I envy those cartoon women on TV. There’s Minnie with her red-and-white polka dot dress, Daria in her ’90s olive blazer, and even Velma in that bulky orange turtleneck. My admiration for them is twofold: 1) these gals don’t have to spend time thinking about what to wear, and 2) the outfit they wear has become unmistakably them.
Perhaps you’ve read the think-pieces that tell us why highly successful people choose to wear the same thing every day. The articles typically reference the same men: Zuckerberg, Obama, Jobs. They cite a uniform as reasons for their achievement and stability because it’s one less decision they have to make during the day. Without the stress of choosing an outfit, their creative minds can be free.
There’s a long list of successful women that champion the adult uniform as well. Consider some of our New York icons. The late great Elaine Stritch wore a white button-down shirt over black tights both on and offstage. Iris Apfel is noticeable at once in her signature black saucer glasses. Vera Wang claimed makeup-free minimalism before everyone was doing it, and we still associate an all-black ensemble with her.
My younger self wore a uniform to school and another to work at an amusement park. Most of my life, I accepted the clothes that were given to me. I did not worry about what to wear, but I didn’t learn how to dress myself either. How the heck do you know when to repeat your outfit?
Today, the idea of wearing a uniform again seems appealing, but this time I don’t want to dress like everyone else. I want to find my own uniform. I’d like to look like “me,” but what should “me” look like? What message do I want to project to the world with my clothing?
Iris Apfel tells us, “If it’s going to stress you out to have a sense of style, don’t do it. The important thing is to be comfortable so you can get on with your life. But I do feel—people miss a lot, if that’s how they approach style. They miss out on this whole creative experience.”
Creating a wardrobe, to me, is like creating a story. Writing those first sentences can be difficult and the unlimited possibilities for storylines can feel paralyzing. But after awhile, you remember you have your previous life experiences to inform your story. You also have inspiration that you’ve consciously or subconsciously picked up along the way.
There’s also more urgent, important issues in the world to worry about than to wear or not to wear jeans. In the pie graph of my brain, I want my clothing concerns to be a smaller slice. The less time I worry about what to wear, the more time I have to create, to work, to live, to enjoy, to love, to be a better human.
Call it sartorial, call it an adult uniform, but I’m making it one of my goals for the rest of 2017 to find a look that is unmistakably me. Maybe I’ll start wearing silk shirts. Maybe I’ll put a hat on it. Maybe I’ll look into slippers. I’ll keep you updated.
Do you have a “uniform”? What specific piece do you add to your outfit so that outfit becomes unmistakably you?
Ps. Yes, that’s a comforter I’m wearing.