The Steve Jobs biography tells a fascinating tale of how Steve wanted to implement a uniform for his employees in similar fashion to Japanese workers. While the idea didn’t transplant so well organizationally, the personal aspect was something Steve could implement, and did. Hence his iconic black turtleneck and Levi 501 jeans look.
Surprisingly, this is one of those concepts I had to read about to really question for myself. If it was good enough for Steve … could it be good enough for me?
Ignoring the social utility of wearing different clothes, the engineer in me realizes that wearing a bunch of very different clothes every day is very inefficient. It wastes my mental power in deciding what clothes to wear. I find my wardrobe gravitates away from certain clothes over time. The extra clothes waste space.
So what do you gain from wearing a uniform?
- No outdated clothes. It’s a very common problem to tire of certain clothes and stop wearing them. Eventually, half your wardrobe is just taking up empty space. With a uniform, your wardrobe is always up to date and current. In the future, I can anticipate that I may need to make a wholesale change to one or more pieces of the outfit when things start to wear out.
- Compact wardrobe. When you have only a few types of clothing, it becomes very easy to pack all items of the same type together. All your clothes fit into less space. This is useful both in daily life as well as on trips.
- Highly refined look. When you have a single carefully chosen outfit, the refinement of that outfit is present every day. It is simply not possible to put as much thought into a look that you change each day as one that you wear all the time.
- Easy to recognize. With an iconic look, it becomes much easier for your friends to find you in a crowd. Your clothes become part of your look, and you become a much larger and more identifiable target to locate in a crowd.
- Easy to wash and sort. It can be burdensome to toss around all the different kinds of clothes that should go together by group when you pull your stuff out of the wash. With just a few types of clothing, grouping everything becomes much simpler.
- Save money. Extra clothes simply cost more money. They cost even more when you don’t end up wearing them after a while. And reselling clothes is a virtually worthless activity. A uniform means that 100% of your clothing budget goes towards clothes you will actually wear. That’s efficient!
- Lack of daily expression. While I would argue that a uniform defines your persona more strongly than daily outfits, you can’t really express yourself in seasonal or daily ways with the same outfit day in and day out. I very much believe this is even more important an issue for the female gender than for males.
- Some events really do require different attire. I can’t wear my uniform into a fancy restaurant or to a funeral. That means I still need a bit of extra space for the dress shoes, shirts, and slacks that accompany such events.
- Extreme weather requires different clothing. I imagine Steve did not wear his jeans and turtleneck while skiing. He would have been damned cold! Sometimes, the weather demands something different from you.
After reviewing the above points, I decided the experiment would be worth conducting. I went through all the items in my life and decided to figure out what colors and looks I had gravitated to. I gradually become convinced that black with subtle red accents was the way to go. But as I started to pay more attention, I realized there were more requirements.
- The uniform must balance casual with business attire. If I need a different outfit for work and for going out on the weekends, I’ve basically doubled my clothing load.
- The uniform must be comfortable. Sometimes people will put up with uncomfortable clothing to look good. But day in and day out? No way.
- The uniform must be adaptable to a reasonable range of weather and temperatures. Again, if I need a different outfit in the summer vs the winter … I’ll have a bunch of clothes sitting around doing nothing for half the year.
- The uniform should favor easily replaceable items. While it’s not the end of the world, if you do happen to start experiencing wear and tear on some items, it’s a little easier if you can just cycle in replacements. Otherwise, you will have to replace the whole shebang at once or rotate in new but different replacements over time.
So here’s what I ended up choosing.
- Shirt – Hanes ComfortBlend Polos – $5.00 a shirt. I could probably find something better, but these seem to be just fine for now and are easily replaced for the foreseeable future.
- Jeans – 7 for all Mankind. Ran to the outlet and picked up 5 extra pairs (for a total of 6), then had them hemmed. Not cheap, but decided to make a bit of a fashion statement here.
- Socks – Gold Toe UltraTec Crew Socks. The nice thing about these socks is that they are very absorbent, so you don’t end the day with your feet feeling grimy. Technically, they aren’t dress socks, but nobody will be able to tell the difference, so this saves me the pain of finding extra dress socks for those rare no uniform events.
- Underwear – Alfani Boxer Briefs. Not that any of you will ever see these, but this is what I went with.
- Jacket – Adidas Icon Courtside Track Suit Jacket. A great light jacket. Very happy with this. I probably should buy another one. The inside pocket happens to fit my iPad mini perfectly. This adds on perfectly to the uniform to balance out colder weather, but isn’t uncomfortable at all to wear indoors with air conditioning.
- Shoes – Adidas Porsche Design SP1. I bought two pairs in black with red accents. They aren’t perfect because rain seems to soak through the toes. But otherwise, I’ve actually been quite happy with them. Seems to be out of production at the moment.
- Watch – Let’s just say it’s black faced, with red accents.
- Wallet – Tag Heuer Billfold 8CC – Black, with carbon fiber, and red accents. Expensive, but perfect for this.
OK … it took a while to pull all the clothes together, and get the right quantities. For the washables … I purchased roughly 20 of each item (except for the jeans). This allowed me to build up enough of a washload in the hampers while still having enough quantity of clothes to wear or take on a trip without worrying about running out of clothing.
Has this experiment been a success? For me, yes. The pros far outweigh the cons. I travel lighter, have more space in my apartment, pack more quickly, and spend zero effort on picking clothes to wear each day. Recovering time and flexibility is one of the most important things you can do to enhance your life. While I believe this approach will generally work less well for those of the female persuasion (for social reasons), it works very well for me. In conclusion … I have to say, Steve, you got this one right. I feel like I’ve unlocked another one of life’s little puzzles.
Edit: And here’s a link to the final look. After that huge essay, you might be surprised at how simple of a look it really is.