Step One: Choose Your Palette
At most you will be choosing 2 neutrals and 1 color (which can be a third neutral if you prefer). Many people choose black and only black for their uniform. Whatever you choose, prioritize it being easy to find and wear.
While simplicity wins over being personally flattering in uniforms, there can be some leeway with palette. I recommend trying to keep a flattering color or more likely, a flattering neutral, near your face whether as a dress, a top, or an accessory. If you are using a light and a dark, it's common to keep the light color near your face, unless you are notably top-heavy in shape, then you might consider reversing it. Whatever you decide on, keep it simple, easy to find, and buy multiples.
For warm coloring, I prefer off-white (or cream, ivory, beige) to white. It doesn't have to be your perfect off-white in order for it to be better than true white. You can still do black bottoms, as it's away from your face and will keep shopping simple if you'd rather not hunt for brown, olive, khaki, blush, bordeaux or whatever else you might choose. Be careful not to get hung up on palette selection, as the point of the uniform is to keep it simple. When in doubt, all black or black and white will be easiest to find.
For cool coloring, white and black are the obvious choices. If you are medium or lower contrast, you might choose navy or grey instead of black, and they both go well with white. Blush or light grey or light blue can be a good alternative or addition as well, if it matters enough for you to do the extra shopping. If you do choose neutrals that aren't widely available, you especially need to stock up when you find the right item.
Step Two: Choose Your Shapes
I generally recommend choosing tops with long sleeves, as it can lessen the need for layering, but I will include short sleeve and sleeveless options. Long sleeves in dresses are harder to find, but might also be worth it for the decreased layering. You want to choose shapes that can be easily found. You might quickly consider which shapes are best for your figure and comfort. Buy them to fit the widest part of you, and if needed, have a tailor take them in where you are smaller.
A few easy to find options for tops include:
short sleeve cotton tees
crew or v-neck sweaters
Common bottoms include:
(specify rise, hem length, and shape in addition to color)
jeans (skinny, straight, flare, wide, crop)
skirts (pencil, a-line, full, straight)
Common dresses include:
Common shoes include:
pump (round, pointy, or peep)
sneaker (low or hi top or pull-on)
ballet (or mary jane or t-strap)
slip on (clog, sandal, or mule)
boots (rain, combat, otk, ankle bootie, shootie)
What you choose will depend on your public life needs, personal comfort, and so on. This is not about A+ perfection- it's about simple and serviceable, so examine quickly, choose one look, and move on (You can be slower and choosier with your shoes, as they tend to be a more expensive purchase, you can wear the same pair every day, and you shouldn't need to replace them very often. Just don't obsess over your choice- they should still be fairly basic and easily replaceable over the years).
(Optional) Step Three: Choose Your Accessories
This step is optional. If you're pursuing a uniform to be able to better focus on other aspects of life, you may be better served by passing on accessories for now. If you want simplicity, but a touch of style play or visual personality, an accessory is really the way to go. If you choose more than one accessory, you're best off thinking of them as a cohesive set, rather than a sprawling collection. If a sprawling collection brings you joy, that's great, but to me it takes it out of the realm of personal uniform. Your optional uniform accessory isn't the flavor of the day- it's a signature piece, that if you're wearing an accessory (or set of accessories), it's always that piece and will come to be associated with you.
Choosing an accessory in a flattering color and good scale is my favorite option for bringing a color in, because it can be worn with everything without wearing out or needing to be replaced every year. A scarf (neck, shoulder, head, purse handles), a necklace, or earrings are easy options. If you love orange, you can find the most amazing orange pendant or scarf, and it will brighten up what otherwise may be a dull but utile black or white+black combo. If you have autumn coloring, it might just be a luscious camel scarf that brings a bit of harmony and personality into your uniform.
The 3 personal uniforms above are:
1. grey blazer, grey maxi skirt, (soft) white popover, white sneakers. (optional accessory in the form of a silk scarf)
2. white V tee, navy cardigan, black jeans, black boots. (optional accessory in the form of blue tartan wrap)
3. cream pullover, cream trouser, pointy cream low heel. (optional accessory in the form of flower necklace)
Below is what I might personally choose for a uniform. I based this outfit on what I've gravitated toward in the past in terms of shape, neutrals (and placement of neutrals), comfort, and public life needs. Grey turtleneck (preferably slightly cowled and fuzzy/soft); high-waist, slightly-roomy, black, ankle, trouser; black, low-heeled bootie (with straps if I can be choosy), and optional green print scarf (worn on head or draped over a shoulder and possibly belted or around purse handles).
In coming up with your own uniform, think of what you've happily worn on repeat- not just recently, but what did you wear in high school or college? Become an outside observer to the patterns of your own dressing choices over time, and then add personal observations about how it felt to wear those things. How do you want to feel in your uniform each day? It should be your personal blank canvas and grounded/even-keeled in terms of energy. What are the neutrals or easy colors that are acceptable to you?
Could you wear a style uniform? What might it be? Let me know in the comments!
Now that we know what is meant by a style uniform, and we know of the great reasons to try it at some point, let's figure out how to do it. I've created a few personal uniform guidelines to make sure that what we come up with for our uniform has what is necessary to keep it both simple and flexible.
KLM UNIFORM GUIDELINES. Your personal uniform should
1) works for work, going out, and home life/running errands
2) the pieces must be items you can find in store at any time of the year, regardless of what the trends are
3) uses at most 2 neutrals and 1 color (which could be a 3rd neutral if you prefer)
4) rotate through your closet
It's a lot to ask for women's clothing, as the expectations are higher, and the options are all over the place, but it can be done. (If you need individualized help, see my services and email me if you don't find what you were looking for). It's essential that a personal uniform be appropriate for every common occasion that takes you out of the house.
When you're in-home, you can be in your loungewear, and when you're at the gym you can be in your fitness garb, but to and from, where you're out, about, and seen, you should be in your personal uniform. The president wears a dark suit, Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck, and you must discover what is right for your public life.
For work there are often hemline and neckline considerations, sometimes sleeve lengths as well. There may also be color restrictions. Make note of all of these. If you have a special uniform for work (e.g. scrubs at a hospital), that will not count in any way toward your personal uniform. If your job has requirements that you don't like, rather than having a black sheath dress for work and a white pant suit for personal, first try to find ways to make the dress a look you like, because it's something you will be seen in a lot.
For going out, you'll want the feeling to be less stuffy, which may require notes as to fabrics (suiting won't be your best material unless you only go to fancy pants attorney cocktail lounges or something). It may be as simple as swapping jackets (e.g. black crepe blazer instead of black wool blazer).
For wearing at home, you're looking for a certain level of comfort, which is both fabric and silhouette. You can always change into loungewear if you know you're home for the day, but if you'll be intermittently at home and running errands, you'll need your uniform to be both polished and somewhat comfortable.
To ensure you'll always be able to find the pieces of your uniform in-store, make it broad enough. This is part of why most well-known uniforms are some variation on White top + Black bottom. They can be found in almost any store, any season, any year. Know that the more creative you get with your uniform, the more time you'll have to sink into shopping for your uniform. When you find what you're looking for, buy multiples.
If you've chosen more of a signature style than a personal uniform, but still want to keep your mornings simple, rather than taking additional time to choose clothes and shoes each morning, and possibly falling into the trap of wearing only one or two favorites (that you perhaps should have bought 8 of instead of having the small varieties that create a largely unworn wardrobe), rotate through them. Always grab the top on the left, for example, and when you wash your clothes, hang them up on the right side. Do the same with your shoes- wear the first pair on the left, and at the end of the day, put them down on the right end of the row. If there is an item you disliked wearing, and if the reason for dislike can't be fixed, remove it from your wardrobe.
Rotating through your closet is good routine for personal uniform as well, to keep in the practice of wearing fresh clothing, to spread out the daily wear and tear, and to be clear on how many of each item you actually need. If you bought extra for the future, keep these safely in storage with moth balls and out of your visual space.
What is a Personal/Style Uniform?
It seems to mean different things to different people, so let's clarify what I personally mean by a uniform, because while both a personal uniform and a signature style are great minimalist approaches at simplifying your wardrobe, I consider them to be different. This three part series is focused on personal uniforms, but many of the points are applicable to building a signature style as well.
A personal uniform will be nearly indistinguishable from day to day and stick to both specific colors you've picked for each item and specific form you've chosen for each item. (e.g. your top is always a white button-up, your bottom is always black straight jeans, and your shoes are always red sneakers).
A signature style will have some aspects chosen (color palette or silhouette, for example), while some aspects will change from day to day (e.g. always a sheath dress but variety in color/print and always with black shoes but variety in form).
When the world of style feels overwhelming or joyless (Marie Kondo / KonMarie people, I'm looking at you), I think it's best to start with a uniform, and then when it feels fun, allow it to expand into a signature style. This way you don't waste a lot of money and time on looks that don't work out.
What does a Personal Uniform look like?
A few celebrity examples of personal uniforms shown left to right are:
1. White button-up, black full midi skirt, black ballet flats inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Carolina Herrera
2. Black turtleneck, blue jeans, white sneakers inspired by Steve Jobs.
3. Navy pant, navy blazer, white button-up, black dress shoes inspired by Barrack Obama. It would be fun to add a blue statement necklace in place of his tie.
Personal Uniforms, much like other uniforms, tend to look boring, and usually consist of neutrals, but that's part of their simplicity; and with uniforms, simplicity is the point. It's an anti-style approach to wardrobe. It takes much of the art out of dressing. It's also likely to be a timeless and unoffensive look for this reason.
Why Would I Want a Personal Uniform?
While the main benefit of a personal uniform is that you save an enormous amount of time and hassle shopping and getting dressed every morning, there are a couple other clear benefits:
- You will be infinitely more memorable to others when you're always wearing the same look- a kind of self-branding. In the past I had people tell me that I look so different each time they saw me that it's like meeting a new person. I also had people tell me that they didn't see me at such and such's party, because they didn't recognize me. While that is great if you're on the lam, it can be beneficial to be easily spotted and remembered too.
- Another unsung benefit of a personal uniform is that it provides a canvas or backdrop for playing with accessories if you so choose. If you love style, but find it expensive, time consuming, and generally overwhelming, limiting your style play to accessories can be a great boon.
Watch for Part 2 and Part 3 of this series for how to create your own uniform.
If you saw my article on the usual, horribly boring, capsule wardrobes, you know I have a bone to pick. Minimal wardrobe can still mean maximal style, and here's how to do it to avoid the dreaded white/grey/black, tshirt/jeans, pop of red, one stripey shirt/dress, capsule.
If you want to stick with white/grey/black you can and you can do it fabulously. If you want to stick with tops and jeans, you can and you can do it fabulously. The more your wardrobe contains neutrals and casuals, the more oomph and interest those items need to have (or have added to them in the rest of the outfit equation).
Personally I go through periods of loving color, and then needing a break from it, but there are still loads of ways you can work with neutrals. White on white prints are even a thing, and it still doesn't feel overwhelming (when you're seeking minimal/modern out of overwhelm) because it's still just white.
Any choices you can make to push it away from being plain- plain t-shirt, plain jeans, plain skirt, plain shoes, will elevate the look immensely. The following are some possibilities to elevate:
necklines (sharp v, mandarin, funnel, queen anne, cowl, etc)
sheer panels or other texture
1. things to sleep
2. things to eat
3. things to clean (yourself/your spaces)
4. clothes for local temperature and laws
Please share your own detailed list in the comments!
The 100 Items or Less challenge and others like it are great fun to my essentialist-loving mind, but the lists others make usually frustrate me as well. What I always want to see is a list of everything they own and use in-home. When shared items aren't included, it feels incomplete to me. I also feel unsettled by some of the item grouping choices people make.
I had a discussion with friends about how a formula could be created to give ratings to each item. Items have different weights and heavy items can be more of a burden (you will need help moving that couch). A phone takes up less space than a desk. Some items are used everyday and others once a year. Some items you have emotional connections to and others not. Each of these factors shapes the joy or burden level of an item. The discussion was in jest, but it did highlight different item considerations.
A lot of my minimalist consideration comes from the knowledge that I will have to move all of my stuff. At one point I thought I was in my forever-home, and I accumulated many things. Then I was given sudden cause to move and I lost a great many items in that move (partially because I didn't have anything prioritized). You can forget what a huge pain in the butt moving your stuff is until you have to do it, and with the life I envision for myself, I may have to move a dozen times.
What I want for my list, and what I love seeing on others, is everything you would take in a move- everything you would need to successfully and joyfully inhabit a new space. A Stuff list that has living basics as well as personal items. The living basics should cover what you would need to move out on your own.
Because I'm thinking of things in terms of moving, if I have four bath towels, they count as four to me and are added as four to my total number of items. If I had a box of towels, the box of towels could potentially count as one, as I'd only be lifting and fussing with one item. Every item I have to carry or pack into a box or fold or otherwise deal with for moving, counts to me. My intention is to have only what can fit in the trunk of an average car, to minimize moving hassle.
It's impossible to make a list that would seem essential to everyone. Some people's kitchen essentials might simply be a pot and a spoon, while other people have sets of dishes, frying pans in different sizes, and so forth. The only true universal essentials are 1) place to sleep 2) food 3) toilet/toiletries and 4) whatever is necessary to keep your body temperature in the alive range. For that reason this list will be from my perspective with notes where I'm aware that other people might want more of different things.
- Bed (mattress, sleep roll, futon, full bed with frame, etc)
- Bedding (sheets, blankets, comforter)
- Pillow (and pillowcase) - nonessential to some, but I'd guess essential to most
Additional pillows or a set of spare bedding may be wanted.
Sleep mask (essential to me, though I've used clothing in a pinch)
Laundry basket (here and/or bathroom)
At least one full outfit is needed (unless it's legal to go nude and you live somewhere temperate), that addresses the weather year round where you live. I know people who choose not to have any underwear, and I've seen lists where people count 12 pair of underwear as one.
- Undergarments (panty/short, bra, pair of socks)
Most people want more than this. I create successful wardrobes for women out of 10 items, not including undergarments. You may also want somewhere to put them, meaning hangers for a closet, or a small chest of drawers, shelving, etc.
- Towel, hand towel, wash cloth (one or some combination. I like a set for me and another for guests)
- Toilet paper
- Hand soap (liquid in a bottle or soap in a dish)
- Shower curtain (depending on the type of shower and if you take showers)
- First aid kit
- Shaving oil
- Crystal deodorant stick
- Toothbrush, toothpaste (can be liquid bronner's used also as hand soap and laundry soap)
- Hair scissors (if you diy)
- Toilet plunger
- Toilet brush
- kitchen soap
- dish sponge or cloth
- dish towel
- quality knife
Particulars of cookware and eating dishes/silverware are really about the individual. Some of the super minimalist lists don't have any kitchen items because they eat out for every meal. I prepare my own food, but there isn't much preparation for most of what I eat (dried and fresh fruit, nuts, olives, steamed or baked veg, etc). For others, the kitchen is a hobby zone, and they enjoy many gadgets and different pan shapes and vast spice racks so on.
blender, food processor, juicer
dishes (bowls, plates, cups)
silverware (forks, spoons, knives)
coffee maker, frenchpress, aeropress, etc; kettle
serving/stirring spoon/ladle, whisk, spatula (scraping kind), spatula (flipping kind)
measuring cups and spoons
toaster, toaster oven
rolls of aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, and parchment paper
cupcake tin, bread pans, cake pans
After reading all that, don't you want to just have some dried fruit and nuts with me, swig wine out of a bottle, and call it done? I ain't packing all that ish. My VitaMix has traveled with me for the last ten years. I need to send it in at some point, but it's a very handy tool. If I move somewhere warm, it will warrant bringing my Dole banana nicecream machine- otherwise it will stay behind.
- rubber gloves
- bronner's liquid soap (laundry, teeth, hands, floors, etc)
- rubbing alcohol
- baking soda
- trash bags
- trash bin
- paper towels
Living Room is a non-essential category. Imagine a studio apartment where the bedroom and living room are one and the same, and the difference is whether the futon is in couch shape or folded down as a bed. It is a category for entertaining (yourself and/or others), and where many personal items may be if the home is yours (shared housing will find your personal items mostly in your bedroom). Dining room is another non-essential category primarily for entertainment purposes. Office and hobby rooms are two other likely possibilities for non-essential rooms you may have and enjoy.
- smoke detectors
- carbon monoxide detector
- low folding table or other dining table or coffee table or desk
- floor pillows (4) or chairs or other seating
- lighting (lamps, reading light, flashlight)
- Curtains or privacy screen if there is a window
- decorations, artwork, plants, candles
- notebooks, pens, paper
- hobby items
- fitness items (yoga mat, etc)
Interesting though the personal item lists are, what is on your Living Essentials list?