In these quarantimes, I’ve noticed myself wearing the same black sweatshirt and baggy jeans every day. Correction--prior to the lockdowns, my usual uniform was the exact fraying Zara sweatshirt and vintage Levi’s I am currently wearing. Despite the fashion industry and Instagram’s best efforts to fuel the constant need to wear new things, many people have copped to having a self-styled uniform, especially now. What for? Is it laziness? Slovenliness born in the absence of non-digital social performance? Wearing the same thing consistently is both a security blanket and power move. This idea was well said in a 2017 Fashionista article;
“In a business built on looks — and looking up-to-date — perhaps one of the biggest displays of power is to have a look that rarely changes. It's the critic with an already-established place in the industry who shows up to fashion week in a dad shirt and ill-fitting pants; it's the editor with a household name who doesn't change her hairstyle for decades at a time."
Anna Wintour and André Leon Tally, 1997 c/o Who What Wear
Ahem--we see you Anna Wintour. Many a designer, editor, tech founder and politician has been known to capsulize their wardrobes. In quarantine, our Zoom calls and selfies have revealed that the rest of us have been low-key doing what Zuckerberg and Obama have admitted publicly all along. Vogue UK determined Alexa Chung’s quarantine uniform was “dungarees” (Re: Overalls) thanks to the denim straps creeping into her shelter selfies. The dungs could be for comfort, but not exclusively since sweats or even a snuggie could do the job just as well. In an interview with InStyle, Alexa explains this affinity:
“Every morning when I get up and think about what I want to wear, dungarees — or overalls, as Americans call them — are the thing that pops into my head most often. They’re like a comfort blanket for me in terms of style. I know that they suit my body shape. I know that they’re a good reflection of my tomboyish personality.”
Even without the confession, it’s obvious that overalls are the quintessence of Alexa. She’s practically their inventor. They’re all the things that comprise her style, “Boyish, a bit grandma, a bit like a ’70s man in a band…”. In Corona times it’s good to have a comfort blanket to revert to. But the uniform doesn’t just serve us comfort, it’s something more.
Dungarees ℅ Alexa’s instagram
Maybe this essentialism of stuff plus the essence of the self is at the crux of uniform dressing. In the way good writing and art are descriptive but concise, speaking your identity in an outfit of five items or less is an incredible feat. For Steve Jobs, his three-piece uniform was an even more deliberate, visual haiku almost as recognizable as the Apple logo itself. The black Issey Miyake mock neck, stonewashed Levi 501s and gray New Balance sneakers each symbolize something core to Steve. The turtleneck stands in for his love of zen minimalism and the Levi’s and New Balances are proxies for his Americana, hippie-seeded brand of capitalism. It’s as if he himself in inoffensive smooth black shapes and easy functionality is the iPhone.
Aside from crystalizing our identities through a uniform, in terms of sustainability, there can be nothing more sustainable than re-wearing the same outfit over and over again. In terms of an economic crisis, there can be nothing more economical than wearing the same few clothes over and over again.
By dressing in their “uniforms” designers and leaders of the past were not only being practical but their intention was to eliminate decision fatigue and conserve their creative energy for their customers and constituents—for us. Maybe that’s what quarantine uniforms offer us too, the mental freedom to worry about things other than ourselves, while still being ourselves. There’s a lot to worry about right now. So feel free to challenge yourself creatively if it boosts your spirits, but if not, we’ve got nowhere to go but the fridge.