I Wear a Work Uniform (But Don’t Look the Same Every Day)

I’ve worn a work uniform of my choosing for the last eight months. I’m hardly the first to do it–there have been a slew of high-powered CEOs that make this change. Des at Half Banked also famously had a work uniform for a while.

The concept of a work uniform appealed to me long before I ever started wearing one. I am not excited about fashion, on myself anyway. I love to read Vogue on planes. The Luxe Strategist is one of my very favorite blogs. Tan France’s Instagram is life. The pleasure comes from peering into a life that is very different from my own, however. I really dislike shopping. Trends are unimportant to me, but I’m also skeptical about anything in the clothing space being “buy-it-for-life.”

All I really want is to feel put-together and professional, but not frumpy. I try to dress similar in formality to leaders two rungs above me, tailored for my younger age. I value function. I don’t want my clothes to get in the way of doing my job.

Nonetheless, I had a fairly varied wardrobe until recently, when the ravages of my slowing metabolism plus my pregnancy with Squidge made it so my clothes either didn’t so much fit anymore, or were not as flattering on my new shape. I needed to recalibrate my wardrobe, but wanted to keep the pieces if I managed to lose weight. And, of course, I didn’t want to shop or spend much time on it.

For now, my perfect work uniform follows the same formula every morning:

Dress + Shoes + Statement necklace + Black tights (in winter)

The Dresses

I think dresses don’t get enough credit. First, they’re a single garment. I don’t have to consider matching or wondering if a certain style of pants match a certain top. They’re one thing, zip, done. Moreover, dresses seem to read as slightly formal in most contexts, so I am deemed as having “dressed up” (it’s right there in the name!) while doing less work.

As a pear-shaped woman (I’m about two sizes larger on bottom than on top), it is way easier to find a flattering a-line or fit-and-flare dress than an appropriately fitting pant (especially in today’s skinny jeans climate). Dresses are also more forgiving of weight and body fluctuations. All in all, that makes dresses the perfect work garment for me, akin to playing business casual on cheat mode.

These are my dress criteria:

  • Must fit and be flattering, duh
  • Must have functional pockets, for my good pen and my badge
  • Must be knee-length or lower, so I don’t have to worry about “things” being on display as I work
  • Should be wearable year-round, so short sleeves are preferable
My purple Amelia, the first I bought.

I have seven dresses that I wear. Five of those seven, the true workhorses, are LuLaRoe Amelias.

Did you gasp? Did you groan? I get it. LuLaRoe is incredibly problematic. Multi-level marketing is annoying. No one wants to be invited to a trillion awkward parties every weekend. And LuLaRoe is particularly sketchy, with rumors of shady advertising practices surrounding the true earnings potential for sellers, clothing falling off trucks for friends of the owners’ family, and various lawsuits for pattern theft. Y’all know I care a lot about the ethics of things, but the Amelia is pretty much the perfect work dress for me. So what’s a girl to do?

My dresses hanging up to dry.

I have largely relied on the magical power of buying secondhand to wash my hands of the yuckiness of the LuLaRoe brand. My first two dresses were admittedly full-price ($65) and new, before I realized how bad things were. I bought the other three used for $40 for the set. That brings the average cost down to a more reasonable $35, and lets me breathe easier about the origin of the dresses. (Nonetheless, if anyone has a source of reasonably-priced, ethically-sourced dresses, please leave a comment!)

I get away with wearing the same style every day by having drastically different patterns on the dresses. None of the patterns look remotely the same, which goes a long way in making things feel different.

The Statement Necklaces

I discovered a long time ago that statement necklaces are the jewelry for me. I fiddle with bracelets and belts all day. I can’t wear earrings due to allergies. I will sometimes wear a brooch, but only with solids. So necklaces it usually is.

With necklaces, my attitude is basically “go big or go home.” I only wear a single piece of jewelry, so I want to make it count with something really dramatic. I’ve assembled five or so statement necklaces that I really love. I choose each day based on my mood, what length I want, and what the necklace complements. Most often I wear either the turquoise stone beads (Etsy), or the Kate Spade eye necklace (Poshmark). The prices range from $30 (the Kate Spade and red coral necklace) down to a couple of dollars on a department store clearance rack. I expect to keep and wear them indefinitely. In the winter, I do sometimes spring for a brooch, but only on solids.

The Shoes

My current shoe options.

I keep my shoes pretty basic, so that they match most of the dresses. I currently have four pair. I wear nude wedges with very bright dresses. I wear black shoes–Mary Janes in the summer, boots in the winter–with the darker dresses. I wear leopard print shoes with solid colors to add some pattern. Two pairs are from Poshmark, and two are from department stores. I’ve also had good luck at TJ Maxx in the past.

When it comes to shoes, comfort is key. I like flats with heel support. I am looking for a shoe that looks young and classic on the outside, but is engineered for a 90-year-old on the inside. That means I am willing to spend a little more to get higher-quality innards. Most of my shoes cost around $60, and I wear them until they literally fall apart.

The Response

I worried that my formulaic dressing pattern would be noticed and I would receive negative feedback. I haven’t, though. In fact, I still get complimented several times a week. It’s not that people haven’t noticed that I wear the same things a lot–some of the compliments have been, “I love it when you wear that one!” implying they remember seeing it–it’s just that I think most people don’t actually care or track what is on my body. At best, people are cheered by the happy colors. At worst (or still best?), no one even notices.

I wondered if wearing a dress, a “feminine” choice even if my reasons are utilitarian, would mean being taken less seriously at work. I haven’t felt like my clothing has held me back. I have noticed that men hold doors for me more often in a dress, which makes me laugh on the inside each time it happens. If there has been any impact at all, I would wager that the dose of stereotypical femininity works in my favor. My job is a somewhat unpopular one and I can have a straightforward, no-nonsense personality when it comes to doing the work, so I have wondered if the way I dress helps to temper that.

Regardless, I am comfortable, have a spectacularly easy time getting dressed in the morning, and never feel under- or overdressed in any office situation thanks to my makeshift uniform. That is a huge win I never thought I would achieve.

Have you, or would you, try some version of a self-chosen work uniform?

15 Replies to “I Wear a Work Uniform (But Don’t Look the Same Every Day)”

  1. Abby

    I have three dresses of the same exact style in drastically different colors, too! I like to wear them with black athletic leggings (and a sports bra) underneath so it’s easy to transition to the gym right after work. I’ve been wearing my running shoes, too, which I justify in being a very behind-the-scenes employee. Jewelry-wise, I usually wear a ring, and beyond that, I would have to do some serious planning.

  2. Tenacious J

    I don’t wear a uniform but I’ve been working on “improving” my wardrobe with sharper pieces over time. But like you, the challenge has been a changing body shape. A bunch of stuff goes into storage, and if I put my mind and all my willpower towards it, I might see them again. Might not.

    We have a similar style–big necklaces, leopard shoes 🙂

    • Ms. Steward

      Do you have a strategy for your wardrobe updates?

      I think I’ve pretty well decided that all my stuff that doesn’t currently fit, I’m going to just try to sell and then donate at this point. I may get back there, but even if I do I’ll likely want new things, despite my frugal heart’s protestations.

      My leopard shoes were my “fun” purchase this year and I’ve already almost worn the fur off parts. 😀

  3. The Luxe Strategist

    I love how your work uniform isn’t boring! I can’t say the same for myself, but I don’t really care, as long as I look like me. For me, I wear mostly jeans, sneakers and T-shirts or sweatshirts. But you know, they’re really NICE plain clothes 🙂

    • Ms. Steward

      I think the “look like me” part is key. I, alas, am not allowed to wear jeans (except on Fridays) or t-shirts, so I have to find some version of business casual that works for me.

      And indeed, I have seen your plain clothes, digitally anyway, and they are very nice! 😀

  4. Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early

    Yes!!! I do much the same, though since I work in construction I have to wear pants at least some of the time. Dresses are SO easy to look professional. I’ve been on a clothing ban just shy of 18 months now and I STILL get regularly complemented on my wardrobe. Simple classy dresses and a few nice necklaces seriously do the trick.

  5. NZ Muse

    I love dresses! But I also like the support of the waist of pants during pregnancy (and dresses in winter are a bit harder to swing).

    My only issue with dresses is sometimes the cinch (??) around the waist/torso – I am super sensitive in this area and any pressure around there is crazy uncomfortable for me and often results in indigestion/gas.

  6. Solitary Diner

    My work uniform is black or grey pants with a lightweight top in summer or a sweater in winter. I’m lucky to have found a few stores I like, so every time I’m in the mall (which is rare, because I hate it), I try to stop at one of the stores to replace a few things.

    I really wish I liked dresses. I see other women wearing them and think they look so professional, but I just have a deep down hatred of wearing them. Something about being a slightly butchy queer woman, I guess?

  7. Caroline at Costa Rica FIRE

    As a recruiter who has hired for many different industries, presence matters so it’s important to find a style that keeps you confident, productive, and fitting in with the environment. For most workplaces, there’s latitude to come up with your own “uniform” and it’s smart to know what looks good on you and buy in bulk ($40 for a 3 dresses — nice!). Some environments (e.g., advertising, fashion) are more challenging in that being fashion-forward is part of the culture and therefore you may need to mix it up a bit more. But people who gravitate to those industries probably don’t mind that challenge and see it as a perk of the job. I found my years in banking, much easier than media, since I could get away with just a blue or black suit and didn’t have to worry about trends!

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