Help me pick a uniform!
May 24, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about simplifying my wardrobe by adopting some kind of "uniform" for the work days. Have you done something similar? Please help me choose a sartorial theme for my work uniform.

Relevant information: mid 30s male working in a professional, slightly conservative environment.
posted by racingjs to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of sounding glib, it's called a suit.

Professional, conservative environment? Sounds like a perfect fit.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:13 AM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did do something similar. I'm a professor in a department where the age difference between me and my students is significantly less than the age difference between me and my youngest colleague. Also, I have almost zero sartorial sense, so making clothing decisions in the morning when I am extra dumb is a very bad idea.

So now I wear: White collar shirt, black dress pants, and houndstooth jacket. And Converse shoes, because I'm a computer science professor, and dressing up seems so wrong. It works for its intended purpose and I don't have to think about my wardrobe in the morning. I intend to keep doing it. Also, all the components can be purchased almost anywhere.
posted by pmb at 9:15 AM on May 24, 2012

Outside of a suit, the expected "uniform" in this kind of environment is a white or light blue oxford shirt matched with a pair of dark slacks or black or khaki chinos.
posted by deanc at 9:17 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your uniform includes suits in brown, charcoal, grey, and navy blue. White shirts. A small variety of ties. Black and brown shoes and belts. Done!
posted by craven_morhead at 9:19 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't be uncommon to wear dark grey / black trousers and a light blue oxford every day.
posted by Perplexity at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2012

If your office is less formal than wearing a suit every day, the system I use is a set of shirts and pants selected from a reasonably narrow palette of colours chosen to suit me. I then chose accessories, belt and shoes, to match that palette.

The benefit to me is that I don't need to worry about what to wear in the morning. Grab a pair of pants and a shirt, wear the socks from the drawer, done. I'm not going to win snappiest dresser awards, but I'm consistently better-than-average turned out at work.

The people who can help you establish this palette work in mid-to-higher-end mens' clothing stores, the ones who sell suits and do their own tailoring. In my experience, they were able to make several additions that let me have more than just oxford blues and tan slacks in my wardrobe (orange? gold? who knew?). Go on a slower weeknight and talk to one of the salesfolk, preferably one of the more experienced ones. Be prepared spend an hour and a few hundred dollars on the basics to get you started.
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

To be clear, the colour and cut choices are made so that every shirt will work with every pair of pants. Socks, belt and shoes will work with every outfit.

You can do this at every level of formality from golf shirts to shirt-and-tie to suit.
posted by bonehead at 9:31 AM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for the confusion, no suit required at my workplace (beside executives and sales)
posted by racingjs at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2012

No suit may be required, but it's still the easiest choice for a uniform. Just don't wear all the pieces at once. Wear an oxford shirt with the pants from the suit one day, wear khakis with the blazer from it another. Get all neutral suits (gray, brown, black) and a variety of shirt colors so it's not static looking, and any combination you pick up should work.
posted by skittlekicks at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2012

We need more context. What exactly is your job? What do most of your male coworkers wear? What kinds of clothes do you usually like to wear? etc.
posted by John Cohen at 10:05 AM on May 24, 2012

I did this for years and still sort of do this. I went to Catholic school for my entire childhood and it was all uniforms all the time, so I never really developed a fashion sense or wardrobe aside from jeans/t-shirt on weekends. And since I was a lil goth/metal kid, everything was black all the time anyway, so I just kept it up all the way up to now (where I'm a pretentious creative). The only reason I've changed recently is wearing all black in Austin (where I moved last year) during summer is just asking for heatstroke, so now I have some dark blues and light colors I work in.

I'd get a couple different styles of pants/shirts in the same color or colors, whatever you pick. You're a guy, no one's going to care.

When I start a new job, I order 7 days worth of black jeans or slacks and 7 days worth of whatever shirt style (polo, button down, t-shirt) I'm going to wear in black. Works great and my laundry is always one or two loads of blacks and dark blues, one load of whites, and one load of "other".
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:24 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, if you want to stick with a color or theme but jazz things up, patterns and accessories are your friend. My dress shirts and suits are all universally black, but some are plain, some have really fancy and eye-catching buttons or cufflinks, some have pinstripes or a subtle pattern, some have a louder pattern, they're in different styles, etc.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:26 AM on May 24, 2012

Buy some suits, buy some ties, and a week's worth of white shirts. That is the best, easiest, most work-appropriate uniform that you can come up with. Any suit is going to go with a white shirt, and almost any tie is going to match with a suit and a white shirt. Need to go more casual? Remove the tie and/or jacket. Easy.

In regards to not being required to wear a suit at work, the great thing about this "uniform" is that you will always look at your best. It's easy, and guys always look great in a well-fitting suit.
posted by Nightman at 10:38 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If nobody else at your level wears a suit you doing it might look pretentious. Dress slacks, oxford shirts, navy blazer. You can't go wrong.
posted by COD at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2012

. Get a used copy of this excellent book. I use it myself.
. Seek a consultant if you can't quite figure where you fit.
. Buy the stuff the book lists, in the quantities it suggests for your work environment (this is broken out).
. The end.
posted by jgirl at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2012

Pretty much what bonehead said. It really works; people come to me for advice.
posted by jgirl at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2012

I actually like THIS BOOK for advice.

If you're in the Business Casual world, Kahkis and polo shirts are what to wear. Get some dark ones, get some light ones, and then get a bunch of polos in colors that work with everything.

Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste are all good brands. I've got it so Husbunny can wear his purple Lacoste, the one with the big gator on it, with matching purple Converse. But that's when we're fancy.

A pair of neutral Sperry Docksiders and you're good to go.

Buy it all at Macy's on sale.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:26 AM on May 24, 2012

The MFA uniform, from reddit's r/MaleFassionAdvice
posted by rebent at 11:28 AM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

the expected "uniform" in this kind of environment is a white or light blue oxford shirt matched with a pair of dark slacks or black or khaki chinos.

Is that what the guys are wearing at your work-place, gracingjs? Many people at my day job don't dress this well but it's the working uniform I've grown into, over the years. I push this envelope a bit, including pastel green or yellow (but never pink) shirts, always long-sleeved. (If these are classic Oxford shirts, with the button-down collars, since a tie isn't required by our unspoken dress code, those collars aren't buttoned.) Also, the shoes -- I get by with running shoes though occasionally I wear good leather shoes or my crossover Rockports. Note that those slacks or khakis must be plain-front (pleated trousers being a well-known MetaFilter violation) and I get most of my preppie threads from Lands End.
posted by Rash at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2012

It sounds like you want a version mrgood's uniform, pictured here. I described it in this previous post. His work uniform is buttoned shirt, trousers, shoes. All similar, one from each column. Little thought required, except that apparently some shirts are "lucky". Because of the business he works in, even though it's a conservative agency, and because of the city we live in, oxford button-downs and chinos would be aging and not stylish enough. But if they work for your place of business, that's perfect. At his this stage in his life, he's bought well, and takes great care of his clothes, so it's been built up over the years. Every year we add a few things, and shift the shabby stuff to weekend wear or donate it.

For weekends and casual days in the office it's retro and vintage stuff as previously described; for his usual workweek it's a little more modern and dressier. He has a collection of long-sleeved, buttoned shirts, usually in blue or gray with patterns from brands like Ben Sherman or Banana Republic or sometimes Gap. He'll occasionally wear a long sleeve Fred Perry polo (He prefers to cover his tattoos in the office).

He wears them with either wool suit pants like these, twill work pants, or dark, straight, non-trendy jeans. He has about eight pairs of work pants, so that two or three can be cleaned each week. He only wears his work clothes for work, and changes to casual jeans and a tee when he gets home.

Shoes are usually some kind of Hush Puppies (usually Waynes), Oxford, Bucks, or some RedWing Iron Ranger boots (and he has one pair of Fluevogs, but they're not in regular rotation). For work he can only wear one manufacturer of sneakers, so rather than Converse he'll wear nicer Jack Purcells.

He keeps two neutral suit jackets at work, and has a few thin black merino cardigans and v-neck sweaters to layer too (sometimes over tee shirts). He always looks like a version of himself. He buys multiples when he finds something he likes, so he can rotate them to keep the amount of wear down, and so he always has what he likes when things inevitably get discontinued. His style is his style, no matter what the fashion.

I do quite a bit of the shopping, knowing his preferences. Value Village often has new store stock in things like the blue patterned cotton shirts. Winners/TJ Maxx and sales at the Gap or Banana Republic are good stores to get basic dress trousers and shirts, or we shop sales at the nicer stores; and DSW for the shoes or small retailers. A lot of the other stuff comes from a small workwear store we hit on our weekends away.

As I wrote before, his sartorial theme on the weekend is pretty much "What Would Eddie Haskell Wear?" and at work, it's more "Ward Cleaver Casual." So, I'm suggesting that you find someone whose style you admire, and that you can emulate with your budget and body style, and then shop based on that style - but always thinking "column A, column B, column C."
posted by peagood at 12:00 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend (32) does this. His nice/casual uniform was a white button-down, sleeves rolled up, with a white tee underneath and a skinny black tie with dark jeans and black Chucks, for about two years.

Now he owns a bunch of button down cowboy style shirts with snaps from Lucky Jeans. Wears em every day.

His theme is "I literally wear a uniform," because all his shirts are exactly the same. That, to me, is an essential part of wearing a uniform. He changes it once every year or two.
posted by k8lin at 12:48 PM on May 24, 2012

If you want to dial your style up a notch, while taking bonehead's excellent advice, specifically ask the sales person to help you choose a palette that looks especially good with your coloring. You might be surprised how much of a difference it makes for you to wear light blue vs white vs medium blue. Some colors will suck the life right outta your appearance; others will enhance it.

I have a uniform of sorts, and stick to a very narrow color range, else I look like death warmed over. Keeping the palette narrow also simplifies future purchases.

Another tip: if, like me, you are half-dazed in the morning, it's worth the extra ten minutes on a Sunday night to actually line up each day's uniform on a rack in your closet. Sounds trivial, but I find it helpful.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:52 PM on May 24, 2012

(I want to stress that he just buys multiple versions of everything, so he can get through a week without doing laundry.)
posted by k8lin at 12:54 PM on May 24, 2012

Again on the subject of color: I myself am not a big fan of white shirts. They can too easily look dingy (collar, cuff, and armpits being the common culprits). Also, I find them too stark (and sometimes bordering on the appearance of a valet or cater-waiter when paired with slacks -- both noble professions, but not your line of work). A little color courage is a good thing! (Within what is appropriate to your office culture, of course.)
posted by quivering_fantods at 1:01 PM on May 24, 2012

Developing a Personal Uniform
posted by kirkaracha at 2:22 PM on May 24, 2012

Developing a Personal Uniform

Not great advice given the OP's description of his workplace.

Plus, while there's nothing exactly wrong with that author's casual outfit, he's putting a large amount of effort and thought into what amounts to something that's just a notch above "jeans and a tshirt."

Maybe racingjs can elaborate a bit?
posted by deanc at 3:00 PM on May 24, 2012

wear khakis with the blazer from it another

Oh please, please, OP, never repurpose a suit jacket and pretend it's a blazer, it's uniformly (ha!) a terrible look, and really I would say that unless you're wearing some extremely trendy & modern kit (which a re-purposed suit jacket and some khakis most certainly aren't), nobody younger than 45 at a minimum should be wearing a blazer in most workplaces. If you're not careful, you might find yourself in a navy blazer with gold buttons one day. Down that road lies deck shoes, and other madness.
posted by smoke at 3:43 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another Catholic school kid here (with bonus Junior ROTC boys' Catholic school points!), and I too have a self-made uniform for my business casual, college IT office. Some of the execs (e.g., CIO, Exec. Director) wear a suit, or a suit without a tie, but not us.

I have several pair of khakis, plus a handful of of L.L.Bean dress shirts in solid colors, and some short-sleeved L.L.Bean shirts for when the HVAC is on the fritz (about 30% of the time, during which it is sauna-hot in my tiny office).

I wear a tie for fun once a week or so. I wear Docs four days a week, and trail shoes on Wednesdays (to let my Docs rest).

I wear the pants several times in a week. (No one cares, honestly, and sometimes I wear them M-F before I wash them. They're my "cop pants" from 5.11 Tactical, so they have a forgiving waistband, a roomy gusset between the legs, and extra pockets. I love them, and bought four pair when I discovered them.)

I lay out my clothes each night so mornings are easier.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:40 AM on May 25, 2012

I do mostly the same thing. One thing that helps me is to notice that mens departments tend to have two sections. The "fashion" section and the regular section, over by the ties and belts. Buy your stuff from the latter area. Avoid anything that is on hangars; rather, buy shirts that are in packages or pants that are folded in the cubbyholes. These tend to be the kinds of things that you can come back in 6 months and be able to buy again.

But yeah, the trick to having a uniform is to buy your uniform clothes from a place that has the same stuff year in and year out, and then to buy multiple copies.

(If these are classic Oxford shirts, with the button-down collars, since a tie isn't required by our unspoken dress code, those collars aren't buttoned.)

Argh! Button down collars should always be buttoned down. (Except for laundering- unbutton them when you wash them and the collar won't get worn out.)
posted by gjc at 8:17 AM on May 25, 2012

That issue's been argued (and not settled) here previously.

Developing a Personal Uniform

Not great advice, period. That guy's 'uniform' is "lazy slob" IMO.
posted by Rash at 9:12 AM on May 25, 2012

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