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)
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
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?
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.
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.
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?