I’m fascinated by—and a little jealous of—highly productive people who wear the same thing every day.
I know I struggle with decision fatigue, but that doesn’t make me unique. We all do. Each decision we make throughout the day takes a toll on our finite amount of mental energy.
That’s why people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and even President Obama adopted a personal uniform.
I’ve been thinking of doing it myself.
In high school, I was envious of my Catholic school friends who wore the same skirt, polo, and cardigan to school every day. When they rolled out of bed every morning they knew exactly what they would wear. To my high school self, that meant they could sleep for the extra fifteen minutes I had to spend choosing my outfit for the day.
I’ve heard style gurus speak about the effectiveness of limiting the colors of your wardrobe. Pick two or three complimentary colors and make them “yours,” and you’re well on your way to looking great every day, with very little effort.
I tried limiting my wardrobe to two colors for a while—black and French blue—and quickly abandoned it. I got bored. But I was younger then, and didn’t care as much about avoiding decision fatigue. Would it be different for me now?
Generally speaking, the personal uniform seems much easier for a man to pull off. Did you read about the Australian newscaster who wore the same suit every day for a year as a social experiment? No one noticed.
But even he said there was no way his female co-anchor could have gotten away with that without drawing commentary.
As a woman, the idea of tightly constricting my wardrobe feels a little scary.
Yet there are women who pull it off.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp wears the same workout clothes and leg warmers every day, as part of her unvarying daily routine. She’s adamant about saving as much mental energy as possible for her craft.
Many women in fashion successfully pull off the personal uniform. Carrie Donovan, a retired editor from Vogue and Harper’s, wore all black with a string of pearls and huge eyeglasses. Grace Coddington of Vogue wears all black these days.
Even Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, has been wearing a variation of the same uniform since the ’80s: a blouse, jacket, and a-line skirt, plus her razor-sharp bob and dark sunglasses, which she calls her “personal armor.”
This summer, I noticed that I had fallen into a uniform of my own, quite accidentally. Every day I wore a striped shirt (one of a dozen slightly different designs), neutral bottoms, and silver sandals. I loved it, because I rolled out of bed knowing exactly what I would wear that day: the next shirt hanging in my closet and whatever bottoms happened to be clean.
The change of seasons has reinforced how much I enjoyed that summer simplicity. In the early fall I wore simple tees and thin sweaters, with jeans and a scarf, every day. But now that it’s suddenly cold outside I need to refine my idea of what I want my daily outfits to look like, because I’m already begrudging the mental energy I’m expending on wintry layers.
I feel a little silly writing something like “figure out a daily uniform” on my to-do list, but I’m inspired by those people who consciously streamline their daily decisions—like what they eat or what they wear—so they can be more efficient in their work and their relationships.
I’m hoping there’s a sweet spot between cheerful dressing for the ordinary days and saving my mental energy for more important things.
What are your tips for striking that balance?