I tried wearing a style ‘uniform’ and…hated it

I’ve been wearing a style ‘uniform’ for the past six months and… I hate it.

Now some of that is apparently because even when you believe that you’ve really REALLY thought through your style and clothing preferences… you can still make dumb mistakes and completely misjudge what you actually like and what you really need.

I foolishly believed I had put in the necessary planning time. I spent (blissfully happy) days scanning through Pinterest and sifting through an incongruous mental catalogue of outfits-  Grace and Frankie (classic modern elegance from Jane Fonda) and College years Gilmore Girls (young, relaxed chic with Alexis Bledel), some Carrie and Charlotte combos in Sex in the City. I believed that I had narrowed down my favourite style references and honed in on my ideal outfits. I even went the extra mile and spent hours reading about living minimally and capsule wardrobes (I have some excellent articles about both, I’ll share them in the notes at the end!). I was a style-uniform-wardrobe-decluttering-minimalist-zen-master.

In the tradition of style greats like Barack Obama, Grace Coddington and Patti Smith, I thought that a uniform would help me to feel confident, like my best self, but without the decision fatigue. I wanted a uniform that amplified my style and felt comfortable, so that I could sit at a desk or walk around town and STILL feel like my best self but in action. And perhaps most crucially, I needed a uniform that kept me warm.

I was so confident that I decided to throw in ethics. This was last summer and the conditions seemed perfect for this sort of full wardrobe reassessment. I had quit my full-time teaching job and I had a small pot of money saved up that I could put towards some good quality ethical clothing. For once I could afford to make deliberate, thought through and conscientious choices about my clothing, buying from the best and most ethical brands I could stretch my budget to.

I am constantly furious and ashamed of Western shopping habits. I can’t believe how easily we will push aside information about horrific working conditions in factories just so that we can have more cheap clothing to stuff into our closets. I’m stunned by how flexible are morals become when we are faced with pretty new trends and how incapable we are of delaying gratification to buy better quality and more ethical clothes rather than accumulating cheap arrays of ‘fashion choices’.

I want to do better- I want to buy less and buy more wisely.

Even when I was working full-time as a teacher I couldn’t afford very much– so I saved and researched affordable ethical brands (if anyone would like to pay me to do research, just general life research, I would love that). The answer I found was Everlane.

I’m so glad that I lived at the right to witness Everlane. It’s exactly the sort of affordable, ethical, classically cool brand that I have been hoping for and dreaming of since I walked into a People Tree popup store in Brighton (nearly a decade ago) and my entire view of fashion was turned upside down. As soon I learnt more about how and where the clothes I wore every day were made and the suffering that was often linked to those clothes, I could never see clothing and fashion the same way.

The term ethical fashion can encompass a huge array of methods of production and attributes, so for clarity, when I say ‘ethical fashion’ I’m thinking particularly of fashion that is transparent about it’s fair labour practices and works hard to keep it’s production chain as environmentally neutral as possible (for more info check out The Good Trade’s website).

Where Everlane stands out amongst other admirable ethical fashion brands is in the design. By the nature of the materials and production, ethical fashion can never be really cheap, not cheap enough anyway to compete with likes of clothes-by-the-kilo stores like Primark and New Look, but there are mid-range options like People Tree, Howies, Thought, and Alternative Apparel, to name a few.

The problem with these brands however is that while their ethics are impeccable their style is inconsistent and their cuts are often unflattering or old fashioned. Obviously this is hugely subjective, I’m a big fan of the mix of casual and elegant style that Everlane sells. Still, I think that this is a problem that a lot of people have with ethical fashion- few brands are consistent in their style and few brands have really well cut clothing, which deters people from buying ethical clothing even when they can afford to.

So, after collecting reference images on Pinterest and buying a few key items from Everlane, I had my style uniform- slim fit (but not skinny) black jeans for adaptability and durability, long sleeve t-shirts (a few black, a few white) and black sweatshirts for warmth, comfort and a clean simple look. A low-budget Grace Coddington. A scruffy ninja.

At first, I felt like I had an easy outfit to put on every day that was comfortable and adaptable regardless of where I was or what I was doing. I had several pairs of jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts so I could cycle them and I found that all of Everlane’s items were really good quality so I knew they would last well.

And then after a month…I began to HATE my uniform. Now six months in I REALLY hate it and yet I still believe that a ‘uniform’ is the right choice for me, I know that if I can get it right it will help me to feel confident and relaxed.

So what did I do wrong…?

Firstly, I didn’t pay enough attention to fit. Go now and look at some images of some of your style icons…we’ll wait. Ok, now I’m willing to bet you imaginary money that most of the outfits that you admire are not complicated but they do FIT the person really well. One crucial style lesson that I forgot was that you can wear very simple clothes and look chic as long as they fit you perfectly. The problem with jeans, and one of the main reasons that I’ve come to hate them, is that they sag and loosen and crease. You can’t control the fit. Even stretchy jeans need constant yanking up to avoid hanging crotch. I now know that I should have bought some tailored trousers instead.

Secondly, I didn’t think enough about how smart or how casual I wanted to look. I mistakenly believed that after a few years of dressing smartly for work, I wanted to wear jeans every day. I didn’t realise that, for me to feel confident, I need a combination of casual and comfortable items and some smart items. Otherwise I feel like an unstylish, uninteresting slob. Not everyone will agree with this and I admit that this feeling is compounded by he fact that I’ve limited my choices right down to just a few black items. I persist in believing though that mixing casual and smart items is key to feeling professional, put-together and also cool.

Thirdly, I ignored colour. I really like black. I have strayed in the past but always come back to black. I love how dramatic it can look, how easy it is to match with everything, how forgiving it is if you want to do more than perch on a chair for twelve hours. But I underestimated how dull it would feel to wear only black every day. I am now desperate for some red shoes….and a bright pink sweater… and a yellow coat. GIVE ME RAINBOWS!

Finally, I didn’t consider details. The devil really is in the detail. It took me weeks to realise that my outfit would look much better with white socks, just for some contrast. I didn’t take into account jewellery or my winter coat. I didn’t even think about what shoes would fit with my uniform. Never again will I get lazy when it comes to the detail. It’s the difference between meh and The Sartorialist.

A few other discoveries I’ve made wearing my uniform:

We are completely STUCK wearing jeans! Look around you next time you’re out and about- almost everyone wears jeans all the time. We really need some new fabrics out there. Once I have some more money saved, I’m going to shelve my jeans and buy a few pairs of masculine cut cotton and/or wool trousers. Until then, hello skirts.

Most people are really reticent about the idea of a uniform and yet almost everyone dresses the same most of the time. It’s very unusual in most towns and even big crazy cities like London to see someone dressing outside of current trends or wearing very utilitarian clothing. I can understand that dressing eccentrically takes time and effort, which many of don’t want to dedicate to fashion, but why haven’t we spent more time adapting trends to our actually preferences and needs?

I’m not giving up on my style uniform. I‘m going to keep adapting and evolving it– I’ve been back on Pinterest obvs- until I feel like I’ve found a small collection of items that all work easily together, that all come from ethical brands and that make me feel like my best self… with bright socks.

For an article calling ‘bullshit’ to style uniforms- this piece by Lauren Bravo in The Debrief.

For articles about capsule wardrobes and de-cluttering your clothes, I really like the blog Unfancy. Caroline has lots of great advice and ideas about how to simplify your clothing. I can also highly recommend Anuschka Rees’ book The Curated Closet.

Regardless of how it may seem, this post is NOT sponsored by Everlane. I just really admire their business and love their clothes. Unfortunately, they currently only exist in America. I bought some items when I was there on holiday and then paid the extra cost to have a few things shipped to England when they had one of their twice yearly International Shipping. I don’t regret it.

Top photo from Everlane, second photo from Grace and Frankie, third photo from Gilmore Girls, fourth photo from Sex and the City, fifth photo from Everlane, sixth photo of Grace Coddington from Interview Magazine by Craig Mcdean, last photo of Solange. 

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