I wear the same thing to work every day, and it’s the best. It’s also turned out to be a hugely frugal decision, even given that I bought five new shirts to kick off the experiment.
A few months ago, there was a resurgence of those articles about powerful people who have a “work uniform” of their own choosing. Whether it was Mark Zuckerburg and his grey t-shirts or Barack Obama and his blue or grey suits, everyone featured in these articles in some way credited it with reducing their daily stress and decision-making, allowing them to focus on the bigger picture and save their decision-making power for things that really mattered.
The articles also tended to feature a lot of men, which is why when I saw the feature in Harper’s Bazaar about a woman, working in advertising, who had adopted the work uniform strategy, I was intrigued. More than intrigued – I was sold.
This is hardly an original idea. Consider that men have been wearing suits since the 1920s.
To help clarify why this was so appealing, let me paint you a picture of my work environment. I work on an all-male team, which has been the case in two of my three professional positions. In my current job, my all-male team also happens to dress like they’ve stepped out of the pages of GQ. Keeping up with that standard with a wardrobe of women’s fashions would either:
- Consist of a lot of fast fashion items that lasted me no longer than a few months
- Completely break the bank and derail my savings goals
- Some combination of 1 and 2
None of these were particularly appealing options to me, but I did need to figure out my wardrobe issues.
If at the same time, it helped draw attention away from my fashion choices entirely, that was a great additional benefit. In the past few years I’ve cared less and less that people consider me “fashionable”, and let’s be honest, I have never placed any value on being seen as “cool”. I don’t need anyone to compliment me on how I look, or on a great fashion choice. I need to people to ignore what I’m wearing and focus on my work.
Luckily for me, my team and office are fairly progressive, and many of them had already read articles about this trend – some had even considered adopting it themselves. Even the guys who hadn’t, when challenged, had to admit that “t-shirt and jeans” wasn’t really a major decision they had to make every day. So off I went to the mall to search for my perfect work uniform, in the hopes that it would save me many a mall trip in the future.
I found it with a combination of a silky, boxy-cut top that came in white and black, and a well-fitted pair of skinny black pants. On their own, they’re casual enough not to stand out in a pretty casual, come-as-you-are office, and with the addition of my existing blazers and necklaces, they’re professional enough to take me to any industry event or trade show.
In total, I spent just over $300 to assemble my work uniform to the point where it was a viable option for everyday wear, week in and week out. Because I bought the items new, a lot of people won’t consider it a frugal purchase, but here’s how I see it.
I’ve already saved more than that by not having to buy occasion-specific clothing for events.
Every time I used to go to an important work trade show or event, I would look at my tech-industry casual clothes and think “no one will take me seriously if I wear this.” And off shopping I would go, to hunt down something I could wear to the trade show to feel comfortable. Now, when I’m travelling for work, I pack up my work uniform and am off, no question in my mind that I will look appropriate and be taken seriously.
I would have spent that to “refresh” my “outdated” work wardrobe already.
As I said, I work with people who value their own personal appearance, and that study about becoming the average of the five people you spend the most time with has a nugget of truth to it. I couldn’t help but see how well they dressed and think it was time for me to step up my style game. Luckily, this approach has killed that kind of thinking, because now I look professional every day, but unremarkably so. My wardrobe is given the background treatment I had always hoped it would.
Frugality is about more than just money.
Sure, I spent over $300 on new clothes. But what I’ve gained back in time and sheer agonizing while standing in front of my closet every day is worth than ten times over in my mind. I never have to think about whether I’m dressed well for an important meeting, and I never have to question whether my top works with these pants. My biggest choice is to wear a white shirt or a black one, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m spending on a luxury that makes my life immeasurably better and easier. And if I can’t do that, what’s it all for, anyways?