The Daily Uniform Experiment

I’m always torn between minimalism and maximalism. I understand that fewer things and simpler routines are good for me, but I also love being wildly creative in my personal style. So while the Steve Jobs black-turtleneck-and-denim uniform has called to me in the past, I’ve found it difficult to implement on an emotional level. Because getting dressed is fun for me.

Wear the same thing, the argument goes, and you’ll have more mental energy to spend on decisions that matter.

The biggest draw towards wearing an ultra-simplified wardrobe is to cut down on decision fatigue. Wear the same thing, the argument goes, and you’ll have more mental energy to spend on decisions that matter. I love this concept in theory, but it's more complicated once you examine the outdated gender expectations. Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are all celebrated for mastering “decision fatigue,” while women are still trying to move past the question “who are you wearing?” at red carpet events. Re-wearing a dress continues to make headlines, and makeup and other personal grooming expenses are considered unnecessary instead of nuanced

We live in a world that tells women to express ourselves with a fresh look each day, but it simultaneously reminds us that fashion is frivolous and holding us back from success. (I mean, I might argue that the wage gap, glass ceiling, and entrenched sexism have something to do with it, but who am I?)

All that being said, I decided to embark on a journey to wear the same thing for seven days straight. I wanted to see how I felt in the outfit, more than even evaluating what other people thought of it. My coworkers were prepared, and I didn’t see the same friend more than once, so I can’t speak to societal expectations as a whole. Nor do I care to.

Women are told to express ourselves with a fresh look each day, but are simultaneously reminded that fashion is frivolous and holding us back from success.

I bucked the neutral approach and selected a bright amethyst washable silk shirt from Sourcery, and paired it with Everlane jeans and Nisolo shoes. In case it got cold, I had an Elizabeth Suzann jacket (spoiler alert: it didn’t get cold, this is Los Angeles). I even wore the same two necklaces and stud earrings every day, just for good measure. Any time I left the house for non-exercise purposes, I was in this outfit.

It’s important to acknowledge that many people do wear actual uniforms to work regularly and successfully. So, my version was more of a “life uniform” that extended beyond office hours. I wore it on the weekend, out with friends, and while running errands. I wanted to experiment beyond the workday and see how this outfit affected every part of my daily life.

So, did I learn anything? Yes. Did I become a well-rested, multi-millionaire decision maker? I think I came close. Here’s what I learned from wearing the same outfit for a week.


1. I took better care of my clothes. 

Garment care was the biggest hurdle since I only have one of each piece (like most people). This top air-drys well, so I tossed it in with my air-dry only bedsheets and hand washed it a couple of times, which was a nice reminder to slow things down. Otherwise, once I was done with the outfit for the day, I hung both pieces up carefully and checked them for smells and unsightly stains. If they passed the test, they rested in my closet until the next morning. I was so proud; I’m not one to immediately hang garments back up, so this was a big step for me. I also drank my coffee and ate much more carefully to avoid drips.

2. I became hyper-aware of the clothes I want.

A friend of mine brought over a bundle of clothing she was getting rid of, and I felt much more restrained than I usually do. I selected a handful of pieces, tried them on, and re-evaluated how they would look alongside my existing wardrobe. I ended up with several items I know I’ll treasure for a long time, and felt at peace letting other (super-cute but not-quite-right-for-me) garments go.

3. I learned how I create outfits. 

Each night, before I went to bed, my brain started kicking in and telling me what it wanted to wear or try the next day. Exciting outfit combinations swirled, and shoe pairings danced in my mind—so many fun ideas! I always felt a little sense of disappointment when I remembered I couldn’t implement those ideas right away. I recently wrote in my morning routine that I choose my outfit the morning of, but this experiment showed me that my process subconsciously begins the night before. Having a fresh idea for an outfit makes getting out of bed exciting and helps me build a positive outlook for my day.

4. I rediscovered how essential the details are.

Usually, if I feel bad in an outfit, I blame it on the outfit. But as I wore the same outer garments each day, I discovered that details like my bra and underwear have a seismic effect on how I feel in my clothing. Less so, but still important, I felt the urge to spice up my makeup. Both served as reminders that details matter; if you feel more like yourself with a little glitter gloss and a lacy bra, then go for it. Those things are not insignificant.

5. I got lazier in the mornings.

It’s not all good news. While it was nice to have my outfit chosen, I definitely took advantage of the “easy” morning routine. I found myself getting dressed and ready quite a bit later than usual, and ended up in the “where are my keys?!” rush more often than I have in quite some time. I figured since my outfit was already planned, I could take all the time in the world to drink my coffee—not true.


Final Thoughts: Newfound Clothing Convictions

Ultimately, I finished the week with a huge sigh of relief, and I enthusiastically donned head-to-toe pink the next day. After the week of restraint, I’m feeling emboldened to explore colors, layers, and textures in new ways. Bonus: I’m still hanging up my clothes like an adult.

It’s a privilege to have a closet full of clothes, and it’s a privilege to decide only to wear a few pieces of that wardrobe.

As to the specific outfit I chose for the experiment, I wouldn’t have changed the top for anything—the cheery bright purple helped me feel vibrant throughout the week. It was easy to care for, as well as versatile, and I found ways to wear it little differently each day (rolled-up sleeves, knotted bottom, tucked-in). The light-wash jeans got boring after seven days as they're not a color I’m usually drawn to. The shoes would have been less tiresome with darker pants as well; something wasn’t quite making sense between those two garments.

moving forward & maintaining a rigorous standard

It’s a privilege to have a closet full of clothes, and it’s a privilege to decide only to wear a few pieces of that wardrobe. After this experiment, I can say that I’m much more grateful for the items I own, and I feel determined to continue my journey of only adding pieces that I truly love to the collection. My new rule is: "Do I love this piece enough that I would wear it for seven days straight?" It’s a rigorous standard.

I’m reminded how important it is to celebrate whatever choices a person makes about their clothing.

I’m also reminded how important it is to celebrate whatever choices a person makes about their clothing. Is she monastic and wearing only one garment? Love it. Does she come up with a new, inventive way to style her wardrobe favorites each day? Love it. The idea that one style of dressing is the “secret to success” is exclusionary, and ignores the mountains of privilege it requires to have that conversation in the first place.

Let’s wear the clothes that suit us, and ignore the ill-fitting expectations that others might try to dress us in.


RELATED READING


Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.