Hacking my work wardrobe
June 2, 2010 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Is it okay to construct a professional wardrobe from minor variations of the exact same outfit every day? I'm thinking same kind of white shirt and jeans daily, varying only my jacket.

The Full Story: I'm a male professional in my early thirties, working in a casual office. Most guys wear jeans or khakis and a button down shirt. Some wear sportscoats, some of the time. Very few wear ties, although they're known to make an appearance. Even our bosses dress down; mostly in casual pants and button downs. One boss wears a suit and tie, but he's the exception.

The point of this --and part of my problem-- is that I can get away with wearing just about anything, as long as the shirt has a collar, and nothing is ripped or dirty.

But now I'm climbing the ladder into a new position of some importance, and I want to convey a more put-together (and even, if possible, slightly fashionable) image.

I've read a lot about office fashion, and know what's appropriate and what isn't. But I'm hamstrung by a lack of cash for new clothes, and, if I'm honest, a lack of interest. Furthermore, having to match the right colored shirt to the right colored pants every day freaks me out -- nine times out of ten, I'll dress down rather than go through the stress of figuring out how the nice stuff in my closet would go best together.

So my tentative solution to this problem is as follows: I want to buy five or six copies of the exact same crisp white button down shirt. I have one of these now, and look nice in it. I will wear one of these shirts every day with a nice pair of jeans -- I already have several, in different shades, all of which are in good shape, not tattered or worn. And I will top this all off with a sport coat. I already own about ten different jackets in different weights, fabrics and colors (part of an earlier effort to get my wardrobe together).

I feel like not having to think about the pants and shirt part of the equation will make my mornings much easier -- and by wearing a cool jacket, I can class things up.

At the same time, I don't want to be the "jeans and white shirt" guy. The idea here is to improve my image, not to become a caricature.

So -- will people notice, or think it's weird, if I always wear the same shirt and jeans? Will I come off as put-together, or just lazy?
posted by eduke to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any particular reason they all have to be identical white? A couple of grays, a black or two, and you're just 'Monochrome shirt guy," instead of "Identical-outfit guy."
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:33 PM on June 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You would be the jeans and shirt guy. You can get away with this if you:

1) Are Albert Einstein
2) Are Seth Brundle, fan of Albert Einstein, in which case you have bigger problems
3) Mix it up with different ties, and even then, it's still marginal

Otherwise, you'll look like you're wearing a uniform.
posted by adipocere at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2010

Khaki also goes with just about everything, and it might be good to have something other than jeans since most people don't consider them to be professional attire, despite your office standard. Khaki pants could work with your white button down or gray/black as Tomorrowful suggested.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2010

Maybe this will help
posted by WASP-12b at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2010

We had a visiting lecturer in college who dressed like this. If I remember correctly, I went to his office one day and found him wearing something else. Disconcerting!

The thing about his uniform was that a) he had a very distinctive belt buckle with either an M (for Michael, his name) or a W (for Wisconsin) on it, depending on which way he put it on. When that's the only thing that changes, that's what people notice. And b) the rest of his outfit was mildly distinctive, too; he was wearing a tweedy blazer, a turtleneck and slightly old/old-man running shoes. The effect of wearing that kind of stuff over and over, as opposed to jeans (which everyone has like three pairs of), makes people wonder about how long you've gone without washing them.

Don't feel shy about buying certain items of clothing in bulk :)

Disclaimer: I regularly wear the same pair of jeans for [a ridiculous length of time I am not going to mention here]. Don't go sniffing me at meetups. I promise to be clean.
posted by Madamina at 1:46 PM on June 2, 2010

I think that's a good idea. But you may want to get a little nutty by branching out in a very simple way: That shirt you like? Stick with the same brand, and see what other shirts they have. Maybe the exact same shirt in a few different colors. Or the same brand, but different white shirts. Just to vary it a tiny bit. But generally I think you have a very good idea.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:46 PM on June 2, 2010

It's fine.

Just don't have your outfit be jeans, New Balance sneakers, and a black mock turtleneck. Unless you're Steve Jobs, in which case you have my blessing to keep on truckin'.
posted by The World Famous at 1:52 PM on June 2, 2010

You'll be jeans and white shirt guy. Wear khakis a couple of days a week and buy your shirt in several shades of neutral and you're golden.
posted by desuetude at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2010

(Light or softly colored) Pastel shirts are what you are looking for.

Pastel colored shirts are very tolerant of a wide range of jacket colors. For example a nice pastel green (think something in a light mint shade) will match with any pair of jeans and any jacket that you'd wear to work: beige, grey, blue, brown, etc. The same would be true of light/pastel blue, purple and any of the cool colors. The hot colors like pink, orange and yellow will match almost as well (although something like a pastel yellow shirt with a beige/khaki jacket would have to be matched on a case by case basis). Store clerks will be happy to offer advice (give them a pair of shirts to choose from).

Also, iIf you are really in a bind over a combination, there's also google.
For example if you search for "man in red shirt with green jacket" you get nary a professional in sight. Which is good because that would be hideous.

But if you search for "man in pink shirt with grey jacket" you get lot's of nattily dressed men, because it's a really attractive combination.

(I tried actually linking to a pair of google search results but for some reason the links kept breaking. I'm sure you can replicate my searches without trouble.)
posted by oddman at 1:59 PM on June 2, 2010

I should also give you my standard advice on jeans. They are hot and uncomfortable when compared with linen pants. Get yourself a pair of beige/khaki linen slacks, just to given them a try. You'll thank me later.
posted by oddman at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: Obviously, this all depends on your workplace. It sounds like people don't try very hard (office casual can look really quite good), so wearing jeans and a white shirt may make you look like you're dressed to the nines.

But anywhere with a bit more style, and you'll look like a dork, I think. Jeans and a white shirt says "dad on the weekend" or Jerry Seinfeld to me. There should be no brain work involved at all to buy a few really nice patterned, no-iron shirts (Brooks Brothers sells some great ones; you can pick them up cheap at outlet malls, or even on eBay (unworn, also from outlet malls)) to wear with jeans some days and khakis some other days.

I would avoid shirts in solid colors; they strike me as lacking imagination. I would never wear a plain white shirt unless I'm wearing a suit. (Caveat: darker skinned people can look great in a crisp white shirt.)

There should be no thinking involved whatsoever, especially if you end up wearing jeans every day. If you're not wearing orange jeans (and thus should avoid, say, a green striped shirt), just pull out whatever is in your closet.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:05 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I do more or less this thing, wearing the same style of clothes (usually a plain white button-up shirt) almost all the time. People definitely notice, and sometimes ask about it -- "Why do you always wear the same thing?" -- but frankly, I can't bring myself to give much of a shit, so I just shrug and say, "Man, it's just easier that way, the Amish are completely on the right track in re clothing-simplicity." I have not yet noticed any massive downsides to this lifestyle, and as adipocere points out, you'll be in the fine company of Seth Brundle!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll leave the specific choices to the more skilled clothes horses here. I just wanted to mention that it's perfectly okay to do this. If you monitor your coworkers carefully, you'll notice that most of them really only have 3-5 outfits for work.

The key is to get things you can mix and match, so you maximize your fashion dollar and wardrobe options.
posted by ErikaB at 2:10 PM on June 2, 2010

I dress for work like this. I have 6 pairs of khakis in varying neutral colors. I have 10 shirts in pastel or patterned shades. Every day I pick a shirt and a pair of pants. Black shoes go with everything. I dress boringly, but I never clash, and never stand out. It's protective office camouflage.

I like Dockers, cause i've found a reliably good size, but ymmv. You can get a pair of pants at a major department or big-box store for around 20 bucks if you shop sales. Twice a year throw out the pair of pants and shirt you find yourself wearing least, and buy another version of the ones you find yourself wearing most. Slowly, you'll hone in on your comfort zone.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd get a few different colored shirts, instead of all white. You can easily become a caricature wearing exactly the same thing day in and day out, and I don't think a jacket is enough of a variance.

(I once started counting the number of days my boss wore blue. Blue pants, blue shirt, or blue tie. He didn't miss a day as long I was there, months later. People do notice stuff like this.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

So the whole "not having to think about the pants and shirt part of the equation" is exactly what suits are made for. You, being the owner of a Y chromosome, are really lucky when it comes to office dressing. Casual office, even more so.

What I'd propose is a "jean suit". Separate your pants into blue washes, and brown washes. You will forever wear your brown washes with brown jackets, and blue washes with grey/black jackets. Buy dress shirts in 5 pastel colors (yellow, pink, light blue, violet, etc). Now you can mix and match with impunity, add appropriate (black or brown) shoes and belt. (I hope you're wearing dress shoes.)

Sport coats, will always look like sport coats. I hope you've also got a real suit in your wardrobe for when you need it.
posted by fontophilic at 2:48 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

So -- will people notice, or think it's weird, if I always wear the same shirt and jeans?

Yes, people will notice.

Will I come off as put-together, or just lazy?

If you are super-smart, you might be deemed eccentric. Even then, the general rule still applies: if people at work are talking about what you are wearing instead of what you are doing, your wardrobe isn't doing you any favors.

There is a tidbit in Vendetta about Edmond Safra owning many identical copies of the exact same blue suit, white suit, navy tie with white polka dots that he wore exactly the same thing every day. Like Steve Jobs, if you are a billionaire, the rules don't apply.

Adding just a couple of blue shirts and a couple of khakis will allow you to fly under the radar with impunity, while still keeping things fairly simple.
posted by ambrosia at 3:56 PM on June 2, 2010

Don't wear nothing but white shirts. Myold boss used to do that. Everyone notices.

Just feet a variety of inoffensive shirts. Clashing is harder than you think. You could also look into fitted cotton pants. (Avoid baggy-ass khakis.)
posted by chunking express at 4:37 PM on June 2, 2010

Fucking iPad: just *buy* a variety ...
posted by chunking express at 4:38 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a running joke in my office that, for the men at least, Mondays are blue-button-down-and-navy-slacks day. It's true. Just vary the shirt/slacks colors a little, and you'll be fine if they're all the same style.
posted by rtha at 4:39 PM on June 2, 2010

A guy in my office wears dark grey pants and a white button up shirt every single day. I don't think anybody really takes any significant amount of notice of it. I mean... I did notice this eventually but didn't think too much of it, and I've never heard anybody mention it. Guy looks fine and is well respected.
posted by Diplodocus at 6:17 PM on June 2, 2010

Step 1: buy slacks in two or three different colours (blue, grey, beige, khaki? Whatever).

Step 2: Ask at the store for suggestions which shirt colours fit to which pant. Buy three different shirts per pants.

Men's clothes go through fashion cycles, too. That means that for a fashonable pair of pants the brand will already preselect multiple shirts with fitting colours and display them in the store.

Bonus points: buy colours that will look good on both of your pants. And avoid things that are too trendy and will look merely dumb in two years time, otherwise you'll have to go thriugh the whole process again.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:01 AM on June 3, 2010

Don't wear white shirts every day. A light blue shirt is just as neutral and versatile as a white shirt, and I think jeans (or khakis) + light blue button down shirt will look better than jeans + white shirt. If you want some more variety, consider pastel colors (light purple, mauve, light pink...) and/or discrete patterns.
posted by iviken at 4:19 AM on June 3, 2010

Diplodocus do you work with my husband?

He wears dark gray pants and a white button up shirt every day, save for casual Fridays, and varies the tie. I am the person who looks at him more than any other being on the planet, and after five years he casually mentioned that no one has ever noticed that he always wore a blue tie on Mondays. Guess what? Neither did I. (I do now of course.) Will it be a uniform? Maybe. Will people care? Probably not. You're proposing a pulled together classic look with appropriate variations. As Omnomnom mentions, men's fasion does cycle as well, so keep that in mind with what you vary - be it ties or blazers - keep them current or classy. I think as long as you're impeccable, it shouldn't matter.
posted by librarianamy at 5:07 AM on June 3, 2010

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