A man in uniform

MacUser points us to an article by design academic Steven Heller in the AIGA journal about Steve Job’s wardrobe. Heller imagines a fictional interview with the Apple iCon in which he only has one question:

Heller: Mr. Jobs, it’s not easy to get you to sit for an interview, so I’ll make this short. Why do you always wear blue jeans and a black turtleneck?

The question’s never answered in the “interview,” but in the comments Heller suggests that Jobs understands that he is part of the Apple brand and therefore brands himself consistently whenever he’s acting officially. I think that might well be part of it, but here’s a recent photo of Jobs at one of his kids’ soccer matches — he’s wearing jeans, a mock turtleneck, and presumably white New Balance shoes. So it seems he always dresses like that.

To me this seems totally consistent with Jobs the minimalist. If you adopt a uniform, you won’t waste any time each day deciding what to wear. (According to Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Fly, this is what Albert Einstein did.) You also save time purchasing your wardrobe, and you reduce the space it needs. This is something we’ve covered before here although in the form of a reduced wardrobe, not a uniform. Now, before this starts sounding like a “Extreme Minimalism Monday” post, let me say that the one itsy bitsy drawback of this approach is that your wardrobe will be completely boring. Additionally, to pull this off you probably have to be a bit of an eccentric who’d comfortable in his own skin.

That said, I’ve got a bit of a uniform myself. I swear I’ve been wearing this since college, before I even knew who Steve Jobs was. If you ever see me in my off hours there’s a 90 percent chance you’ll find me in jeans, black fitted T-shirt, and black low-top converse. This iconic look is what The Gap was created for and one they heavily promote. (I wonder how much this has to do with the fact that Steve Jobs was once on The Gap’s board of directors.) I’m on a virtual conveyor belt of black Gap or H&M t-shirts, Guess “Cliff” jeans, and black Chuck Taylors. Incredibly comfortable, cool enough for James Dean, and so simple.

Questions for discussion: Am I insane? Or is this not a bad idea? Could a woman pull this off? Do you have a uniform?

29 Comments for “A man in uniform”

  1. posted by Arjun Muralidharan on

    I, in fact, do have a sort of uniform. I usually wear a unicolor t-shirt (black, gray, white, brown and red are in my wardrobe) and a blue shirt over it, buttons open. And jeans.

  2. posted by Anonymous on

    I think it’s much easier for men to have a uniform. I work with a woman who wears the SAME outfit every day – black v-neck t-shirt, black stretchy calf-length skirt, and black heels, with 2 gold chains around her neck. She wore a red tshirt a few weeks ago (same skirt, same shoes, same chains), and I thought the world was going to end.

  3. posted by nat on

    i’m a girl and i *used* to have kind of a uniform. i had a full wardrobe of thrift store t-shirts back in middle school / high school. i’d pick a shirt, wear it with a favorite pair of jeans, and i was set. made getting ready at 6:30 in the morning a breeze.

  4. posted by amanda on

    As a woman, I wear a variation of your tried and tested combination: black long sleeved t-shirt or sweater, jeans, some sort of black shoes. Same pink Marc Jacobs tote every day.

    Every now and then I go nuts and wear a green shirt.

  5. posted by Kathy W on

    I have to wear dresses/skirts to work, but have a kind of uniform, with more variety–I bought the same knit jumper in 6 different solid colors, and a dozen solid and print t-shirts in various colors that each go with at least 3 jumpers. In the winter I substitute solid colored turtlenecks for the t-shirts. And I wear black shoes and stockings with all of them.

    I did consider getting all black jumpers and just varying the shirt underneath, but couldn’t quite go that far toward uniformity.

  6. posted by machei on

    I sorely love my Chuck Taylors, but lately I’ve been shirking them because I fear I look like a poseur to all the 15 year-olds and their parents who must believe I never grew up. 🙁

  7. posted by zenparadox on

    I’m female and I purposely pick classic clothing that isn’t subject to fads and will easily mix-and-match with each other. I don’t think I’d feel OK wearing the exact same thing every day, but I don’t have too much decision making to do. When it’s a dressier occasion, I just ask a trusted girlfriend for her advice.

  8. posted by roothorick on

    I have a uniform, but nowhere near as strict as that. You will always see me in a T-shirt and some form of cargo or carpenter shorts in the summer. In the winter, the same T-shirt and some form of cargo or carpenter pants with a charcoal colored heavy winter jacket over the top that I take off or wear as a cape indoors.

    The T-shirts always have some amusing saying or computer-related thing on them, but vary widely in color. I’ve been trying to cut it down to black colors, but on sunny days white just works better because I keep cooler. (My idea of an ideal temperature is 64F, so hot days bother me.)

  9. posted by bwbradley on

    Women can certainly pull this off. Black slacks, black turtlenecks or dressier black blouses. Black shoes, black belt, black purse. Dress it up with colorful scarves or jewelry, and don’t stress over packing for a business trip. Also, if your spouse/baby is sleeping, you can get dressed in the dark. I did it for years, honestly.

  10. posted by Ryan on

    No uniform for me, but I do have some consistency. I always wear black undershirts and I always roll up my sleeves on long sleeve shirts. Although my work uses uniforms for most employees, I was lucky enough to work behind the scenes where uniforms aren’t necessary.

  11. posted by Ratphooey on

    When I find clothing I like, I buy multiples in different colors. So it’s sort of a uniform, with a little built-in variety – warm weather is linen tunic shirt over linen pants. Cold weather is substantial cotton shirt over cotton twill pants. I own a few skirts and dresses and sweaters for variety/special occasions, but day-to-day it’s easy.

    What I have a lot of, however, are shoes. 🙂

  12. posted by robyn on

    uniform, eh? well, i don’t currently, but am plotting mine. here’s how it will be … two pair black dress pants. three white or light colored dress shirts. three handknit shells/vests. voila! work uniform achieved with complete versatility, and minimalism in tact. for play, i have like six shirts i wear and that’s it, along with two pair jeans and two pair shorts.

    now, if only i could adopt this pattern for my shoes! that’s where i run into trouble!

  13. posted by sharon on

    yes in that I wear knit tops and shorts but I try to get as much as color in my life as possible

    SJ uniform is fine for the colorblind

  14. posted by John on

    I don’t really restrict my color choices (I tend to avoid black or white to some extent), but I limit my selection of types of clothes. I wear jeans or neutral-colored cordouroys with a thrift-store $2 graphic T-shirt, size medium. In the colder months, I wear long sleeve T-shirts underneath, or wear a sweater over the T-shirt.

    At work, we have a uniform (even us corporate office-type people). A tad fascist, but the convenience totally outweighs that. Plus everybody from machine operators to CEO wears the same basic uniform, so it really serves to flatten out the corporate structure.

  15. posted by Jaime on

    Funny you wrote about this. I always call my black tee + jeans and black shoes my “uniform”. My husband makes fun of me for the amount of black tops and black shoes I own. I’ve been trying to branch out only because my dog is white and I’m always covered in white dog hair.

  16. posted by Charlotte on

    Katharine Hepburn was famous for her closet full of khaki pants and white shirts. Also for famously declaring that pantyhose were an invention of the devil!

  17. posted by Brock Tice on

    After Katrina destroyed my complete wardrobe, I finally went for my dream set of clothing (because it would have been a waste to get rid of perfectly good non-uniform clothing before). Black top, khaki pants/shorts, black shoes or sandals, grey sweater.

    I wear long/short sleeves, shoes/sandals, sweater etc as weather dictates, but it’s always black above the belt, khaki below, and black shoes. I’ve been doing this for almost two years now and I love it.

    My wife envies me, but says it would be unprofessional for her to do this (as a woman). Especially since she’s a medical student, she can’t really deal with people questioning whether she’s actually changing clothes, from a health and hygiene standpoint. Instead, she found pants and shirts she likes, and bought a bunch of different colors/fabrics in identical cuts, such that they all match each other.

    I love my uniform, and I can’t see myself changing it any time soon. I’m instantly recognizable from far off. My wife has commented that it makes me a lot easier to see when picking me up from the airport, etc…

  18. posted by Maya on

    I read an article once that said that Steve Jobs had that turtleneck designed for him and a bajillion copies made because he doesn’t “get” clothes. A design genius relative to computers & personal technology, but just as fashion-challenged as the rest of his developer-type peers (pardon the generalization–I know they aren’t all eschewing fashion).

  19. posted by Alan Bucknam on

    For the last ten years I have worn the same clothes to my graphic design and marketing jobs. In fact, when I wore something other than my black Banana Republic Tee (way better cloth and stitch quality than Gap, I found), Gap pants, and black shoes (I recently upgraded to some mod leather loafers from the old Converse Hi-Tops) people would ask me “why aren’t you dressed for work?”

    Even though I now work for myself, my wardrobe hasn’t changed, much. I do have a black blazer I throw over the tee shirt when I meet clients for the first time, and a nice selection of long-sleeve black tees for the winter months. But for me to wear anything else is to risk misidentification on the part of my colleagues and clients.

    Oh, and if you wear gray or black undergarments, you can do all your wash in one load. Extra bonus!

  20. posted by Andamom on

    So this past birthday, my friends and family hired a stylist for me. (You can read about my experience here in more detail: http://andamom.com/?p=56) – However, she advocated that I get classic pieces that I can easily mix and match. I had done a lot of this already — my husband always suggested that I get neutral pants and basic shirts for instance. This has enabled me to pare down my wardrobe — and I don’t buy pants that only work with one shirt and so forth. I loathe shopping too — so the less I have to do the merrier.

    Yet, I realize that I should find some nice pieces that I can add to my wardrobe to give me a bit of panache — given that nothing in my closet really makes me feel radiant. I’m not Steve Jobs — and I am not at that point in my career that I have a set uniform — so I sometimes can use a bit of a boost to get me to the next level.

    Personally, I’d like to wear my Keens, shorts, and tee shirts in vivid colors every day of the year and have that be my uniform. However, reality isn’t that simple.

  21. posted by Nathania on

    A woman can have a “uniform” look without looking like it.

    If she works in a formal office, she can have a set of basic suits – get one in black, brown, blue, and white with skirt and pant options. Then buy blouses that can go with at least 2-3 of the suits.

    Right now, I have a casual lifestyle. Recently I found a pair of capri pants that I loved and I bought them in two colors. I also found a pair of pants and bought those in two colors. I have a bunch of shirts that can match more than one pair of pants. This makes for easy mixing and matching.

  22. posted by Cindy on

    I’ve just recently found your site, and like it very much. I am very organizationally challenged, but this is one area where I think the guys have got it made. In an office environment all they need is a few pairs of slacks/pants and a few more than that dress shirts in a couple of different colors.

    I have, mostly, adopted this attitude. I have three pairs of black, khaki-style pants and two pair of khakis. I also have about a dozen botton-front shirts in different colors or stripes. I have a couple of blazers for the few times a month I might need a little more formality, and a couple pairs of shoes in black and brown. For normal office work this makes my life much simpler than trying to figure out what to wear every day.

    I do have a couple of classic suits and dresses for when I must be much more professional, but here in Texas they really don’t get much wear.

  23. posted by Russ on

    The simplest wardrobe for men is a traditional wardrobe – black or gray / brown or khaki (depending what looks best on you and degree of formality) pants, a few complementary sport coats, an assortment of white and blue dress shirts, ties that go with any combination of the above. I’ve found that those who wear nothing but jeans and t-shirts worry far more about what they will wear than adults who dress like adults.

  24. posted by The Shopping Sherpa on

    Both Richard Scarry and Terence Conran dress in “uniform”.

    I think it’s a brilliant idea and would do the same except everytime I find the perfect piece of clothing it gets discontinued 🙁

  25. posted by Debbie on

    I’ve come up with a uniform I wear most work days: slacks, a solid color t-shirt, a blazer (because my office is always cold), and a necklace to make it interesting and pull the colors together. Most of it mixes and matches pretty well.

    In the summer, it’s short-sleeved t-shirts, in the winter, long-sleeved.

    I have only two pairs of work shoes, one in brown leather and one in black leather. I have a brown leather and a black leather belt, too. I could get by with only brown and black socks, too, but interesting socks make me happy and are worth the trouble.

    One problem with wearing the same thing too much is people notice when you do anything different. I don’t like that. People comment when I wear a dress or make-up, but at least they don’t comment when I wear a different color or whatever.

  26. posted by Laura on

    I have a uniform of sorts… I only buy in neutrals (black, grey, white, dark brown; never khaki/tan as it makes me look kind of undead) and warm colors (red, pink, orange). Everything “goes” very easily. In the winter, it’s always black, grey or brown pants with a top in one of the neutrals or color (never grey with brown though!). Once the temps average 65-70, I can only be found in skirts/dresses. I bought a yellow dress with some green this spring because it was a nice warm yellow and a cute design. I met a friend from lunch and she almost didn’t recognize me because I was not in pink. 😀

  27. posted by Tom on

    Can anyone recommend reasonably priced wrinkle resistant shirts for men? Short sleeve, cotton, casual work stuff that looks good with jeans…

  28. posted by 10 Steps to Zen [Part 2]: Simplify Your Wardrobe | [re]evolver on

    […] A uniform for everyday life. […]

  29. posted by Shedding the Stuff « living small…living simple…in absolute joy on

    […] we land.  As I go through our clothing, I keep having visions of the four of us dressing in the Steve Jobs wardrobe, except with each family member color coded for ease of laundry.  Ok, not really.  Nothing […]

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