7 factors to consider when picking a work uniform

I have spent the last six weeks wearing a work uniform every day. The same dress every day (a black Ellen Tracy sheath dress. I bought five of them). I’m still going strong, and it’s changed my life far beyond just my work life.

Through the process of selecting and wearing my work uniform – a process three months in the making – I learned a handful of lessons in picking a work uniform. These may help you if you’re considering a work uniform or paring down your wardrobe in general. One warning: all of my advice is very practical. I’m an operations zealot, which means I’m always trying to optimize aspects of my life, especially those that that aren’t key to my core mission.  This approach may not work for you. Others have done the work uniform thing and hated it. I’m not saying it works for everyone, but it might work for you!

7 factors to consider when picking a work uniform

  1. I think this goes without saying, but start with something that flatters your body type. Everyone looks good in professional attire; it’s just a question of picking something that highlights the parts of yourself that you want to highlight. For me, I love the big blue eyes that my dad gave me, so I picked a work uniform that highlights my face. (P.S. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!)
  2. If you’re going to be wearing this uniform every day, focus on the materials of construction, fit to your body, and colors. Wool or fragile fabric can be a liability. So can white or neon or animal prints. Things that pill, things that pull, things not made well, things that stretch out, things that attract pet hair, things that fade or absorb other colors in the wash, things that don’t flatter a few lbs in either direction from your norm – leave them out! A work uniform should make you look and feel your best, predictably, every day and over time. It should last, too.
  3. I expect my five dresses to last at least 1.5 years. Given that I have 5 dresses and go to work ~20 days per month, this means I expect each dress to last through 72 wearings and approximately 30 washes and still look good. So pick a material that dries quickly, and you can get away with fewer replicates of the outfit. My dress material is wicking, so it goes from washer to air-dried in less than a couple of hours.
  4. Undergarments need to match form, fit, and function. No purple bras with white silk shirts. No frilly underoos with tight pencil skirts. For men, no wife beater tanks under white professional shirts! Spend time re-investing in this part of your wardrobe (adding to or paring down), and you’ll really feel your best.
  5. Pick something that works with the activities in your typical work day. I used to design batteries and spent much of my time in the lab tearing down acid-filled batteries. Back then, wearing a dress to work every day would have been a safety issue, so I wouldn’t have picked a dress. Even now, I have to think about my work day. My current work uniform actually didn’t take into consideration how often I need to ride around at work on a bike. Something for me to consider for the next iteration of my work uniform!
  6. Give yourself accessories to the extent that you need that “changing it up” feeling. I have a felt pouch in my book bag that always has a couple pairs of earrings and a ring or two that I can slip on to change up my look. I also rotate between three pairs of shoes and six different cardigans for color and temperature control. But work uniforms aren’t just for ladies. Guys can accessorize with fancy socks, which I highly recommend. Sock game strong!
  7. Temperature control. If you are prone to feel cold, don’t pick a dress. If you’re prone to be hot, don’t pick a thick wool sweater and long pants. If you travel a lot and spend time in various climates, on airplanes, etc – consider something more modular with a blazer, scarf, or cardigan for versatility. If you live somewhere like Minneapolis where the winters are subzero and summers are hot, maybe you need more than one work uniform. I live in SF, where the weather ranges a whopping thirty degrees year round, so I don’t have to worry too much about the seasons. You probably do, and it’s worth some thought.

I hope this helps you all consider how to simplify your work outfits, whatever they may be. You can read more about how wearing a work uniform changed my life here. Shopping for, picking out, and putting on work clothes was never the part of my day that served my core mission – so I let it go.

As the Buddhists say,”let go of that which does not serve you.”


*Cover image courtesy of the collegeboard SAT math tips page 🙂

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Erika Written by:

Operations zealot, writer, & art lover tackling sustainable development by day and dreaming up her next backpacking adventure by night.

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