When I attended private school during my elementary and junior high years, I absolutely hated wearing a uniform. Creativity was kept to a minimum by the limited color scheme, and the unspoken rules about what was “cool” (read: a white short-sleeve polo and skort) meant that I wore virtually the same thing almost every day for eight years.
Once I went to public high school sans uniforms, however, I had to admit that I missed them. Before, it was easy and quick getting ready in the morning. Now I had to spend more money shopping and more time putting together an outfit.
Now that I’m older, I am drawn to the appeal of the “uniform method” when it comes to personal style. As comedian Mindy Kaling captures so perfectly in her hysterically true tweet: “Oh [expletive], guys, I’m so excited; no one I saw today will I see tomorrow, so I can wear the same outfit again.” Who hasn’t felt that way?
Championed by mommy bloggers and high-fashion devotees alike, uniform dressing is just what it sounds like—wearing a recurring look. That’s not to say it’s a staid and boring uniform. It is wearing the combination of clothes that puts you at ease, be it jeans and a T-shirt or a dress and killer heels. It may not be the same T-shirt or pair of heels, but the general idea is always the same. Put simply, it’s your style.
Here are a few things I found helpful to embrace uniform dressing for myself.
01. Remember that uniforms breed more creativity, not less.
We tend to think that more options in our wardrobes are automatically better; we stuff our closets and flood our newsfeeds with fashion inspiration, thinking that all those choices will make us more stylish. However, as psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less ten years ago, “Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” In other words, the more options (or clothes, or Pins, or Insta photos) we accrue, the more difficult it is to make a decision. At that point, fashion ceases to be fun. It becomes stressful. Sometimes, we have so many options that it can even feel like we have nothing to wear.
This is where the uniform approach to dressing is liberating. You can choose among a few basic equations for an outfit rather than a million individual pieces. This also means that shopping becomes much easier: Once you know your uniform, you can easily pick out those kinds of silhouettes every time you shop. Having an eye for your favorite styles means that your new things will go with pieces you already own (remember, you’ll just swap it in among your rotating options), and you’ll know that it’s flattering because it’s similar to what you already love wearing.
Moreover, the emphasis shifts from achieving a certain status by your clothes to making the best possible outfit choice for you—one suited to your lifestyle and your personal taste. If that isn’t the height of style, I don’t know what is!
02. Write it down.
Jot down your favorite outfits off the top of your head. If you can do this without glancing at your closet, all the better. The point of doing this is to figure out what you are instinctively drawn to and comfortable in.
Take that list and break down each outfit into its common elements, like a chemistry equation. Keep an eye out for similarities between outfits, and see if they can be boiled down to the same kinds of pieces. Here are some recurring combinations in my closet:
Running errands: fitted jeans + casual top + scarf + boots
Plans with friends: ankle pants or skirt + blouse + ballet flats
Night out: dress + pumps
Once you know what you like and feel comfortable in, it will be much easier to curate your wardrobe around that. Maybe even ask a friend to help you pick pieces that are most flattering, so you know that opting for those styles will keep you looking your best.
03. Embrace and repeat . . .
Now throw open your closet doors, and apply those combos to all of what you own. Now that you have an idea of what your uniform is, you can save time and effort in the morning when getting dressed. Simply select an appropriate formula for the day, and fill in the blanks with whatever strikes your fancy. If that formula involves repeating pieces, go for it. Besides, I have it on good authority that the elusively stylish women of Europe repeat outfits constantly. Why? If you looked really good one day, it only makes sense to wear that same outfit again. Nobody will begrudge you looking good twice in a row.
04. . . . or branch out from time to time.
An added benefit of knowing your uniform is that you can choose to deviate from it. If you’ve worn nothing but boots all winter, hit “refresh” and spend the day in pumps. Experiment with your sister’s clothes. Combine two accessories you never would have paired before. Uniform dressing makes things easy. Breaking the dress code makes things fun.
Finally, the beauty of the uniform method is that it doesn’t ask you to conform yourself to some extrinsic system for dressing. It is based upon your own instincts and personal style. It is geared toward serving you and your lifestyle. Utilize your uniform, or break from it entirely. And if you wear the same thing twice in a row, chalk it up to that European je ne sais quoi and own it. Embracing the uniform method is an opportunity to save time, embrace your personal style, and experiment with fashion at will, all without spending a dime.
Photo Credit: Mariam Sitchinava