Having survived over a decade at Catholic school, I thought I was done with uniforms. As a teenager, I vowed that the unyielding, box-pleated navy nylon nightmare encasing my resentful form like a drip-dry iron maiden would be the last I’d ever wear.
Of course, one of the interesting things about getting older is the way life opens up – all sorts of things that once seemed absolutely unthinkable become possible, perhaps even appealing: giving birth, having a mortgage, no longer fancying New Kids On The Block, enjoying Antiques Roadshow, eating vegetables for fun… So it is with uniforms. At a certain point, the simplicity and ease of not having to think about what you’re going to put on in the morning becomes a more exciting concept than having lots of options.
Maybe it’s getting old; then again, maybe it’s progress. I have always believed there is an almost-imperceptible tipping point between youth and adulthood that takes place the moment your home becomes more appealing than a nightclub. Perhaps there is another shift that comes later – a time when less suddenly is more.
Deciding what to wear in my twenties was fun. These days, it’s a waste of time I don’t have and another item on a to-do list that already looks like the Dead Sea Scrolls
It’s not just me who thinks this way. Developing a uniform of one’s own is a growing trend. I suspect it’s a reaction against consumer culture and the dizzying amount of choice we’re faced with now. Of course, having the power to choose is great, but being faced with too many decisions can make an ordinary day feel stressful. In a world where ordering a cup of coffee (I’m sorry, a white Americano) is a four-question process, is it surprising that people are looking to pare back?
Developing a uniform has long been the tactic of high-fliers and fashion-industry types – people for whom the idea of creating a new wardrobe every season is not a dream nor a pleasure, but an actual problem (I know, tiny violins…). Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington and Carine Roitfeld are just a few icons that have hopped off the fashion merry-go-round, opting for a signature look of their own instead.
Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have both confessed that they dress in a uniform to simplify their lives and minimise the time it takes to leave the house in the morning, and last week designer Michael Kors became the latest designer to reveal his uniform, saying, “I spend all my time thinking about what everyone else is wearing. The last thing I want to do is spend too much time thinking about what I put on.”
I spend all my time thinking about what everyone else is wearing. The last thing I want to do is spend too much time thinking about what I put on
Mark Zuckerberg's wardrobe shot went viral when he posted this with the caption 'What should I wear?'
I can relate (sort of). In my case, lack of time and decision fatigue were the motives. Deciding what to wear in my twenties was fun. These days, it’s a waste of time I don’t have and another item on a to-do list that already looks like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The crunch came a few years ago. I’d had two kids in three years and, over that time, my working life had changed almost as much as my personal one. Desperate to leave the house on time and without looking like a scarecrow, I decided on radical change. I realised I'd been saving old clothes, waiting for a time when life would go back to the way it was and they might come in handy. Without wishing to sound too armchair-psychiatrist about it, accepting that it never would, that it was becoming something else – better, actually; just different – was pretty liberating. After an epic clearout, I gave 70 per cent of my wardrobe to charity.
I also got a bit of a uniform going, although I hope it doesn’t look like one. Uniforms don't have to be boring, you see – they are entirely individual and tailored to the person. You know the items of clothing you have been buying over and over since you became interested in clothes? They are the basis of your uniform. A smaller amount of those items, and none of the other crap that (if you were anything like I used to be) you would buy in the sales then force yourself to “get the wear out of” (for some reason, my interior monologue is in the voice of Thora Hird), saving the stuff you really loved for best. For me, that meant shoes in black, tan and leopard (they all go with almost everything), easy-to-wear dresses, great jeans, neat shirts, a few black skirts and T-shirts, plus scarves and knits.
I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear
I’ve found that pretty much everything in there works with everything else (despite my wardrobe being pretty colourful). It seems that, as I’m only choosing stuff I truly love, I tend to gravitate towards favourite tones and patterns, which all mix quite well. I also got rid of the day/night split that my old wardrobe seemed to have developed and kept the pieces that sit somewhere in the middle of the two – as a result, I was a little more pulled-together at work and a little less dressed up when I did make it out in the evening, both of which made me happier.
In fact, happiness was an unexpected side effect of developing my uniform. It made getting ready fun again, which I wasn’t banking on, but I suppose isn’t surprising. If everything in your wardrobe fits, makes you feel good, works together and suits your lifestyle, of course dressing will be a pleasure. I’m not saying I’ll need a uniform forever (I loved Iris as much as anyone else and rather like the idea of a mammoth wardrobe full of gowns, turbans and gobstopper rings when I’m older) but, right now, this suits me. Isn’t that what your clothes are supposed to do?