It usually begins with a single item—a perfect pair of pants, a particularly flattering sweater. My own thriving career of wearing the same clothes every day began about a decade ago in a dreary department store. I spotted a pair of chestnut loafers that felt more grown up than my customary Vans. I tried them on and never looked back; I’ve since ordered countless identical replacements on Amazon, with a graveyard of worn, discarded pairs in my bedroom as proof of my commitment.
After that initial, thrilling brush with monotony, I’ve become a monster of sartorial routine. I wear the same pair or two of jeans every day. When I inevitably destroy them a few times a year, I know exactly where to get the same pair again. I own at least eight of the same V-neck T-shirt, my warm-weather staple. When it gets cold, I turn to dark blue sweaters and pullovers. Why blue? I don’t know. But I have seven of them. I allow one spring jacket and one winter jacket. The loafers stick around all year, which I can admit is not ideal, but … boots? Nah.
I can see how this behavior might seem compulsive or avoidant or simply lazy. I am also convinced it should be totally normal. Once you find clothes that fit properly, why not just stop there? Achievement unlocked. No one really cares enough to remember that you wore the same thing yesterday, especially if you look good wearing it.
It seems so clear! And when you think about it, I’m far from alone. My closet isn’t quite as monochromatic as Mark Zuckerberg’s, but it’s fair to say he sees things my way. I’ve looked around the office at Slate’s men—certainly not representative of all men, but men nevertheless—and noticed a persistent fondness for blue button-downs and suspiciously similar slacks each day. The president is with me, too, and there are Quora support threads for dark nights when I lose my nerve. But perhaps the most heartening signal of all came from a fashion friend always quick to judge, who, told of my dilemma, offered some magic words: “You mean like … a uniform?”
A uniform. Yes, that. Here was a haute term for my pathology, and it unlocked a deep online archive of very smart women (and men) praising my habits. Every year, it seemed, the same fashion magazines dissected the virtues of building, accepting, loving, and reinventing your very own “uniforms”—a.k.a wearing the same thing every day. Who knew?
Emboldened, I called Kim Hastreiter, the beloved editor of Paper who I was told knew about such things. “You were told correctly,” she said. “I’ve worn a uniform for over 20 years.” She wrote a column years ago about her famous standard look (“loosely inspired by my all-time favorite uniform, the classic Mao suit”), in which designers like Dries Van Noten confessed to wearing their very own uniforms.
Hastreiter asked me how old I am. I told her 30. She went silent for a moment. “Usually younger people don’t wear uniforms,” she said. “It depends on the person of course. I was always dressing insane when I was young—I would never wear the same thing every day. But as you get a little older, you don’t want to dress like a Christmas tree.”
“Uniforms simplify everything,” she said. “If I were a man, I’d definitely be wearing a uniform, for sure.” For the less enlightened, she suggested starting with great pants that give you a shape you want. “It’s all about silhouette. That’s what a uniform is, it’s about silhouette. It’s about finding pants—if you’re a guy, or if you’re Hillary … ”
Hastreiter trailed off, then offered a timely assessment of Hillary Clinton’s uniform, perhaps the most famous of its kind. (Clinton, I learned, would really benefit from sticking to one style of pantsuit.) A great uniform, Hastreiter said, starts with one perfect item you love, elaborated upon until you’ve built it into your own personal Mao suit. And isn’t that what I had built, loafers up?
I did not mention that my “uniform” involves one-click Amazon orders and buying a new black T-shirt every time I’m in a mall with a Uniqlo, but spiritually, I think Hastreiter would approve. Her sage diagnosis that wardrobes dwindle as age ticks up and life intervenes seems like the clearest vindication I could receive. Some of us just give up our Christmas tree years a little earlier than others.
Read more from Normal, Slate’s pop-up blog about how you’re supposed to do it.