A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with my friend Dalton (from Naked Charisma).
He'd just returned from Bangkok and brought me a custom dress shirt from one of their famous tailors.
While on the topic of clothes, we drifted to the subject of the personal uniform.
We agreed that a personal uniform doesn't mean wearing the exact same thing on a daily basis, like Steve Jobs and his trademark black turtlenecks.
But rather, it means having an organized system for getting dressed. It means having multiples of the things that just “work” for you and wearing the clothes that you like best.
Or in other words, developing your personal uniform.
What do we wear?
Dalton noted that he'd found a particular pair of jeans that worked perfectly for him.
So, being the wise man he is, he bought them in dark blue, gray, and black.
Up top, he typically wears a screen print tee and a leather jacket.
For shoes, Dalton has the same pair of sneakers in several different colors.
I then outlined my personal uniform, which consists of a pair of raw denim, a tee or polo topped with a shawn neck cardigan, anchored with one of my many pairs of boots.
So why have we opted for our uniforms?
Why Create a Personal Uniform
Here are 9 benefits I've experienced from developing a personal uniform.
1. Save money!
It isn't the clothes you buy and wear that really cost you – it's the stuff that sits in your closet and doesn't get worn.
I've touched on cost per wear in my previous post on a Versatile Wardrobe, but the gist is that a $300 pair of shoes worn everyday for a year costs you less than $1 per wear.
It doesn't get much cheaper than that.
But those $70 gym shoes that you bought on a whim but haven't worn after six months because they're too “loud”, those are expensive.
Plus, when you have a cohesive wardrobe, you just flat out need less.
2. It appeals to an efficiency mindset
Men, in general, seem to have built-in efficiency regulators.
We know we can only be in the gym for around an hour per day, so we pick the most productive exercises.
We try to minimize or eliminate shopping trips by buying online.
We watch the thermostat like hawks even though we spend more money on supplements than the heating bill.
It's just part of us and, as I've recently discovered, it only gets stronger when we have children.
Satisfy the innate urge for efficiency by streamlining your wardrobe.
3. You're going to wear the same thing anyway
Like most men, I have quite a few pairs of jeans.
But more often then not, I reach for the same pair.
If I'm going somewhere special or if I'm taking photos, I like to mix it up and wear a little variety.
But when I'm writing at the coffee shop, running errands, or spending time with my family, I dress in a similar manner most days, despite having a well-stocked closet.
Really, it's okay to give in to the natural inclination to wear the same things most days.
4. Be memorable
Just like having a signature scent, a personal uniform gives people something to associate with you.
When I was working at a hotel, my coworkers would sometimes come in wearing their “off duty” clothes.
As they walked towards me, I would give them the forced, fake, cheesy smile that was reserved especially for guests.
But it wasn't until they were within five feet of me that I'd realize who they were. I literally didn't recognize people I saw every day outside of their uniforms.
Clothing has that strong of an impact on your identity.
Whatever it is that you choose to wear, having a personal uniform allows you to have a wearable calling card.
People will be able to spot you from across the room or down the street.
5. Tell your story
It's difficult to send a clear message when you're saying different things with your clothing everyday.
Dressing like an Ivy League graduate one day, an edgy urbanite then next, and a lumber jack the day after makes it more difficult for people to get a sense of who you are.
Instead, you want to find a meaningful, cohesive way of dressing that conveys your personality, interests, and lifestyle.
For example, Dalton wears graphic tees with band logos because he's a DJ and loves music.
I wear boots because I used to be a construction worker and I like staying connected with my blue collar roots.
6. Maintain comfort
My days are spent writing at coffee shops, hopping on and off public transportation, and taking care of my toddler.
Being muscular and often sore, I don't particularly like tight, stuffy dress clothes in my day-to-day, so I wear shirts with a little stretch. Hence the frequent tees.
Sometimes coffee shops are freezing and other times they feel like the Sahara, so having a cardigan is perfect for taking on and off without pulling a sweater over my head.
And with a young child around, getting sprayed with food, snot, or worse is inevitable.
So I stick to wearing rugged clothing that can take some abuse.
When you have a uniform that was built around your life, you're able to live more comfortably.
7. Maximize versatility
The better you understand exactly what you like to wear on a daily basis, the more cohesive your wardrobe will become.
If you find a pair of shoes that you love, you'll purchase pants and shirts that fit with that particular item.
And if those shoes work with all of your shirts and pants, chances are the same pair in a few different colors would also be complementary.
So if your wardrobe leans towards the casual side, then crisp dress shirts may not jibe well.
On the other hand, a less serious fabric like oxford cloth may be the perfect bridge between your dark denim and tweed sport coat.
When most of your pieces follow the same “theme,” you'll find that you have nearly unlimited outfit combinations.
8. Evolve and perfect
It's rugged and capable, sophisticated and dignified, fun and laid back – all at once!
It's the epitome of timelessness.
That's because it doesn't swing wildly with trends and it remains true to what it does best.
If you hope to build a timeless wardrobe and image for yourself, you need to take a similar path.
Maybe you were a boot cut jean enthusiast 7 years ago, then jumped straight to painted on skinny fit, and are now in drop crotch pants.
With that kind of fluctuation, how do you ever expect to perfect your personal aesthetic?
It's totally fine to experiment with trendy items – that's how we learn, after all.
But you'll never get better at dressing yourself if you're constantly all over the map.
Essentially, you need to be working with the same medium over time if you hope to create a cohesive masterpiece.
9. Save time
We all know how important a solid morning routine is to having a productive day.
Only having to make one or two clothing choices goes incredibly far in saving your mental powers for more important tasks.
Not only does a personal uniform save you time in the morning, but it saves you time when shopping.
I have a friend who found that J.Crew button up shirts in a slim fit medium work perfectly for him.
Now, he doesn't even have to leave the house to buy shirts.
When his current rotation is nearing the end of its useful life, all he has to do is go online, click a few buttons, and wait for the shipment.
For a lot of guys, that beats an entire weekend spent scouring stores and trying on dozens of items.
How to create a personal uniform
When you're ready to streamline your wardrobe by creating a personal uniform, here's the step-by-step guide to getting it done.
1. Consider your environment
First and foremost, decide what you need out of your uniform.
That is, of course, going to be largely dependent on what you do on a daily basis.
A student, lawyer, and construction worker are going to have vastly different personal uniforms.
Some questions to ask yourself are:
- What is the level of formality in my school/office/job site?
- What weather related challenges do I face?
- What is the regional vibe (east coast vs. west coast)?
Once you answer these questions, you'll have a rough idea to guide you.
2. Start with one item
To draw inspiration, select your favorite clothing item or purchase that one you've been dying to get your hands on.
When a single item really speaks to you and feels irresistible, you can be pretty certain that that pieces sums up your needs, likes, and wants better than a lengthy introspective session.
Go with your gut on this one.
Or maybe it's this pair of work boots that's stolen your attention? Then flesh out your wardrobe with raw denim and twill shirts.
3. Choose your colors
As I said, you don't have to wear the exact same clothes everyday, but a little consistency in the way of colors will go a long way.
First, you'll maximize versatility.
By not building the foundation of your wardrobe out of individual items in a variety of colors like red, green, yellow, and purple, you'll ensure that the majority of your pieces play nicely together.
Second, you'll get to wear the colors that make you look your best everyday.
There are plenty of ways to determine the ideal color palate for your complexion and eye color, but I have a feeling you've figured this out intuitively.
What colors do you find yourself wearing on a consistent basis and which get you the most compliments?
Buy more of those and forget about the others.
You can't go wrong with blue, white, and gray for clothing and dark brown and black for leather goods.
4. Pick your accessories
Many guys adopt a personal uniform in an attempt to simplify their lives, so it's not a huge surprise that these uniforms are strongly influenced by the minimalism movement.
The causal guy may go with broken-in denim, a V-neck tee, and white Converse nearly everyday.
The businessman may choose some variation of dark brown oxfords, gray flannel trousers, white shirts, and a navy sport coat.
With what is essentially a blank canvas in place, you can add personality and variability in the form of accessories.
Having a versatile timepiece with interchangeable bands will help you have fun and to vary the formality or “purpose” of your uniform.
Hats, scarves, and gloves do wonders for transforming a given look.
5. Be sure to buy quality
The best way to determine where to spend your money is to buy a better version of the items you wear most.
If you wear jeans everyday, why not invest in the best pair you can find?
If you wear t-shirts consistently, don't go for the clearance rack at Old Navy, spend a few extra dollars and buy ones that fit great, feel luxurious, and make you look your best.
If you have an athletic build, it doesn't get any better than B&D Tees.
For the business man, I wouldn't (and don't) hesitate to spend $300-$400 on the perfect pair of dress shoes.
They'll last for years and when they start to look tired, you can have a cobbler refurbish them.
It'll be like having a brand new pair of shoes but you get to retain all of the hard won patina.
6. Embrace some quirkiness
As a slim guy, I tend to buy my casual button-ups in a size smaller than I should to avoid excessive trips to the tailor.
This means that my sleeves are usually a tad too short and I can't quite get the top button fastened.
But that's all ok with casual looks. I just roll up my sleeves and if I decide to wear a tie, I leave it a little loose.
Also, I tend to wear black and brown leather together frequently.
This is technically “against the rules” but I like it, do it frequently, and wear it with confidence.
When people sense this confidence in the face of what is obviously against the norm, they're more likely to copy than they are to criticize.
Whatever you like to wear, own the look.
With a personal uniform, you don't have to wear the exact same thing everyday.
Hell, you don't even have to wear your uniform on a daily basis.
But my intent is to help you put together at least one replicable outfit and realize that it's okay to dress in a similar manner most days of the week.
And if you need help with selecting those basic pieces, I wrote the book on it (the eBook, that is).
Check out Casual Style 101 for lists, descriptions, and recommendations of everything you need to establish your casual wardrobe.
All the best,