The argument for a work uniform

In April 2015, Matilda Kahl, then an art director based in New York, penned an essay in Harper’s Bazaar to explain why she wore the same outfit to work everyday. After experiencing the frustration of wasting time trying to cobble together an outfit every morning, Kahl decided to invest in a few key pieces. The result? An understated, yet classic combination of black pants, white shirt, and a custom leather rosette. Practically speaking, it’s easy, suitable for every season, and work-appropriate to boot.

Yet Kahl was still questioned by colleagues and friends alike for her choice. Why would someone working in the creative arts industry of all places voluntarily give up their freedom to dress whatever way they pleased? Because not only is it one less thing to think about, says Kahl, but it also helped her regain a sense of control in a society where women are intensely scrutinised, and then criticised, for their choices in clothing. Kahl’s most apt remark, perhaps, is, “To state the obvious, a work uniform is not an original idea. There’s a group of people that have embraced this way of dressing for years—they call it a suit.”

Sure enough, countless articles and websites have revealed that successful (and time poor) personalities including Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, have all made use of the concept of a work uniform in order to reduce decision fatigue. As told to Vanity Fair in this feature, Obama said: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Add to this that reducing your wardrobe to a few key pieces will save money in the long-term, and depending on where you source your clothing from, is likely to reduce your impact in the damaging world of fast fashion (for a great introduction to sustainable and ethically sourced clothing, check out Clare Press’ book and podcast series here).

I firmly believe that what you wear and how you present yourself in the workplace will speak volumes about you. Job interviews, client meetings, and presentations are all nerve-wracking, but it is astonishing what the right outfit (or a bit of red lipstick) can do for your confidence. I know someone who swears by her pair of hot pink suede heels on workdays that she needs to feel a little bit killer. Having a go-to work uniform means that you have hand-selected an outfit that you know you look and feel good in. Wear it long enough and it will eventually become part of your personal brand, and something you become known for. Just ask Matilda Kahl.

Photo: via Matilda Kahl’s Instagram, @lilltrill