Work uniform: Yay or nay?
I used to think there’s a special little place in hell (or at least purgatory) for jobs that require you to wear a uniform. What could be more dull and freedom-of-expression-sucking than that? Wearing the same old (usually blah) outfit, day in day out, eventually ending up feeling like a character out of Gogol’s “The Overcoat”, or a tired soldier in Mao’s China. You are a woman, you have a brain and occasionally you like to use it and why should your work outfit say that you simply blend in? Thumbs down.
My childhood in petits careaux
I grew up in Athens at a time when the school uniform had just been abolished. The Golden Athenian 80s, when life was amazing and memorandum was an odd Latin word. The only time I wore a uniform was in kindergarten and never saw it ever since. It consisted of a pink/white petits careaux poplin button-down shirt dress with pleats at the skirt and a matching sash. Despite the stereotypical gender-slotting color choice (boys had the same with shorts in blue/white petits careaux), it was quite decent actually. Though I did prefer my mom’s badass 60s high-school uniform, dark blue button down midi dress with balloon skirt, a thin white border at the collar, and an embroidered logo of her class on the left side of the chest. So Dior. The competition on who had the thinnest waist was reportedly fierce.
At the age of five, after a couple of weeks wearing my petits careaux, I eventually grew unimpressed by it. It was utilitarian. After all, nobody cared about clothes. Back then it was mostly about who drew the best princess and how many girls took a vow and kissed the cross that you are their best friend ever, in the whole wide world. Good times.
Note: Exceptions must be drawn on the work uniform front.
Exhibit A: Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) and his too cool for school uniform in Top Gun.
Exhibit B: my husband in his army picture with his shaved head and his battle gear.
A fashion stylist’s work uniform
Long story short, I used to yawn at the idea of experiencing professional life in a uniform. I used to. Until I started working in fashion. Irony? Not really.
Not for fashion people in the know. When I accepted the offer as a stylist for a well-known multibrand e-tailer, I thought to myself “finally, a reason to dress and have fun with clothes every morning”. I wanted to show my personality without having to say a word. Isn’t fashion’s purpose self-expression, after all? Just by making the right wardrobe choice at 6.30 am every morning. Simples.
And I went into it head on, excited and quite naïve and idealistic about it, matching and mismatching, pondering long over the combination legitimacy of red and fuchsia, making the effortful look effortless; all those lovely insignificant vagaries that almost constitute an unspoken but unforgiving law in fashion.
The excitement I felt playing the dress-to-impress game at work was short-lived. And that’s a euphemism. It lasted a New York minute to be exact. There is nothing uncool about dressing like a stylist, looking like a stylist and carrying yourself like a stylist. Except when you work like one. Then it becomes not only predictable but a total obstruction to your work. For me, at least.
Why? Because as a stylist I had to dress models with new merchandise, adjust clothing and accessories, often on my knees or on the floor (very often in a car mechanic position!), bending down, standing up, communicating with the photographer and control whether images were ‘on brand’ and of the quality we had to produce and all under photoshoot light. Incidentally, first world problems indeed. But the part of choosing something beautiful each day to wear to work only to wreck it or sweat like a mother lover in it became an unfashionable joke.
Bring back the uniform!
Eventually there was one way to go: I quit the morning styling anxiety and I adopted a uniform! An outfit I wore pretty much on a daily basis. I became calmer, started focusing more on actual work and things that actually mattered and I started feeling… empowered.
My uniform was as simple as they come: a pair of blue jeans, a military jacket (real Austrian army vintage), a big Celine-inspired Zara tote, a white T-shirt and a pair of metallic blush platform oxfords. Sometimes I would wear a different color T-shirt (black or grey) but nothing much changed.
How to sport the work uniform for absolute badass confidence
Ok, back then my uniform was simple, plain and not so impressive. But it served its purpose: to wear comfortable, style-acceptable clothes for my kind of activity, which entailed light fitness and definite sweating. It worked. I blended in and that was ok. Looking like I have made an effort for a sweaty day at work would make me whisper “get over yourself Maria”. The thing about looking like you’ve made an effort is that you lose your pow. You can still make an effort, but your outfit doesn’t need to scream so.
If you actually enjoy a somewhat standard professional lifestyle and your office look doesn’t have to take blood, sweat and tears into account (unlike the fashion industry, in which pretty much all of the above are possible to happen at any given moment!), here are some parameters to take into account when you think work uniform:
♠ what’s the dress etiquette and how does everyone else dress?
♠ what’s your personal style inclination?
♠ what feels comfortable to you? (No reason to wear high heels if you walk like you just got off a camel).
♠ what’s the position/dresscode correlation? (A CEO can be fashion-savvy but still has to look like a CEO, not like a receptionist).
My idea of a successful work uniform is to dress slightly more formal than average in your given organization (a power look is always a good idea for an independent career woman) and to still find a way to impart your personal taste into your outfit. Ideal solution? The rotating uniform.
Some celebrity style work uniform inspiration, from power chic to boho business to casual friday:
Rotating uniform: best of both worlds
Now, wearing exactly the same thing every single day might be easy to do and save you loads of time in the morning but eventually it will tire you out. That’s where the rotating uniform comes in. Choose 5 outfits per season and rotate them, one for each day of the week. Keep them fresh, crisp and well pressed and everybody will remember your look as polished, put together and professional.
The benefit of the rotating uniform is that you don’t have to shop from your entire wardrobe every morning to find what you are going to wear, but you only choose from those five outfits ‘designated’ for the season. It makes things a lot simpler, doesn’t it. However, having some variety keeps it interesting so that you don’t end up all Gogolian about it.
The most important aspect to implementing the work uniform without having your colleagues think that you’ve been wardrobe-robbed is to stay away from extremely idiosyncratic memorable pieces. Counter-intuitive I know, but trust me on this. If you wear the blouse with the giraffes and the pussy cat bow on the collar once a week, by week five, the first thing in your colleagues’ mind about you will probably be… well, giraffes. If you wear a solid color top though, how many of them will they actually be able to tell what you wore? And anyway, isn’t the purpose of clothes to make our personalities memorable, not the other way round? Just a thought.
Below two of my favourite work uniforms for spring/summer 2017 for a business but style-forward look.
Ensemble 1: Echoeing Coco Chanel with a bit of business pow.
♠ Zara Frayed Tweed Jacket with Pearl Buttons
♠ Gabrielle Large Shopping Bag by Chanel
♠ Les Filles En Rouje T-Shirt
♠ Nicholas Kirkwood, Penelope Pearl Slingback Pumps
♠ Isabelle Marant Étoile, Odea Denim Culottes
♠ Gucci Rounded Sunglasses
Ensemble 2: Feminine accents with some serious business swagger.
♠ Roksanda Cady Dress
♠ Medium Sicily Bag by Dolce & Gabbana
♠ Daria sunglasses for Oliver Peoples by Isabel Marant
♠ Gianvito Rossi Plexi Suede and Metallic Pumps
Do you like the uniform idea?
XO, Maria Delta
Photo credits: mytheresa, zara, chanel, zalando, rouje, getty images, instagram, pinterest.