My thanks to J. whose question inspired this post.
J: I appreciate your blog a lot and would love to see you do a post on “uniform” ideas for the different seasons. “Uniform dressing” is pretty popular right now (see for example http://www.racked.com/2014/11/20/7567861/uniform-dressing
http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a10441/why-i-wear-the-same-thing-to-work-everday/) but it seems that most people’s ideas about uniforms are black and white (good for winters, but not for a cool summer like me). I’d love to read your take on something like this!
C: Is this idea is to create each Season’s consistent, best neutral background, and change the accessories as desired? The background might be what reads as B&W on each colouring, or might be something else if that looks better? Or do we stick with the B&W equivalent as the background, for this post to have most value to women’s understanding of ‘uniform dressing’?
J’s reply, in which I am now fully on board:
J: I think that the idea behind uniform dressing (especially since it is usually done for work) is to create a versatile outfit (meaning that it is appropriate for almost any work-related situation) that conveys authority. Authority is especially important for women, more so than for men. Also, a certain lack of fussiness with clothing while still maintaining a sense of what is appropriate hits that sweet spot of “I know how to dress for my job, but I’m so busy doing great work I don’t have time to pay a lot of attention to creating a new outfit every day.” These are the reasons that I think black and white are usually appealing for this kind of uniform dressing– black, especially, is thought to be always appropriate and authoritative but somehow still creative and artistic (read: entrepreneurial)! It is interesting to note that people in caring professions (nurses, counselors– note: traditionally feminine kind of roles) don’t often develop their own personal uniform. For these folks, either a uniform is given (and pastels are understood to be not only completely okay but preferred!) or not thought of. I really think that a lot of this comes down to managing gendered expectations and thinking through what it means to be “feminine” or “masculine”. Uniforms in themselves, especially personal uniforms, communicate a certain “male” approach to dressing– this can be strategic for women to use sometimes in certain settings.
C: Brilliant explanation. This is getting more and more attractive as a post, your words placing it suddenly among my top translation interests for dressing: the story we tell others.
I asked a man what he thought of women wearing the same clothing, or clothing theme, to work every day. He said,
“Finally, someone got onto it.”
He has a point. It is not our responsibility to produce a fashion parade at work.
Women would notice and judge. Great work wear gets brownie points with women because that’s who sees it and cares. Men might notice but won’t judge because they dress this way anyhow. Is there a man alive who would say, I think she wore that skirt to last year’s annual meeting? Therefore, they also don’t hand over any authority or admiration for how organized we are.
Otoh, Uniform Dressing could devolve into an escape hatch that spells visual boredom for the rest of us. Boredom reads as unimaginative, not a good signal to send anywhere. I admit that if I worked with a woman who showed up in the same outfit every day, I would think,
“You have no idea what to wear and you’re tired of trying to figure it out. I know some super good shortcuts. I can connect you with some really good people. I’m here for the asking.”
In a web Search of Uniform Dressing, I kept running into the phrase “staring at my closet wondering what to wear”. Why? Two years after PCA&PIA, you have so much good stuff, the choice is only hard because you look great in any of it. I keep entire outfits in Ziplocs, accessories and all, flip them in and out of suitcases like Frisbees. Speed and organization are everything with me. The “Staring at my closet…” line would put in my head,
“You have no clean clothes. You haven’t done laundry in a week and don’t plan on doing any for another week.”
After the Search, my overall take on Uniform Dressing was,
“You’re walking by the chance to tell me so much more about yourself (and give me reasons to give you more money).”
Not giving up yet. There is definite merit to the idea.
Despite its apparent simplicity, successful uniform dressing is not a decision to take lightly. For both men and women, the uniform should have a great deal of planning assigned to it, much more so than if the outfit changed every day, which would be less of a declaration. In the reverse psychology of humans, a uniform actually draws more attention to itself.
Colours were once necessary for our survival and still influence every human able to see them. Warm and sweet to look at, a Spring coloured person dressed in Autumn colours look like she’s wearing furniture. She looks either child-like or conflicted. In many cases, close enough is still 1000% better than we used to look. Arriving into your main Season palette is a huge wardrobe step forward. Even with similar colours, Spring wearing Autumn khaki can look like she’s going paintballing – which could work on certain Natural archetypes in certain job situations.
Warm and strong to look at, Autumn coloured people wearing Spring coloured clothes look dressed from the kids’ department, and more mannish. The clothing is a tilt-a-whirl that reads ditzy or frivolous, the absolute last thing you want to express at work. When I analyze colouring, I’m looking for the colours that allow the face to be calm and steady. I can’t think of any job where one would choose a different expression.
Work clothes do what we wish our business card would. Your appearance is telling me what you’re selling me. None of us have any choice about this. Until I decide if I’m buying your story or your product, I’m looking for visual backup. Personal opinion, Casual Fridays are a mistake, or an opportunity few seem to take.
Have we not all been on websites that sounded interesting till we spotted the person? Leveraging that first five seconds impression is a bigger deal-breaker than a business card, a logo, a business name, and all sorts of other things that are glanced at, put in a contact file, and generally forgotten.
White seems the most obvious choice for daily wear, to minimize reaction to clothing. I can’t talk about all-black. It is too uninspiring to consider on anyone. All-black is a clothing cop-out, the equivalent of clothing for camouflage. All-black is as dated as Generic Corporate Formula wear, which I do not believe any workplace requires. We look like bulky, frazzled women under the control of outside influences. Never compromise your You-ness, it’s the best thing you got.
I like looking at alpha-female clothes, not that this style is necessary in every job situation. If you’ve made it, who cares? Nana Mouskouri can wear any glasses she wants, giant beetles if she feels like it. The minute she opens her mouth, she transports the room to wherever she chooses. For those of us still striving, don’t give anybody a reason to eye roll when you’re not there.
I’ll be sticking with separates, though many would prefer a dress, perfectly fine. Pants or skirts need not be shown with white tops because let’s be honest, Winter will buy black, Autumn will be in dark brown, Summer in gray, and Spring…Spring neutrals are not so easily found but they do exist. Yellow-green grays are Spring’s, in comparison to Autumn’s which have less obvious clear yellow content. Let me show you some grays, as approximately as this medium permits.
Not sure about Season with neutral colours? Scrunch up the fabric and look down in the folds, in daylight if possible. Lighting makes an enormous difference because it’s light that makes colour in the first place. If too much yellow is going in, too much yellow is coming out, amplified if the fabric is shiny. The feeling of a strong yellow (not necessarily a lot of it though), along with shine of fabric, moves many colours into the 5 Winter groups, for instance the bottom right blouse.
Winning Uniform Dressing is a new challenge. You’ve decided to go for it. OK, I’m with you. We are not at work to be Friended or Liked, agreed with, supported, or loved. Shared maybe. With my usual emphasis on clarity of purpose, we are there to be hired, re-hired, and referred. Those are the reasons, the only reasons, for the wardrobe.
Once hired, then we can do good in the world. Being hired is the playing field by which we have opportunity to share our gifts, enrich the lives of others, and give back more than we take. Being hired is the ticket to the training ground on which we grow inside and innovate outside.
Knowing your white might be the biggest payoff to having your colouring analyzed if you happen to be an Autumn, on whom wearing white every day is a series of unfortunate events – therefore the absence of white-white in the Warm Whites panel below. Want a good way to tell Dark Autumn from Dark Winter colouring? White. Pick beige or gray instead. In stores, that’s 7 beiges in 10. When Autumn gets her colours right, no colouring conveys capable strength better. She looks like she can take on anything, gorgeous and fearless.
PCA is a big payoff for Springs. Life is so much better when she knows her ivory and cream because she will put down money for a lot of it. Spring manages the lightness of white better than Autumn but she is certainly not at her best. She is not given many beiges and grays by stores. She could wear a small number of Autumn beiges, like the turtleneck marked *1 in the Warm Whites group, but why? Ivory quite literally illuminates her from within. Her pores go away, the skin is smooth as cream, the eyes sparkle. It is easy to find. If you scrunch up her whites and look in the folds, imagining what colour the fabric would be if you concentrated it more, you would see versions of peach and egg yolk, as the blouse top row centre.
See the *2 shirt in the Warm Whites board? Might be fine in either row. It has a very slight pink tinge that puts Soft Summer thoughts in my head too. I couldn’t place this one without having it in hand.
Then you decide you’ve had it to here with your dry cleaning bill, collars now tattooed with permanent makeup, and the steady stream of packages containing your-white shirts arriving at your door.
Here is what I would do. Keep changing the story. Pick a theme and develop it over 2 years. Co-workers would be looking at the door every morning to see what you’re wearing today. Keep people engaged. Among the top 3, the only 3, things I care about if I’m hiring is imagination – tell that story too.
Clearly, the uniform theme is getting shaky, but the colours are still neutral-based. I’ve grouped Neutral Seasons with their True Seasons throughout this post, where each Neutral Season could choose a colour scheme to repeat every day. Dark Autumn might go with gray/rust/teal or caramel/brown/black, having it in different garments and designs. How tight you want it is your choice. You can tell that I’m dressing different body types. For yourself, image archetype would remain consistent in every style.
Why more colour in the Warms compared to the Cool Prints coming later? Because the heat of the colouring looks so good with a lot of colour activity, the whole Circle of Life thing, ‘The sun rolling high through the sapphire sky…’ The music heats up, ‘Far too much to take in here…more to do than can ever be done.” Warm colouring is not a Zen Garden (Summer) or a Fjord (Winter) to look at.
Can we move away from white? High maintenance and a waiter feel. If I had to pick one colour family that is spectacular on every colouring when it’s right, I’d choose blue-green. Green can be gross, oh boy, yes it can, but its greatness can be hard to beat.
Green is the complement to the colour of blood. When we choose the right green for our own reds, others’ awareness of our human presence is sharp, heightened, sounding the “I am here.” signal. Plentiful in stores for all Seasons, blue-green is also hard to beat in professional situations as the colours of Nature and money. It is appropriate and civilized. Below, with the odd could-not-resist, like periwinkle for Spring.
Patience was my magic word for the first 6 months of this year. It switched to Perspective back around May. Some general ideas about what the rest of us will tire of seeing each day:
- The same print, design, or picture. Like a screen that’s frozen, anyone under 70 will open a new window in 5 seconds or less. Unless it’s black, in which case the eye is desperate for something to do.
If you insist on black, transform it to be interesting. Eyes like something fun to do. When eyes are happily busy, their person is receptive and ready to listen. When the appearance just gets better the longer you look, as colour-analyzed appearances do, there’s no incentive to stop looking. If anything, the viewer thinks, “I see that investing time in you is rewarding. What else you got?”
Once again, the changing story, this time in cool colours.
- Take care with lace or ruffles, however Yin you are or which designer is on the label. Grownup ruffles or lace could be ok, but nothing that says, “I can wear this because I’m a girl.” Sounds too much like, “I can wear this because I’m having a hormone day.” As if we need help from ourselves to be written off as emotionally loose, besides which nobody knows or cares. If you only ever see women clients, managed bows and decorations are fine. If you’re a grief counselor, different decisions are needed. We want, “I know what suits me. If I can make good decisions for me, I can make them for you. Let’s get to work.”
- Statement anything. If you need a signature item, keep it contained, like a bracelet or ring. Don’t let it anywhere near your face, especially as eyeglasses where we have no choice but to keep negotiating with them when we are trying to reach you, unless eccentricity is part of the game plan. Signature pieces often overshoot or undershoot. Frankly, I think Jackie O. could have done much more with her pearls. Don’t give people a reason to giggle. Getting taken seriously is hard enough and been a long time coming.
- Logos, however Bright you are, even if it’s Prada. They take attention away from the job. The viewer goes off task and on outfit. Women might notice, men won’t care, and labels don’t get us hired more.
- What looks cute on you, however Gamine you are. The client walking in, seeing a woman sitting behind the desk, doesn’t know or care how she looked a year ago or anything about archetypes and colours. She wants a problem solved, right now, today. Clients can only compare us to the world at large in that moment they decide to hand over trust and responsibility. Every archetype has great work outfits to look like competent adults.
- No tight. Fitted is fine, but no clingy. Naturals, wear your size so the rest of us can breathe.
- No cleavage, however Romantic or YinDramatic you are, never ever, not 1 mm, nevermind what somebody said in a fashion book. Cleavage is for the bar, the beach, the stage, or, like the ultimate graphic T, maybe a picnic or shopping day if you’re under 25. An inverse relationship exists between skin and power. I’m just here to keep it real so here I go: Men are hard wired in what might be Nature’s built-in self-destruct button. As it says so nicely in SuperFreakonomics, [Men want more sex than they can get for free, since the beginning of time, everywhere in the world.] This will not change. Even women are distracted. Take the bull’s eye off your body. Let’s get to work.
- Caution about yellow. Many people have a high awareness of it, even disturbance from it.
Work is self control as much as crowd control. In that sense, Uniform Dressing fits the bill.