The Uniform Project

We’ve talked in the past about uniforms and how having a signature look can reduce clutter in your wardrobe (like Seth Brundle in the movie The Fly). We know that wearing the same outfit every day isn’t for everyone (certainly not for me), but a number of people do pull it off successfully. We’ve recently stumbled upon The Uniform Project and are amazed at the variety Sheena Matheiken is getting from a single dress and a lot of accessories.

Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.

She takes a picture every day of her outfit and posts it online. The simple black dress can be worn either forward or backward, which gives the dress even more versatility. The first image below is the plain dress, and the other two are simply ones I fancied. Check out the website to learn more about the project:

51 Comments for “The Uniform Project”

  1. posted by Cyndi on

    Didn’t another woman do this recently? Perhaps it was a couple of years ago. I remember her wearing the exact same brown dress. It was really interesting!

  2. posted by Sara on

    Interesting idea. Unfortunately, most of the “outfits” look like she blindfolded herself and chose a few random items from the salvation army rack to “accessorize” the dress. I’d find it far more interesting if she came up with actual looks you wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave the house in.

  3. posted by deb on

    How many pairs of shoes does this girl own? Doesn’t seem very simple to me.

  4. posted by Cat on

    Interesting in theory – but what I find to be the “uncluttering” flaw in this and related ideas (I’m thinking of magazine spreads – one item in the middle and then a different way to wear it set out in each corner type of thing) – is that the cost of wearing that one thing multiple ways (as of course none of the parts of the different looks combine well) is far more per look than buying half as much stuff but which can all be mixed and matched.

    That said, it can be inspiring to see all the different ways that the same thing can be worn – if only to look at a few things in my own closet in new light. I’m with Sara that I’d appreciate a “normal” (i.e. wear to office and weekend looks for a decidedly non-hipster) version of this.

  5. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    On the site, it says the majority of her accessories are donated to her or she borrows from friends. I don’t think there is much money being spent on accessories, if I’m to believe the website.

  6. posted by Cat on

    Erin, that just feels like cheating :) Wouldn’t we all like to have parts of our wardrobe donated… and the sheer volume of accessories needed to differentiate each look (anywhere from 2-7, paging through a week in June) negates the simplicity of the one dress to me.

    I still think a project like this can encourage creativity in your own closet, though.

  7. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I’m with Cat. I agree that it is an interesting exercise in seeing how you can be more creative with what you already have.

    But I have to say that I’m not quite sure how this qualifies as “sustainable” fashion. A given piece of clothing is good for a given number of wearings/washings. Wearing one piece more often simply means that it wears out (pills, fades, wears thin, starts coming apart, whatever) more quickly than something you wear less often. Leaving changing fashion out of the equation, two pairs of jeans will last me a year, or four pairs will last me two years. Same thing.

  8. posted by Dorothy on

    Huh? How is having 7 identical dresses “uncluttered”? Why didn’t she choose a single dress that could be hand washed every night and dripp-dried. If she needs seven dresses why not have seven different ones. Gimmicky and silly.

  9. posted by trillie on

    @Cyndi – Yes, Alex Martin in 2005/06. You can see her “brown dress project” here: http://www.littlebrowndress.co.....20home.htm

  10. posted by Tracy on

    I agree with Dorothy. But I did just see how you can buy 2 suits, a pair of black pants, and a few shirts and make something like 30 outfits. That kind of mix and match sounds better to me.

  11. posted by Sheena on

    I actually really like the project. Even if its not completely sustainable, or someone has done it before, or there are better ways to go about doing it….I really like it. Its creative and inspires me to think of ways in which I could simplify my wardrobe. I won’t wear the same dress for a year but it makes me realize I can do a lot more with all the pieces in my wardrobe. So if this has prevented me from buying another dress because I’m thinking of new ways to wear the ones I already have, then unclutterer has succeeded in being helpful to me. Plus the girl is just so adorable and while some of the outfits are crazy, many of them are just too cute! I want that black dress!

  12. posted by Rebecca on

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t see the point to this. I understand that she is trying to raise money for a charity, but the whole concept seems pretty useless, given her outfits are all quite OTT. She might get items donated to her by friends, but that doesn’t excuse the sheer amount of STUFF she has to have to pull this off with. From what I could tell, she seems to have a different pair of shoes for every outfit, different accessories…even different tights/socks! She’s been doing this so far for 45 days…who has 45 different pairs of shoes or socks?

  13. posted by Kris on

    @Tracy . . . Where did you find the web site that shows “how you can buy 2 suits, a pair of black pants, and a few shirts and make something like 30 outfits”? Thanks!

  14. posted by Rebecca on

    correction: almost 45 days. May 1-June 14 makes 45 days, not June 13. Whoops.

  15. posted by Laura on

    While I, as a forty-something mother of 3, cannot carry off a look like this, I think it’s wonderful for girls 12-25 to see how they can stretch their wardrobe and do not have to buy so many clothes to get a different look. My teenage daughters will love all the funky looks, and they don’t have much money to spend. Plus, between us girls we have plenty of accessories, many of them handed down from my own grandmothers.

    Thanks, Erin, for posting. Now I’m off to see my daughters …..

  16. posted by Amy on

    This is a very cute idea, but some of her outfits have complete other outfits under or over the dress so it seems like in some ways she has added clothing. That being said, she is obviously creative and most of the outfits look adorable on her, if they are not for me.

  17. posted by Amy on

    The brown dress project was interesting also, but decidedly less fashion forward. I would burn that danged dress after I was done if I were her. I wonder if she did?

  18. posted by coco on

    i’m actually at the point where i’ve done something similar.
    i have 2 pairs of jeans and 3 black shirts and i wear them every day. it makes things really, really easy. i am a SAHM so i realize that this kind of minimalism would not work for everyone.

  19. posted by Michele on

    Nice idea . . . so long as you don’t have to wear professional clothes to work!

    Fun concept, though. I think if one translates “7 identical dresses, plus shoes and accessories” to “7 tops and 7 bottoms that all mix and match, plus shoes and accessories,” the idea could easily work for a professional.

    Thanks for posting about this project.

  20. posted by Elizabeth on

    The brown dress project can be found at:

    http://www.littlebrowndress.com

    She kept a blog/journal for the year and it is very interesting – lots of thoughts on art, feminism, fashion, etc. She actually wore the same dress everyday (no 7 copies for her!) – and the “un-dressing” party at the end of the year was fun!

  21. posted by Tracy on

    It wasn’t a website. It was at a women’s seminar. A personal shopper was giving tips, and I wasn’t taking very good notes :( Something about make sure the suits can mix with each other, the black pants with either jacket, different colored tops, with or without a jacket…

  22. posted by Shalin on

    Clever idea. Although…it’d be interesting to see how her closet changes – more accessories, etc. than clothing by the end of the year?

  23. posted by Gette on

    Interesting idea but I don’t see how this is “uncluttered”. You may only have 7 dresses in one style, but the number of accessories you’ll need to dress it up is going to take up a hideous amount of space.

    How many pairs of shoes and leggings does she have? How many other clothing items she has to layer or alter the look of the base piece? How many hats and scarves?

    I like the idea of incorporating vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-downs into my lifestyle. However, I don’t see how this project is going to make anyone’s life uncluttered. If you’re creative and adventurous, this would be a very fun project but if you’re not, a few basic pieces and about that many accessories will take up less space and keep you going for most of the year.

  24. posted by julia on

    I agree that it’s fun and artistic. I also agree that keeping track of all those accessories would drive me insane. And I also agree that when you pair the dress with additional shirts, jackets, and skirts, you’re not just talking 7 pieces of clothing.

    Fun – but (imho) neither practical nor uncluttered.

  25. posted by Nick on

    I think this project is wonderful! I know the looks are a bit outlandish for most – but as a 20-something in NYC, seeing a girl wearing these on the street here wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, and in fact would get many compliments. If she works in a creative field, which many NYC residents do, these looks could definitely be appropriate for work.

    That being said, understanding that everyone lives in different places/career fields – I think the concept of deciding on a “uniform” that works for you is a great, uncluttered idea. You can easily take this girl’s idea and apply it to your own wardrobe with a little more repetition and conservatism (she obviously prides herself on creating an entirely new look daily), and in the process simplify your life decrease the size of your closet.

    Looking at the idea behind the project, rather than the specific outfits of the project shows the idea that individualism and utility aren’t at odds with one another.

  26. posted by Suzjazz on

    I’m all for stripping down one’s wardrobe to essentials, but it isn’t working for this woman. She looks like an explosion in a thrift store. And she obviously has a fashion model’s figure–so just imagine what the rest of us would look like in those getups.
    It’s too damn boring to wear the same thing every day. IMHO, having a uniform (no matter how it’s accessorized) is taking uncluttering a step too far. Does it really make sense to take fashion advice from Steve Jobs?

  27. posted by ga on

    coco, you’re a woman after my own heart. I wear the same clothes every day: a linen “T-shirt”—basically a tunic-like overshirt, usually in black—and black elastic-waist cotton/spandex pants, with in-seam pockets. And comfy shoes—no heels. I was the eccentric in the editorial department of a fashion magazine, but I was hired when the magazine was starting up, so they couldn’t complain later. (Now that we’ve all been laid off, I have to think about putting together an interview uniform. Maybe an unstructured black jacket on top, and low-heeled harness boots.) Of course, I let everybody know that I bought these items in multiples, so they wouldn’t think I wore literally the same clothes every day, but the look never varied.

    Thanks to spandex, the pants are machine-washable and -dryable. It turns out the shirts are also. Somebody on staff liked to iron, and I compared his linen garments to mine. Surprise—once you start wearing ironed linen, it wrinkles as much as if you hadn’t bothered to iron it.

    Unlike Suzjazz, I don’t find wearing the same thing every day boring at all. To me, it’s liberating not to have to think about what to wear.

  28. posted by Sky on

    Coco and Ga, I love the idea of simple dressing. My family teases me for wearing so much black but I’m comfortable in simple clothes and I like black. We are so brainwashed by the fashion industry and most magazines are nothing but advertisements that make us feel bad about ourselves if we don’t buy the latest weird fad.

  29. posted by crayoneater on

    Ok, so about the whole 7 looks thing–I am almost positive Lucky magzine does this every issue. They take an outfit and then show you how to dress it up and down. Actually, that may be two separate features in the magazine. But it’s always fashion forward without being… um, how do you say, not unable-to-wear-in-public-able?

  30. posted by Wilhelm Scream on

    I adore this project, but not for its unclutteredness (because it’s not really very uncluttered, what with all the shoes and accessories, even if many of them are donated). I like it for its creativity.

  31. posted by Nina on

    I think a wardrobe with good quality basics that can be worn together is a better and more realistic solution. Also, I guess this person doesnt go to the gym or on hykes: because she couldnt really wear the dress there.

    Mostly to me it seems a way of getting attention: and I guess it worked.

  32. posted by lisah on

    thank god i have to wear scrubs to work. then its my uniform of grey cargos, scoop neck tshirt and a zipper hoody. for dress up i have one spring/summer dress that i love and a wintery skirt/ sweater combo. i have other stuff, but i land up wearing and washing this same stuff over and over. sometimes i think i should give away anything i haven’t worn in a week!

  33. posted by meera on

    i knew a guy at university who wore the same jeans everyday without washing it. he had a few shirts as well and that was his wardrobe. at the end of the year, he symbolically threw away the jeans. the whole point of his venture was laziness, poor personal hygiene and general lack of any vanity.

    he did not really smell although i never put my nose anywhere near his jeans

  34. posted by gypsy packer on

    The point of the fancy wardrobe is to bluff b##ch coworkers into silence with the accusation “just jealous of her”, bluff the boss into thinking you can afford quality attorneys, and look like you’re making far more than your paltry wages so you can command a higher wage at the next workplace.

    Add double value if you have a husband who needs a wife who looks high-maintenance for the same reasons.

    Fashion, really, if you stop to consider it, is just this year’s conformist, expensive, uniform, recycled down to the lower classes at year’s end.

    Sincerely, she who works in 67-cent irregular T-shirts.

  35. posted by fileboxx on

    This is my minimalist wardrobe. I have kids, I work, and I have a busy life. I don’t have time to do the laundry every two days so I need enough clothes to carry me through the week and to cover those expected messy times with my kids like when I get banana smeared on my shirt. When I go to a meeting I need to look professional but I don’t have to wear a suit so I have a bit of flexibility there. Also, I learned a while back to only choose to wear colors near your face that flatter your complexion and keep the rest of your wardrobe neutral (black, grey, beige, brown, navy) so that you can easily mix and match pieces.

    Tops
    —–
    6 Knitwear: 3 solid color sweaters in my favorite colors, 3 solid color cardigans – black, brown, dark grey
    6 Long and 3/4 sleeve shirts: white, black, 4 other solid colors that are my favourite
    6 Short sleeve shirts: white, black, 4 other solid colors that are my favourite
    2 Sleeveless tank top with built in bra: black, white
    3 Workout tops: 2 comfy loose t-shirts, 1 zip up hoodie
    3 Jackets – nice looking that are just past the hip and botton up jackets – black for winter and beige for spring/summer, a casual light fleece zip up jacket

    Bottoms
    ——–
    4 Jeans: dark blue 2 pairs, black 1 pair, 1 comfortable warn in pair
    4 Pants: dressy black pair, black or brown cords (or 2nd dressy pair of pants that are grey or brown), black cotton pants, khaki or beige cotton pants
    3 Skirts: black dressy, khaki or beige linen/cotton, brown or black cord or cotton skirt
    2 Workout Pants: 2 black pairs of yoga pants

    Underwear
    ———-
    Regular Bras: 4 supportive and comfortable bras
    Sports Bras: 2 supportive and comfortable bras
    Sports socks: 2 pairs
    Panties: 8 pairs that do not show a visible panty line and are comfortable
    Socks: 6 black pairs
    Tights: 2 black pairs
    PJs – 2 sets (1 comfortable, 1 sexy)

    Shoes
    ——
    Runners
    Black ballerina flats
    Black short heels
    Black boots
    Black sandles
    Cozy slippers socks

    Accessories
    ———–
    Black leather purse
    Black wallet
    Diamond-look stud earrings and silver stud earrings
    Silver watch
    Glasses

    Makeup
    ——-
    brown/black mascara
    lipgloss

  36. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    Not that I would wear a dress, but here are my thoughts:
    1. having 7 of the same dress – not uncluttering
    2. the fact she could get so much versatility out one (type) of dress – not that’s more like it.

    the ability to create 365 different looks (good or bad) using one base piece of clothing *could* have drastically reduce the number of clothes needed thereby reducing clutter.

  37. posted by sue on

    “….enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir….”
    Um, no thanks for THAT mental image! LOL!

    Interesting experiment, and if one applies the concept, but not the specifics, could work with pieces most people own. (I’d be holding a dress-burnin’ party when this year is over, tho!)

  38. posted by tabatha on

    i recently bought about ten of the same light purple men’s shirts on clearance at Target, i have a few pairs of similar(but different colors) comfy pants. and that’s what i wear most of the time. i have work clothes, which are a couple pair of khaki paints and a few red t-shirts, since i also work at Target. i have other stuff but i don’t wear it that often. i have some skirts and a couple of nice shirts that are all black that i wear when i want to look nice for something, like going to a wedding or graduation that i went to recently. most of the clothes i had i got rid of b/c they either didn’t fit or i didn’t wear them enough to justify keeping them.

  39. posted by Phil on

    Isn’t the idea of a “uniform” that you don’t have to look different? I.e. Steve Jobs doesn’t feel the need to add accessories so his jeans and black turtle-neck aren’t mistaken for what he wore yesterday.

    And if your goal is to minimise your wardrobe by re-wearing a dress differently every day, then buying three or so outfits of different (but matching) colours would by WAY more practical.

  40. posted by JJ on

    Although I applaud the creativity of the project, I must agree with the posts that promote few items of clothing that can “mix and match” rather than overly styling a single item. I have recently lost in excess of 50 pounds, with about 20 pounds to go. I sew the majority of my clothing so there are several things, including a silk dress (in a limited edition fabric) and a wool blazer among other items, that I have saved to alter in the future. Not wanting to spend the time to alter items more than once (a ridiculous waste of time and materials), but also not wanting to spend a lot of money on an interim wardrobe, I have a smallish wardrobe. I have either made, or purchased at a 70% discount, the following: two skirts (alterable in the future), one white and one a blue/green/brown print; one pair of tan slacks; three shirts, brown, white, red; and three sweaters in brown, yellow, and blue. By simply using the above in different combinations, I have over two dozen quite different outfits, not counting switching between black and brown shoes, or adding hats I already own.

  41. posted by PrutsPrinses on

    @Tracy & Kris: just google terms like “wardrobe capsule” “wardrobe planning” or “SWAP” aka “Sewing With A Plan”. The last one will talk about sewing capsule wardrobes, but it’s equally interesting to read the articles without being able to sew, you could just as well buy the stuff :)
    The brown dress project seems more uncluttered but the uniform project is cute too! I am going to purge my closet next month :)

  42. posted by Karen on

    I am doing something similar this year. I finally found jeans that fit and flatter me (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans—they are pricey, but are lasting and again, very flattering and comfortable!). I also finally found t shirts that aren’t too short and don’t ride up–found them at Target, actually.

    I wear a t shirt, or a long sleeved t shirt with a layering tank if needed for coverage at the bottom, and my jeans every day. Once a week, I do heavy housework and wear an old, ratty pair of jeans and wash the good pair.

    I’m a SAHM, so this works for me. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that shorts are not flattering on me, and neither are most skirts. Jeans and a t shirt (short or long) are my signature look. It uncomplicates the “what shall I wear” question each morning.

  43. posted by Jeannine on

    Gwenyth Paltrow actually wrote about this idea on her webiste — she found out quickly after she had children that she had to develop a “uniform” system to make sure she could throw something on quickly and not look like a schlump. Granted, when you look like Gwenyth Paltrow, it’s hard to look bad in anything, but I think this is an interesting idea and a good goal, to find a kind of style and some basic pieces that look great on you and build a basic wardrobe with some variations in it. Check it out:

    http://www.goop.com/newsletter/3/en/

  44. posted by Miss C on

    I have a closet full of black pantsuits and white tops. Before I did this, dressing was a huge chore for me; now it’s simple as pie and I always feel put together.

    I have a friend (a What Not To Wear devotee) who’s always on my *ss about the way I dress, like it somehow affects her life negatively that I’m happy with “bland” clothes. I’ve told her that if a TV crew ever shows up at my door to tell me I look like sh*t and take my clothes away, I’m throwing them off my property and unfriending her on every social networking application known to humankind.

  45. posted by Jennifer on

    I think it’s great. Good for her! Everyone has their different opinions, but at least she’s doing something she feels is meaningful to exploring sustainability. I’m just sitting here surfing the net and recycling my paper, plastic and cans. I take action over talk any day. Good on her for doing something fun and meaningful to her!

  46. posted by Jennifer on

    Adding on:

    Not only that she’s using it to raise money for a worthy cause!

    I personally think she has cute style. Very individual and personal. So there. :)

  47. posted by Gina on

    Interesting idea and WOW on some of her combinations. I couldn’t do it but I may be able to modify the idea for Sundays. I’m thinking I could sew a simple black, white or cream/brown dress and several overlays to coordinate. No one needs to know that the black dress I’m wearing today under my sheer butterflies is the same dress I wore last week under a different sheer!

    I really like the idea of mix and match for daily wear and think that’s what I’ll go for when it’s time to purchase/make a new wardrobe.

  48. posted by india on

    3 months into the project and it seems to me that not even the stockings have had a second airing with the black dress

    the list of minimal garments somewhere in the comments had me giggling too…it’s about 4 times what i own in clothing

    tis an interesting whirled

  49. posted by Gina on

    To me the whole point of simplifying a wardrobe is to reduce or eliminate the accessories, and focus on a simple, clean look. Maybe changing it up with a few different jewelry options.

    I’d rather wear the same dress the same way for 365 days than go into all the accessorizing and need all that stuff.

    My ideal wardrobe is enough pants/jeans to last me one week without laundry (this means 2 pr jeans, 2 pr casual slacks and 2 pr dressy slacks), and enough tops to go two weeks (6 long or 3/4 sleeve, 6 short sleeve and 2 tank tops works well).

    I add to that one summer-weight jacket/topper, two cardigans, one fleece hoodie and one fleece vest. Three identical pr of gym pants & Tshirts.

    One or two dresses for nicer occasions, a good interview suit, and a nice outfit for dressy occasions.

    I like sticking to a few basic colors — I don’t like wearing black at all so my staple colors are navy and grey. Almost everything else is red, white, banana, or blue-grey.

    This weekend I had a friend over — she couldn’t believe I only use about 1/2 of one closet. She has 2+ closets stuffed full. “Where are all your clothes?” she asked. “Where are all your shoes?” (I have 3 pr sandals, 2 pr closed flats, 1 pr boots and then my athletic & weather footwear).

    “How much can you wear at 1 time?” I replied. She’s now trying to whittle her 2+ closets down.

    G

    NOTE: I work in an office where we telecommute a lot and can wear jeans or business casual all the time. If you have to be dressy my simplification might go too far for you. I never wear anything to work other than jeans or business casual. My favorite work outfit is jeans, a white or red T, my fleece vest and my teva sandals (as late in the year as I can).

    No, I don’t need more than one vest, and yes I wash it regularly.

  50. posted by logoscoaching on

    what a fantastic idea. To wear the same dress for a whole year is a bit much for me but I think I shall take on board the essence of the idea. Thanks!

  51. posted by sue on

    Coco,,I like they way you think. As a stay at home mom, I live in jeans, but I have way too many pairs, and too many tops that I never wear. I’m going to declutter and pare it down to 2 or 3 pair of jeans that fit the best, and my 3 or 4 favorite shirts.

Comments are closed.