Simple fashion: What’s your uniform?

Everyone has their own personal style. I think of it as a uniform – basic items of clothing upon which your personal style is based.

My style is:

  • Leather jackets
  • Jeans or leggings
  • Leather boots or shoes
  • Funky, vintage-style button up shirts.

My ex-husband also wears a “uniform”. His is quite different to mine and is basically:

  • Good quality microfleece jackets (Kathmandu)
  • White business shirts
  • Pure wool work trousers
  • Black business shoes.

As you can probably tell, his basic “black and white” uniform is more conservative than mine. That makes sense: he’s in a high powered office job, and needs to look fairly conservative, tidy and respectable.

But even though he could obviously spend a lot more money on clothing, he wears a “personal uniform”. Why? Because he finds it convenient and easy to manage. He knows that whatever he pulls out of his wardrobe, it will all work together and he will look up to scratch at work.

He’s not alone. Famous examples of “personal uniform wearers” include Mark Zuckerberg (grey t-shirts), Steve Jobs (black turtlenecks) and the author of the Zen Habits blog, Leo Baubauta (grey t-shirt, grey pants).

Steve Jobs, of Apple, wearing his personal uniform of a black turtleneck.
Steve Jobs, of Apple, wearing his personal uniform of a black turtleneck.

Finding a style that works for you is priceless, and will save you a lot of headaches and money. It doesn’t mean you have to look the same every day, like the entrepreneurs above. But it does mean that, once you find your style and what works for you, what you buy will work better on your body and feel more comfortable.

Having a personal uniform or style will also help eliminate clothing mistakes. In my case, while delicate patterns and cute ruffles might look great on other women, they look awful on me. After all, I’m nearly six feet tall and a female bodybuilder! Sure, I might admire a ruffled skirt or cute pink boucle jacket in a shop window, but I’d look silly wearing it.

My personal uniform includes colour (vintage shirts), texture (leather) and practicality (leather boots). I don’t find it boring, and nobody has ever said I dress boringly. Your uniform can be whatever you want it to be, and should reflect your personality and your lifestyle.

One of the vintage shirts in my “personal uniform”. Definitely NOT boring!

Life is all about moderation, and unless you’re some kind of fool – or a supermodel – you learn very quickly that some things look better on your best friend than they do on you. I look great in orange, and horrible in burgundy and soft pink, while many women are the opposite. Having a uniform – and a palette of colours to work from – might seem like restriction, but it is incredibly refreshing to know what works and what doesn’t.

But NOTHING suits me!

Some years in fashion are better than others. I remember one year in the 1980s (I’m that old!) when everything was pastels and frills. It was like DEATH to me.

Unfortunately I was too young to know any better, and yes, sadly, photos still exist in my parents’ hoard of me dressed in tight-fitting, frilly, pale purple tops. They’re too gruesome to think about. I’m hoping one day my mother will see sense and burn them.


If nothing suits you one year, and fashion designers seem to have lost their minds, go to the secondhand shops, and skip buying new altogether. Because, trust me on this: you will regret buying something that does not suit you, and there is no point in buying something that you do not like.

The only exception to this is actual uniforms for work or a club or society. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. I mean, if you’re in the military and you don’t look good in khaki or in the police force and you look horrible in navy, there’s not much you can do. And fashion is not the point of group uniforms anyway.

Items that may belong in a personal uniform

  • Two pair of jeans
  • Two pair of tidy trousers
  • One tidy jacket (leather, blazer..)
  • One casual jacket (denim, mixed fabric…)
  • Three button up shirts or blouses
  • Pair casual shoes
  • Pair formal / tidy shoes (leather)
  • Warm jacket or coat
  • Three t-shirts
  • Two pair shorts or skirts (casual)
  • Cardigan, hoodie, jumper or pullover
  • Leather belt
  • Full-sized umbrella

Some tips for planning your own personal uniform

Don’t shop with other people. Other people have their own ideas of what they like, and how they perceive you. They may influence you. I’ve NEVER bought anything I liked when I’ve shopped with friends – never! Shop alone.

Plan your purchases. Right now I know I need new ankle boots, and a new handbag. So when I next go shopping, I’ll look for those items. Think of your wardrobe as a collection of items that work together, and your purchases as replacements for worn out items or as filling in gaps that you don’t have. In other words, if you already have ten t-shirts but no jeans that fit, you should be buying jeans next, not another t-shirt!

Button up shirts are incredibly versatile. I wear button up shirts for everything from casual get-togethers with friends through to job interviews. Some of my pure cotton shirts are over ten years old and still look new after they’ve had a press. If you’re short of cash and want to look great with a versatile wardrobe, I can’t recommend anything better. PS – they don’t have to be white if white doesn’t suit you!

Shop secondhand for the win. Secondhand shops can have a huge range of clothing, and much of it looks new. People throw so much away in our society! Take advantage of their foolishness, and go check out your local secondhand shops!

Buy leather for belts and shoes. I’ve never yet come across a belt that was non-leather and any good. Buy leather belts and you won’t regret it. Plus, this is one item that is adjustable and doesn’t date, as long as you buy a plain, straightforward style. Two plain belts – one in black and one in brown – is the most anyone ever needs.

Jeans (and denim), no matter how “dressy”, are ALWAYS a casual item. Sure there are some great jeans available. But they’re always a casual item, and not suitable for the office or formal events. That doesn’t mean they won’t look great for a casual date or dinner with friends, but not the opera!

Shop for the lifestyle you have, not the lifestyle you want. If you are a casual person who rarely goes out, spend your money on casual clothes rather than formal ones. You may even consider renting your formal wear, or borrowing from friends.

Buy clothing that FITS. It may be tempting to buy smaller sized clothing in the hope you’ll lose a few inches, but in reality what will probably happen is the too-small clothing will sit gathering dust in your wardrobe because you can’t fit into it. Buy for the body you have, here and now.

BUT if you’re losing weight, don’t spend on expensive, quality clothing that may soon be too big. Items that quickly become too big include jeans, skirts, underwear (particularly bras) and trousers in particular. Shirts and blouses have a little more “give” and don’t tend to look too big as quickly. But if you lose a LOT of weight, you may even find you drop several shoe sizes. It does happen.

Buy shoes for your lifestyle. If you’re a busy parent with young kids, flat and comfortable shoes should be the only option you consider. Likewise if you live in a city with icy streets in winter. Turning a heel because you were wearing high heels is NOT fun.

And finally…

Fold-up “travel” umbrellas are only for travel. They’re pretty much a complete waste of time, and will not keep you dry in a serious downpour. Invest in a full-sized umbrella instead. You’ll look classier…and actually stay dry! Note that most decent hotels offer free use of full-sized umbrellas in their rooms or at the front desk when you are travelling if you are ever caught out – just ask.

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