What I’ve learned from the whole “Work Uniform” thing

About two months ago on a random Saturday in the presence of a random but beloved group of San Francisco friends, I vowed to start wearing a work uniform. I wasn’t caught up on the latest news about the ad agency woman who published an article about her reasons for wearing a work uniform for many years, so in that vowing moment I didn’t quite know what I or what the world meant by a Work Uniform.

All I knew in that moment was that I was tired of picking out clothes, changing outfits three times, nearly missing or actually missing my bus to work, feeling pudgy, feeling pale, feeling like I looked washed out, feeling inadequate in ways that I couldn’t describe, feeling like I never had the right undergarments, and feeling for the rest of the day like I’d settled on mediocrity.

So I made a vow to start wearing a Work Uniform, and then the real work began.

I knew I wanted to wear black for my work uniform, since I once read that you better JWB = “just wear black.” I happen to feel most confident in dresses and love the simplicity of a black sheath dress, so that was my starting point.

The search for the perfect black sheath dress involved no fewer than 20 hours shopping online and in stores, 10 or more different retailers, at least 15 emails with my partner in crime in this mission (hey Amanda!), 5 shipments, 4 return shipments, 20 dresses, a range of 3 different sizes, and a few unattractive frowning selfies that I’ll keep to myself for now.

work uniform

Due to what seemed to be a shortage of black sheath dresses in the world, I shopped without being too mindful of price tags, although when I tried on dresses >$200 each, I gulped extra hard and secretly hoped not to like them, since I knew I’d be buying 5 dresses at once. The only term I filtered out of my black sheath dress search was “dry clean only” – because anyone trying to avoid spending time fussing around with clothes in the morning shouldn’t be planning to spend every weekend fussing around at the dry cleaner, either.

After trying on what seemed to be the entire world’s stock of black sheath dresses, I made my decision: an Ellen Tracy cutout neckline sheath with some flattering hardware on the waist. The material is thick enough for San Francisco summer and winter and can be machine washed. It’s naturally repellant to cat fur (in that it’s not static-y), which was a major plus, since my big orange cat + black dress could otherwise spell out H-O-T  M-E-S-S  C-A-T  L-A-D-Y instead of my intention to look P-U-T  T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R.  Added bonus: Macy’s Friends and Family sale was going on when I bought the dresses, so I got 25% off!

Enter the Gemzer Work Uniform: a simple black sheath dress that can be worn with a blazer or cardigan, heels or flats, tights or straight up bare legs. Looks great year round. Has an intensely feminine neckline that highlights my eyes. Long enough hemline for 9am meetings with CEOs of major corporations, short enough for cocktail hour.

I’ve been wearing the uniform for one month straight, and I’m going strong.

Work Uniform

Lessons Learned from wearing my Work Uniform

  • Getting dressed now takes 2 minutes of zen bliss. No more rushing around in the morning. And I look in the mirror and think, “you look fantastic” pretty much every day.
  • As soon as I no longer shared my clothing between work and play, I suddenly felt like “Wow, I have way too many clothes” and a clothing binge happened. I’m 110 fewer articles of clothing poorer and counting. Also, way richer – Goodwill tax deductions in 2015 and lots of “stuff” stress melted away!
  • The forgiveness of “fat pants” goes away when you wear exactly the same thing every day. When I am chubby, I can tell. When I’ve lost a pound, I can tell. I think of it as a nice tight little feedback loop, but you may want to think about how tight you want your process controls…er…pants.
  • Getting ready on the weekends used to feel like a chore, and now it’s a mindful ritual that I look forward to. Net/net – I feel great at work and I feel great in my personal time, using a balance of habit and mindfulness to my advantage.
  • I don’t look boring or stagnant, at least not in a bad way. Wearing a work uniform didn’t reduce me to flatness or boredom because, guess what – I still have a personality and the ability to speak intelligently and make facial expressions. The work uniform simply reduced my degrees of freedom and gave me focus for the canvas that is me. I still have accessories, cardigans, shoes, and hair to differentiate my look day to day, if I want (although I almost never do).
  • In the words of India Arie, “I am not my hair.” In my case, I am not what I wear to work. I am so much more. I’m what I contribute – my thoughts, my effort, my creativity, my leadership. And anything that stands in the way of that sense of worth, including my own self-doubt or heaps of clothing in my closet, has to go.
  • My work uniform is not compatible with Gbikes (yeah, like from The Internship movie). Getting around the Googleplex has never been harder!


Later this week, I’ll tell you all about what I learned while picking out the perfect Work Uniform and share some pro(ish) tips for anyone considering trying it out.

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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.


  1. Ro
    June 4

    love that you did this! It’s a good idea. I’d shave about 60% of time off my morning routine.

    • June 5

      What’s that save you? Like, 5 repetitions of “Cheerleader?” 😉

  2. June 4

    This is a GREAT idea. I’ve been toying with it for some time but may be committing to “work dresses” since I have too many colored ones already.
    Right now, in true start-up fashion, my uniform is jeans and a (fancy) sweatshirt.

  3. June 4

    I love this post! As your partner in crime in this mission, I could not possibly agree more with every word of this post.

    I, too, wanted to choose an outfit I always feel comfortable, confident and put-together in. I also needed it to pair nicely with either blazers or cardigans, heels or flats (but usually flats). The winner: high-waisted black skinny pants and some kind of tucked in, white top. It’s been too difficult for me to find 1 blouse to purchase multiples of, so instead I chose a couple of options so that I could have short and long-sleeved alternatives. Every morning is amazing. I can close my eyes and grab whichever top from the closet, and I feel like I look effortlessly put-together with just the right amount of casual (since my office is a casual environment).

    As an added bonus, getting dressed on the weekends or outside of work has become so much fun! I have a newfound appreciation for my jeans, maxi dresses, sun dresses, etc.,

    And finally, I especially love your point, “I am not only what I wear to work.” I love that I never have to waste time or energy thinking about what to wear next, or being self-conscious about certain outfits because I realize I don’t like the fit. Now I can focus on what’s most important at work – the work itself.

  4. Rutva
    June 5

    Ah, the ecstasy of finding a dress that’s not too short, not too long, not too formal, not too casual, not too thick, not too thin, not too tight or loose, that doesn’t need to be dry cleaned and can be worn with a variety of other things! How did you find this gem at a discount?

    Haha I really liked this post! I think you captured so much of the ass-pain that is women’s workwear–and Work Uniform seems to be a great solution!

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