Two phases of wearing a uniform
As a kid and in the vulnerable years during school, I wanted to be like the others so I begged my parents to buy certain shoes and clothes. In Junior High it was black rubber-soled shoes from Thom McAn; in college it was Bass Weejuns loafers and Cole-Haan lace-up shoes. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was a slave to fashion trends as reported by the popular media and what others were wearing. So, after college, I began to explore what I really wanted from clothes. I wrote these notes in 1977:
• Comfortable (loose fitting).
• Easy to put on and take off.
• Aesthetically pleasing
Shoes without socks
Shirts: Pullover, collar not really necessary, pocket not necessary.
Pants and shorts
• Pull on - drawstring or elastic waistband, solid waistband, no break for button or snap, but zipper for taking a pee. No belt.
• Front pockets big enough for hands, shaped to hold change while seated or lying down, rounded corners to avoid lint in corners. Back pocket big enough for wallet.
• No unnecessary decorations - keep it simple.
Colors: Subtle colors and patterns, natural earth colors. Don't compete with the face and body - enhance it. No white (shows dirt).
Fabrics: Unbleached muslin, solids - no prints.
I even hired a seamstress to make some shirts and pants that met the above objectives. They worked fine while I was farting around, but, they were a bit too odd for a professional work environment. I had to alter my clothing philosophy to fit in at work and not stand out for the wrong reasons.
Like many people, I went through the morning ritual of deciding what I wanted to wear that day and what shoes and socks would go with the shirt and pants. Once I gained more self-confidence and got over the need to impress people with my clothing, I gravitated to the classic ensemble of a white shirt and khaki pants. Wow, my life became simpler. Deciding what to wear was really easy - reach for the next white shirt and khaki pants in line. Fashions and fads are so fickle, I didn't mess with it. I stuck to those classics.
My work uniform
Tan sox, brown shoes, white button down collar oxford shirt, and pleated khaki pants.
I put the just-washed underwear and socks at the back of their drawers so they keep in even rotation each week. This allows them to wear out at about the same time. When one or two pair need replacing, I replace the whole bunch (same with the shirts and slax, which are also kept in strict order of cleanliness.) I order the shirts and slacks online (I'm not a big fan of shopping) and they are delivered to my home. Simple.
The fall 2007 History of Graphic Design class dressed up for Halloween - in a truly scary costume - Watson's uniform. A Graphic Design 1 class trying to look impressive. What a hoot.
One day while on a NYC Study Tour, we were scheduled to meet with the designer Massimo Vignelli in the afternoon. That morning I put on a black shirt in homage to Massimo. He always wears a black shirt with black pants. That is his uniform. That afternoon, however, I went home to prep for the afternoon. I debated wearing the black shirt. I realized that that is his uniform and that I should respect that by wearing my uniform, rather than trying to fit in with he and his wife (she wears black, also). I'm glad I did. That afternoon he spoke to us about being true to ourselves and not being hypocritical. Massimo stated, "If you're never in fashion (succumbing to the fashion-du-jour trends), you can never go out of fashion."
My retirement uniform
White or black sox; white, grey, or black shoes; grey or black t-shirts and dress shirts; and black slacks and jeans.
• Minimal animal products (little to no leather).
• Easy to clean (no dry cleaning).
• No ironing.
• Easy to fold, hang, store.
• Globally responsive: no sweatshop, green company.
• No decorations, embellishments, or commercial logos.
• Neutral, no bold statement, no colorful distractions.
Colors: Shades of grey to black, mix/match.
Textures: Solids, tweedy, weave, some depth.
Accessories to match: Car, phone, pad, laptop, pen.
I read Steve Jobs, the biography of his life that came out soon after he died. Jobs wore a uniform - black turtleneck and jeans. The logic of wearing a uniform inspired me again to consider it. I am typing this while on a plane and looking at the attendants in their sharp uniforms. It just makes so much sense - getting past the notion that our clothes should represent us and our moods. I just want my life to be easy, or easier. No more decision fatigue deciding what to wear.
The following from The science of simplicity: Why successful people wear the same thing every day, by John Haltiwanger, November 2014.
Have you ever thought about how much time you likely waste deciding what to wear in the morning? It’s probably made you late to school or work. We waste so many precious moments concerning ourselves with frivolous details. We’ve become an excessively materialistic and superficial society. There are greater things to worry about than clothes. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Make your life easier by concentrating on the big picture. Some very successful people have adopted this philosophy in their daily routines:
• Albert Einstein reportedly bought several variations of the same gray suit so that he wouldn’t have to waste time deciding what to wear each morning.
• Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day.
• Mark Zuckerberg typically wears a grey t-shirt, a black hoody, and jeans when in public.
Decision Fatigue: a psychological condition in which a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions. By stressing over things like what to eat or wear every day, people become less efficient at work. This is precisely why many people have decided to make life easier by adopting a wardrobe uniform: Make Life More Simple.
Because of hyperconsumerism, we’re forgetting about fundamental things and wasting human strength on frivolities that have little to do with human happiness. Many of us are guilty of obsessing over material things. When it comes down to it, they bring no real value to our lives. True fulfillment is acquired by going out into the world and fostering palpable and benevolent changes. Buying a new pair of shoes might make you feel more confident in the short-term, but it will not enrich your life in the long-term. Life is complicated enough, don’t allow the little things to dictate your happiness.
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simply, simplify. - Henry David Thoreau