While my love of makeup is well publicized, I've written little about my clothing habits. "Alex," a strawman I've created for the sake of this piece would say, "What's your wardrobe like? I'm sure it's just as interesting as your lipstick collection [SPOILER: Not really]. Also, have you ever considered just giving up and wearing a uniform to work?" After all, they say incredibly important people like Steve Jobs, Tom Wolfe, Elizabeth Holmes, heck, even Wilma Flintstone, wear the same thing every day to save their minds for more significant decisions.
The closest I've ever come to having to wear a uniform was the brief period of time during which I worked at a Dairy Queen as a teenager (Fun Fact: For some reason, the owners thought we should all wear tear-away pants, meaning it was a summer of teenagers ripping each other's pants off non-stop. It was the worst uniform idea since the fringed insanity that was the Colorado Caribou's 1978 season uniforms). While I've never worn a school uniform outside of a cliché bedroom setting ("Oh no, looks like my grades are dropping!" "Then you should study harder." "You know, I thought this was going to be sexy, but clearly I was mistaken."), I asked my husband about his school uniform experiences. He grew up in England, a country where school uniforms date back to the 16th century, meaning he spent most of his childhood in a range of blazers and white dress shirts. "Every few years, there'd be this debate about getting rid of the uniforms and it would go to a student vote, and every time the students would vote to keep them. I think it was just easier to have a uniform than to have to think of something new to wear." This sounds like a reasonable answer, but he went to a school where there were literal peacocks wandering the grounds, so I'm not entirely sure if I can trust him on this.
Uniforms are meant to allow you to blend in with your coworkers, identify roles, and create a shared company or school culture, along with the added unspoken perk of allowing you to be extra lazy when choosing your outfit in the morning (must keep brain free for those pressing decisions!). There have been many articles discussing the benefits of just wearing a version of the same thing every day, but, I had to wonder, what would it actually be like? Would it in fact free me? Would anyone notice? Do I wash the same articles of clothing every night or just carry on like I'm not wearing days-old clothes? I set out to answer these tough questions. I was going to wear the same outfit all week and keep a running diary of the experience (hence, what you're currently reading).
Picking The Outfit
My day job is at a relatively nondescript and informal office, so when tasked with selecting my own uniform for the purpose of this article, I needed for it to be comfortable, presentable to clients, and easy to wear under a heavy winter coat, all while reflecting the fact that I am a hip (lies), unaffected 20-something who spends their off-time drinking craft beer and watching Are You the One (if you like The Bachelor but feel like everyone on that is too smart, then do I have the show for you!).
Normally, my wardrobe has a "summer" and a "winter" setting, both of which can be summed up like this:
SUMMER: Pants are for suckers, only tiny dresses and tinier bathing suits, because I look great.
WINTER: I live in the same three gray and navy sweaters and my skin has seen so little sunlight that I has turned into some sort of spooky cave creature who only leaves my office to eat lunch and hiss at outsiders.
It's currently winter here in Toronto, so my outfit choice had to withstand a few things: It needed to be able to handle massive swings in temperature (as the weather that week was all over the place), it had to be easy to walk around in (as I walk 5 km home each evening and tend to move around the office a lot during the day), and it had to be something that could withstand getting dog dirt all over it, as I was also going to be dog-sitting at the same time.
I decided to go with my favorite winter outfit: A pair of black Uniqlo pants that I'm pretty sure aren't made anymore but are very close to these, a navy rayon blouse that I would probably own 10 of if I could afford it, a gray wool cardigan, and Marimekko Chuck Taylor's. All of these things scream "I'm stylish, but in a bland sort of way that makes me look like an art director that's sick of winter." What it lacks in interest it makes up for in pointless specificity! I seal the rest of my closet off for the week with one minor caveat: If I get the shirt dirty or drop an entire bag of flour on myself (note: I have actually done that and it sucks), I have a backup shirt. It's the exact same shirt, except in olive green.
Here Goes Nothing: Outfit Groundhog's Day
Truth be told; this is likely what I would've worn to work today anyway. No one says anything because why would they? "Hey Alex, nice outfit! You should wear it for multiple days this week!" Don't tell me how to feel, coworkers. Only my editor gets to tell me that. Anyway, the first day goes off without a hitch and I successfully avoid spilling coffee (and a bag of flour) on myself. Hurrah!
Normally, I find myself standing in the shower in the morning trying to figure out what to grab from the closet once I get out. Should I wear a skirt? What if it does that thing where it rides up inside my coat when I walk and by the time I get to work it's up around my boobs? Am I going to be late to work today? Did I forget to respond to an email? Today is going to be terrible, isn't it? On and on goes the unending internal chatter. The immediate upside to a uniform is that I don't have to think about what I'm going to wear, shaving at least a minute and a half of my normal morning stress routine. The outfit is bland enough that no one comments on me wearing the same outfit again. Two days in and I'm already feeling kind of cocky, like yeah, wearing a uniform isn't that bad! Maybe I should buy four more versions of this shirt. The dog I'm watching gets dropped off and I'm quietly glad that he doesn't shed, although he does step on my shoes and get muddy water on them. By the end of the day, I'm starting to feel kind of congested and headachy. I get home and crawl into bed and hope that it'll all be better in the morning.
Surprise! It's not better. I get one hour of cold-induced sleep and now I'm glad I picked this outfit to wear because it's loose and comfy and I've got a big sweater I can wrap around myself as I consider passing out in my office. I guess the trick to a uniform is picking something that's easy to wear (and bland enough that it doesn't look bizarre when you're slumped over at your desk like some sort of partially deflated parade balloon), and this also explains why no one is ever like, "You know what this uniform needs? More denim." Even the thought of being stuck in jeans right now makes my head and legs hurt more than they already do. I'm eternally glad I picked faux dress pants, because they're kind of like fancy pajama pants. I put my head down on my desk and curse my coworkers for giving me this cold. I come home and immediately change into sweatpants and lie down on the couch with the dog. The uniform hangs in my bedroom like a rayon ghost.
I feel like crap but go to work anyway. I really appreciate not having to think about what to wear in the morning because my head feels like it's full of foam and nearly took my eye out after I sneezed while putting blush on. I'm also glad I decided to include layers in this outfit because my body temperature is rocketing back and forth. Here's a downside of uniforms: It's only good if you have multiple versions of the same thing, or else you end up disgusting halfway through the week. Case in point: I get home and realize that now my lovely uniform has a shirt that's full of sick sweat. I consider burning it, but instead decide to go to Plan B—the green shirt—for the morning.
The navy shirt looks and feels like a sick person wrapped it around their knuckles and beat up another sick person with it, so I decide to go to my back up olive rayon blouse. My husband notices and says, "Wait, I thought you were wearing a uniform this week?" I explain that the other shirt is dirty, but I'm basically wearing the exact same shirt, minus the color difference.
"Yes, but then it's not a uniform anymore because it's a different colour. If you wore another navy shirt it would be the same uniform, but now it's not."
"What?" I say, nearly stabbing myself in the eye with my mascara wand. "It is so still a uniform. Don't get your pedantic nonsense all up in my face. It's the exact same outfit." I'm still kind of sick so I'm testy at best, and now I'm facing off against a British man who spent his life in quaint school uniforms that involved blazers and badges and pork pies or something. "Save your frustrations for the comment section." Thus starts a 40 minute-long fight between my partner and I about what constitutes a uniform. By the time we get to the bus, I'm so congested and crabby that I stand at other end of the bus, fuming over the world's stupidest fight. We make up before getting to work, but I still can't talk to him about what makes up a uniform, lest this turn into the world's dumbest reason for a divorce ("It's still the same shirt, damnit!"). He's not wrong, but I'll be damned if I back down on my mildly specious reasoning.
I Survived (Both My Cold & This Experiment)
So the week came and went and overall, I enjoyed wearing a uniform more than I thought I would, but I know that I would hate it once the summer hits. It's easy in the winter because everything's already bland and gray and cold, so I'm perfectly fine keeping it simple and easy (seeing as everything is covered in sweaters and coats anyway). As soon as the summer arrives, though, I'd much rather have the freedom and colorful dresses. I still might buy more of those shirts though, just in case.