Many years ago when I was working in Paris, the head of the firm’s accounting team came to the office each Monday dressed to kill. I can still remember a couple of her trademark outfits: skinny black leather pants with a stretch lace top and a bodycon pencil skirt with a billowy silk blouse (black bra underneath.) A pair of sky-high black heels accompanied each look. It was an exciting show, yes. But what really got my attention was that once she (let’s call her Claude) chose her outfit, she purposely wore it every day, all week long.
I was in my early twenties at the time, new to working in Paris, and not accustomed to this kind of behavior. I had never encountered someone that intentionally wore the same outfit every day. Like many Americans, my closet was overflowing with clothes in a rainbow of colors and mismatched styles. Purchased on a whim or to adhere to the latest fashion trends, the many pieces required constant organizing and editing. It was an exhausting job.
What made Claude ‘s minimalist approach to fashion so captivating was that aside from miraculously appearing ‘fresh’ every day, she projected a stylistic confidence that made the rest of the staff’s changing wardrobes by comparison seem excessive. She wore her weekly uniform effortlessly but with purpose; almost as if her clothes didn’t matter. Claude’s weekly looks were small in number but large in impact. They were her signature style.
These days, Claude’s minimalist approach to fashion is often referred to as the “capsule wardrobe,” a paired-down approach to dressing that is gaining momentum, particularly in the workplace. The owner of a trendy London boutique, Susan Faux, coined the term in the 70’s. Faux advocated assembling a collection of essential clothing that would never go out of style. These pieces, which were to include two skirts a couple pairs of pants and one coat, could then be updated with other, seasonal items.
In the 80’s, designer Donna Karan further popularized the idea of the capsule wardrobe with her landmark collection ‘7 Easy Pieces.’ The mainly black articles of clothing (including two revolutionary staples, black tights and the bodysuit) were designed to be interchangeable, thus maximizing the number of looks that could be created. Today many designers include capsule wardrobes in their collections with the idea that capsules make dressing easy since all the pieces are designed to be worn together.
Still others are going one step further and embracing a style “uniform” that can be worn every day, all year round. Many advocates of this style of dressing believe the ‘uniform’ frees up valuable time otherwise eaten up by deciding what to wear. These are people that are looking for daily convenience, yes. But like Claude, they are also looking for signature style. By choosing to wear the same outfit every day, they are donning a style ‘uniform’ that speaks volumes about their personal story.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, with his trademark grey T is a proponent of this style of dressing, as is President Obama, who is known to wear only blue or grey suits. And both of these men served as inspiration for Steve Jobs (who wore jeans and a black turtleneck every day.) Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Yes, but. All of these men’s pared-down clothing choices, by establishing a unified theme, are also creating a signature look, the hallmark of personal style.
If the idea of wearing the same outfit for a week or multiple days seems too daunting, there’s always the signature piece. A signature piece, when worn every day, becomes intimately associated with the wearer and differentiates them. Knowing what you like and what looks good on you are the hallmarks of personal style. An example of this approach, in an image every bit as iconic as her accessory, is Jacqueline Onassis and her ‘signature’ oversized glasses.
But back to Claude. Intrigued by the boldness of her approach, I eventually decided to copy her. From within my closet, I selected a few key pieces and packed away the rest. From these ‘essential’ articles of clothing, I formed a wardrobe. Then I started wearing the same outfit every day.
As the months progressed, I began to discover the wisdom of Claude’s ways. Not only did I have less decisions to make, but I gradually became more creative as I learned to combine the pieces to create new ‘looks.” Wearing the same thing to work every day freed up my time and made my mornings easier. The clothes had stopped wearing me. Now it was I who wore the clothes.
Iconic style is about choosing those things that best reflect and differentiate you. Whether you opt for a style “uniform”, wear the same outfit every day like Claude, or adopt a signature piece, it is this purposeful approach to fashion that makes us truly memorable and establishes our signature style.
Of course the decrease in spending doesn’t hurt, either.
For a great read on art director, Matilda Kahl, who decided to forgo the stress of choosing a new outfit everyday for the work “uniform” click here. It may inspire you to do the same.