggestions I ignored constantly.

I didn’t like the sound of the changes I needed to make whichever way you cut it. Equally, I just wanted less to think about, I absolutely suffer from decision fatigue. I wanted to stop struggling to dig through clothes in my drawers and wardrobe, to think about what I’d worn this week and what I needed to wear to look different. I was, I do crave simplicity.

Obama himself put it thus [Vanity Fair, 2012] “managing your life as a president requires that you cut away the mundane, frustrating decisions like deciding what to wear — which people around the world fret over. You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

I’m hardly Obama and my decisions are nothing of the magnitude of his, but the cognitive effort is relatable. I see it as analogous to having my Oyster card with me everyday and just rolling up the top-up automatically. I never have to think about getting a train ticket again to work. This feels just as sensible, just as good.

This simplicity extended to looks as well. I felt the things I did wear were trying too hard. Logos, slogans, prints. It’s not really me. One thing, done right. It seemed to match the sort of parsimonious rigour I like in my job. I knew I’d enjoy the cathartic discarding of the old stuff and it really does feel good to know I don’t have to think about it at all. The economics of it made sense to me too. I had reached a point where I knew I’d have to spend money. This way I can shop simply for each season, buy multiples and benefit from reorders and discounts online when I see items that match on offer. A 20% sale at A&F means I can simply re-stock and won’t entail me hunting around for items in the sale I might like. Sales now will help me get a better price on items I need, not encourage me to buy Items I don’t need and never really wanted.

It means the focus is on me, not my clothes, me and what I do every day, having said that, I don’t mind at all if it becomes something that defines me and something I’m known for.

I’m not announcing it, beyond directing people here if they notice and a link in my social media bio. So, if you noticed, now you know.

Other uniformists
Matilda Kahl, Art Director at Saatchi & Saatchi NY: “Why I wear the exact same thing to work every day
Mashable piece on ‘insanely successful men‘ who wear the same thing.
Capsule wardrobe piece on Mens Health … bizarrely still features 24 items and no underwear.
A famous Gawker article on Steve Jobs’ approach.

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