Style Study

Style Study: The Road To Your Uniform – 5 Tips

February 24, 2017

The more I develop my personal style, the bigger a believer I am in ‘uniforms.’ Not the kind that you wear verbatim each day, but a semi-focused outfit formula that defines your style. One that you feel amazing and at home in.

Why a uniform? The best reason I can give for a uniform is that it makes getting dressed easier and it defines your signature style. 

Uniforms vs. lean closets. I think these two concepts go hand in hand, but they are decidedly unique from each other. The first is all about your style and the pieces that comprise it. The second is a tool that helps you get there. Embracing a lean closet allows you to shape your uniform. Identifying a uniform allows you to function highly off a lean closet.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1 – Understand your building blocks.

I was getting dressed the other day when I realized the pieces I had on were some major building blocks to my winter uniform. I was wearing my go-to dark jeans, my favorite gray sweater (similar option) and my compliment-magnet boots. It got my wheels turning about sharing with you guys what I’ve learned since slowly identifying a uniform in my winter wardrobe. I think the best way to help you understand the concept is to share how I’ve been doing it.

My winter uniform in a nutshell is about three different looks, a primary, and two alternates. If I were to make a pie chart the primary would be roughly 50% of what I wear and my alternates would take about 30% and 20% respectively. But that’s enough math for now. Let’s get to the ‘specifics’ of the uniforms.

PRIMARY: Straight legs (cropped-ish at the bottom), ankle boots, and a top that is not form fitting nor too long. Below you can see several variations of my primary uniform. It’s not an exact science, but more of a road map of shapes. In the middle photo, I am wearing high-top tennis shoes, but it still adheres to the overall uniform. In the second and fourth pictures my top is longer, but it still has mostly same overall look.

ALT 1: Wide pants, ankle boots, and a closer fitting top. Again you can see slight deviances from the uniform, a clog here, a long shirt there, but the over all silhouette is mostly unchanged.


ALT 2: Dress, wool tights, and chelsea boots. This has been a relatively newer uniform to develop for me, and it’s been fun to expand what I wear a bit. Again, there are slight variances, but the overall effect remains the same.

Looking back on these photos, I did not consciously construct and then adhere to a uniform. Rather my uniform sort of rose out of my most loved and repeated outfit combinations. How do you find these pieces in your closet? Consider your favorite outfits. Go with the packing rule (what would you take on a weekend trip?) Sift through your wardrobe and let the good stuff rise to the top. Consider doing a 10×10, which can be a rapid way to find your uniform and focus in on your style.

2 – A uniform can be understated. A uniform can speak as subtly or as loudly as you want it to. From bold signature looks to an understated style, a uniform follows your lead. It can be as basic as you like, or exotic beyond belief. The most important thing is that it’s you.

3 – Pause before you shop. Don’t let the idea of uniform make you feel like you need to run out and buy more pieces – it’s so tempting, right? I struggle with that too. Instead let it steer you to place value on those key pieces already hanging in your closet. Those two button ups that are part of your uniform, relish how good you feel in them and resolve to wear both of them (again) this week . Own it. Work it. If, after looking through your closet, there is a hole, make a wise purchase to tie your uniform together.

4 – Do your homework. Take some time over the next week to analyze what you love. Maybe take mirror selfies for a few weeks to see what you really like. For some reason a picture can be much more helpful than looking in the mirror. The camera doesn’t lie! (Most of the time.)

5 – Write it down. Putting words to paper keeps it from just floating around your mind and actually sharpens your ideas. The first time I wrote out what I thought my uniform was (either here or on Instagram, I can’t remember), all of a sudden it gave the concept a little more weight. The more I mulled it over in the passing weeks the more I realized I had keyed in on something.

I am not writing this post to tell you to get super analytical about your closet, or do a bunch of work. I do want to encourage you to be mindful of this concept, because with a small amount of effort you can reap a pretty great pay off. In addition to what I said above about simplifying and style clarity, a uniform brings with it a few more benefits.

A uniform allows you to more easily part with safety net items in your closet. I finally let go of distressed skinnies that just weren’t me. I told my friend Lauren that I was keeping them as my safety net, they were my ‘blend in with everyone’ skinny jeans that I felt like I needed because everyone else had them. Guess what? They didn’t fit me the best, and I always wore them in ‘throw away’ outfits. I put them in my ‘to sell‘ pile, and freedom!

A uniform will save you money. It will help guide you to smarter purchases. Consider your uniform before you add something to you closet, especially when looking at higher price points. Does it fit into any of your uniforms? If it falls outside what you naturally love to wear, investing $300 might not be a good idea.

I’d love to hear from you – what sort of uniform do you employ, and how does it simplify your life?

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  • Sarah Peters February 24, 2017 at 8:07 am

    This post makes me so happy – I like to get analytical about my wardrobe and I’ve thought a lot about dressing with a uniform. What inspires me is this quote from the fantastic book Women in Clothes: “I think style is the state in which one feels the least separation between their character and their body” – Alexander Nagel, art historian. I think a uniform is entirely personal and reflects that sense of congruence between character and body.

    Here’s what’s emerging for me:

    My color palette is consistently black, navy, and warm neutrals. 80% of the time I wear skirts and dresses. They always have a defined waistline (achieved with tucking, knotting shirt-tails, belting, or tailoring) with a hem that falls at or above the knee. My default is to wear black stockings (sheer or opaque) and some kind of stacked heel (this thankfully feels right year-round in Portland – I live here too! – while elsewhere in the US they don’t do the stockings look as much). Sometimes there is a sweater involved and I keep it cropped to hip height.

    My alternate outfit would be black skinny jeans with heeled ankle boots and some kind of top. I struggle to make pants outfits look as good on me as skirt/dress outfits, and I’m trying to teach myself to style casual looks and flats without feeling schlubby or stumpy. I’d love to be able to rock a more relaxed, “tomboy”, jeans/tee/sneakers outfit on weekends, but so far that’s a bit far out of my comfort zone.

    These uniform formulas and goals keep my work outfits and my shopping efficient and streamlined. I scan stores quickly for the pieces that fit with the uniform and tune the rest out. It also frees up mental space to focus on details like fabric and tailoring when I’m shopping because I’m not looking at all the shapes and colors available. This level of focus can feel a little limiting sometimes, but that’s part of the trade-off of uniform dressing, don’t you think? Doing the winter10X10 along with you helped me see that limits beget creativity and contentment.

    I love your thoughts on uniforms – I’m wondering if you had any big style breakthroughs or “aha” moments along the way? You’ve encouraged me to take the process slowly and organically rather then pressure myself to define my uniform too strictly. I also feel inspired to take more outfit selfies and let those inform the process. Maybe another solo 10×10 is in order :)

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing this! I LOVE hearing what others are doing. I am really impressed with how you’ve dialed things in so well. And I’m equally impressed that you wear skirts and dresses so much in the winter. Your uniform sounds great! I always get hung up on the shoe piece around these parts because of all the rain!

      That quote it spot on, I love it!

      I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re so right, having an identified uniform makes is WAY easier to shop because it omits so much of what is available. What a relief! I would say understanding the leg shape of pants i like (staight leg and wide) was a pretty significant ah-ha for me. I realized I base so much of an outfit around my pants, and I often start with that item when getting dressed, so it really helps to understand what works for me! I look forward to seeing my spring uniform emerge! Does yours vary in the spring/summer?

      Also, I’ll add that I’ve been using Hairstory! It’s very interesting, not sure what I think about it. I had hoped I could wash less, but I still need to every other day, and I feel like I’m scrubbing forever to get it clean!

      • Sarah Peters March 1, 2017 at 5:26 pm

        The rain poses such a challenge – weirdly I like dresses and skirts better than pants in the rain because if stockings get wet they dry really fast – jeans not so much. And I hear you on the shoe situation – I’m always spraying my boots with leather protector and hoping for the best! Thanks for sharing your a-ha moment. I hadn’t thought about where I start when I get dressed and what item I base my outfits around . . . interesting . . .

        My wardrobe doesn’t vary much in spring/summer. Dresses and skirts on repeat, in cotton and silk. Wedge heels and sandals. Can’t wait to see what the warmer months bring to your uniform and your blog – I love all the local resources you post!

        re: Hairstory. Hmm. My hair took about 7 days/3 washes to “adjust” to the formula, which I attributed to finally getting all the product buildup out of my hair. I also figured out that I needed to wet my hair thoroughly to begin with. Standing under the shower for 15 seconds like normal wasn’t enough. I lift my (very fine, not-that-much-to-it) hair from the root in sections and make sure the water gets down to the scalp. It takes about 1 min for the hair to get really drenched. Then I slather on 3 pumps/silver dollar’s worth of New Wash. Massage massage massage. Comb through the ends with a wide toothed-comb. Then I leave it in for 5 min then rinse out really really well.

        Hopefully those tips will help it work better for you, there was a little learning curve for me. I will say my hair is more textured and healthier after using it for 3 months, but I also dig a messy/natural hair look (which could just feel to other people like dirty hair). I tell myself it looks more french ;)

        • Andrea March 5, 2017 at 1:51 pm

          Hi Sarah, these tips are definitely helpful! Especially the part about getting my hair wet. I am liking the way my hair feels, but I feel like I’m screaming through the stuff!

  • Leah Wise February 24, 2017 at 9:16 am

    I was just thinking about this this morning, particularly how my uniform can change dramatically depending on the season. I wear mostly bright sweaters and skinny jeans in the winter, but I switch to monotone tops and circle skirts in the summer. Seemingly at odds aesthetically, but it’s what makes me feel comfortable.

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Maybe there is enough color in your life via hot temperatures in the summer time and that’s why you switch to monotone?

  • Jillian February 24, 2017 at 10:12 am

    I have been thinking about this idea so much lately. I’ve found the cooler/cold months to be easy – lots of layers. I feel like it’s harder to feel put together in the summer months when it’s blazing hot. I’d love to see what your warmer weather uniforms look like too!

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      I agree! I think it’s definitely harder to feel pulled together in the summer. One thing I’ve learned is in the summer I like more tones/shades, and that’s likely because I’m wearing fewer pieces. Ie. I’d wear a blue dress with tan shoes and carry a black bag, and that would make me feel more pulled together. Does that make sense? I am eager to discover my warmer weather uniforms too, and I’ll plan to share!

  • Tawny February 24, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I love this post. I am a serious uniform dresser in the winter since I really only wear skinny jeans with a button down (cashmere cardigan on top for extra cold days) or a chunky sweater, and ankle boots or my hightops (my uggs if it’s icy). I run cold and Virginia winters are normally chilly (this winter has been really strange and warm).

    But in warmer weather I tend to be a lot more varied since I like skirts and dresses and loser jeans as well. Of course maybe I’m just not remembering what my summer uniforms were since that was a while ago, haha. I think I’ll pay more attention this time around especially since I noticed such strong patterns in my winter dressing now that I am actually wearing most of my clothes (after a lot of purging, buying mistakes, and finally some really solid purchases to round things out).

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      I think I’m in the same boat, summer seems so long ago, I almost can’t remember! I bet if you looked close Tawny you’d see some patterns emerging in your warm weather uniform. Sounds like your winter uniform is pretty darn dialed in – love it!

  • Lo February 24, 2017 at 10:41 am

    I love seeing the subtle variety in all of these, while they’re all part of a very cohesive style you have.

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks so much Lo, I always love it when you weigh in on all things style. OH, and I finally ordered my clydes!!!!!!! I hope I love them as much as you love yours!

      • Lo February 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm

        Wheee! Hope you love them!

  • elaine February 24, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Love this post! I’m basically wearing a uniform of my fav Grana or Everlane wool sweater, a tee underneath, and the same pair of straight leg jeans or sometimes the Grana silk pants. My problem seems to be that I have that uniform and then all my other “blogger” clothes. I’m just beginning to incorporate those bloggers clothes into my daily life but really can’t seem to stray much from my uniform >.<

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Oh man! All dressed up but nowhere to go? >< I feel that way sometime. But you travel all the time! You still seem to stick to your uni? Maybe you need to identify a few alternate uniforms!

  • Erin February 24, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Andrea, posts like these are some of my favorite. I like how you’ve divided your uniforms into the primary and secondary/tertiary categories. I found the question “what do you reach for when you’re packing?” to be particularly helpful in determining what I reach for to feel the most me. I’m in the midst of a huge closet/style overhaul so I’ll be returning to this post for inspiration in streamlining my go-to outfits. Thanks for another beautiful post!

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Erin! Your encouragement and and feedback is always to welcome – thank you! I’d love to hear more about your style overhaul. What is evolving for you? Did you ever find pants? Thank you for being a part of this online space!

      • Erin February 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        “Did you ever find pants?” will be the title of my memoir. Ha! But really, thanks for asking! I thrifted a pair of what I’m calling “soft pants,” which are essentially joggers that I can wear hitched up high or low and slouchy. I’m pretty pleased with them although they’re not of the best quality, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for alternatives. Maybe the ES Florence pants are in my future?

        Right now I’m enrolled in a really cool style course that is all about inside-out congruency. I’m learning a lot about the science of dressing – proportions, colors, my body measurements, etc – while also tapping into the feelings and stories I associate with clothing. It’s one part therapy, one part practical guide, and I’m loving it. I’m also taking an informal shopping break during this time so that I can assimilate all I’ve learned and all I want to apply at the end. I don’t think there will be a drastic transformation, but I have high hopes that my style at the end will truly reflect who I am and who I want to be. xo

        • Andrea February 26, 2017 at 5:48 pm

          Wow! Erin, that sounds pretty amazing! Are you taking the course in person? If so I’m curious where something like this is offered. Keep us posted on what you learn! Or blog about it, and share the link!

          • Erin February 26, 2017 at 10:22 pm

            It’s virtual! Stasia’s Style School – a body-positive, female-community-building program that has already positively impacted me :)

          • Andrea February 28, 2017 at 9:49 pm

            Wow, I just looked it up, sounds amazing! She seems like an amazing coach! Excited for you to learn Erin!! Keep me updated. :)

    • Michelle February 24, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      “What do you reach for when packing”… that is so true! I am currently on a trip now and I had so much fun thinking about what to wear. I think what I ended up bringing are most representative of my style. Dark straight leg jeans+chambray button down+pink converse, navy knit dress+mustard cardigan (+ the perfect oxfords/chukka if i can find it)!!

      I think I like mixing masculine and feminine. I also like having one element of color or pattern, even if it ends up being my purse!

      I really need to start taking photos on myself in my favorite outfits, too. I don’t think we even own a full length mirror!! Yikes!

      • Andrea February 26, 2017 at 5:47 pm

        I hope you’ll do it!! It’s a great tool! (Even though it feels totally narcissistic.)

  • Erin Frost February 24, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    I live in Boston, our temperatures tend to change more dramatically through the seasons. I love having a uniform. Only recently, after 8 years in my city, have I figured out what works best as a parent, urbanite (lots of walking) and non-office-dwelling professional (my office is outdoors as a horticulturist). For my at home wardrobe I have discovered “uniforms” for each season. Winter is filled with popover blouses, cashmere as a layer, scarves, straight leg jeans (or corduroys), and saucony sneakers or leather boots. In Spring, I switch out jeans for fitted or skinny khakis, and lighter shoes (vans) and add tees as the temps warm. In Summer, I wear fitted tees with skirts and light sneakers or sandals (Toms or Kork-ease). In the Fall, I switch back to popovers with shorts and skinny khakis. I love having the variety and look forward to the change of each season. I dislike being cold and dresses or skirts in the winter feel overwhelming because of the layers. I find it easier to keep to this rhythm, it allows for a variety of clothing type but not an excess of any one thing (except maybe popover blouses). You have a milder climate so maybe it is possible to wear winter items in the summer but our cold is bitter and our Summer, Fall and Spring can be humid. Just thought I would comment because I enjoy hearing about your clothing choices but apply them to more of a “seasonal” uniform concept.
    Keep sharing!

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Erin! Welcome! Gosh, my needs sound similar to yours (parent, urbanite and non-office dwelling professional). I love what you shared about your uniform. Dang, you have it dialed in! I love it!!! It makes me really excited to examine my spring and summer patterns. I think it will also help lead me to a lot less discontentment in the future. For spring I imagine one of my uniforms will revolve around a favorite jumpsuit that I wear, and summer will definitely involve Birkenstocks. Thanks for being here! Excited to hear more from you on future posts. :)

  • Julie and Courtney February 24, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Really thoughtful blog! And kudos to the readers for great comments 😊. I definitely have my go tos, and then my more random outfits, but I like the idea of taking a step back after reading this and looking for the common thread!
    XO, Julie
    (Would love to connect btw, as we are new Portland bloggers!)

    • Andrea February 24, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Hi Julie! I’m honored to have another Portland blogger stop by! Looking forward to checking yours out. xo

  • Cat February 24, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Hello! I absolutely LOVE this post. It’s informative and helpful on so many different levels. Being in Portland, I can totally relate to your shoe struggle. I’ve invested in some weatherproof leather boots and I’ve found that they are well worth the money. Uniform dressing has been on my mind a bit as of late. I tend to stick with an all black base (dark pants- skinny, wide, or boyfriend & a flowy black tank or tunic & black boots) and then I layer up from there. A uniform base layer helps me feel grounded in my layering options. I’m enjoying the opportunity to play with layers this winter.

    • Andrea February 26, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      That is so smart Cat, the cohesiveness of your base is the key to not feeling ‘out of hand’ or hard style when you add the layers. That makes so much sense! That probably explains why I tend to gravitate toward simpler options in the colder months. Because you can make a complex look with lots of simple layers. But things can feel like ‘too much’ when I start combining lots of unique items. I love it, great insights! I’d also love to know about your waterproof leather boots!

      • Cat February 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm

        Thank you! It takes way less time & effort to stick with a simple base. The boots I stick with in winter are Aquatalia. They are Italian leather shoes and they are weatherproof. I’ve had the good fortune of finding one pair at Value Village for $6 & another at Nordstrom Rack for $60. After owning both through Portland’s fall/winter, I would recommend the brand. I know that they typically run upwards of $450, but it may be worth browsing around and trying to find a pair for less. I wear them all day for teaching and my feet stay comfortable.

        • Andrea February 28, 2017 at 9:54 pm

          Good fortune, I’ll say! What a score, both times. That brand looks amazing! I’ll have to keep an eye out in the future, thanks for sharing!

  • Joy February 28, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    I recently found your blog and love your posts and reviews. I’m only just beginning my path of living with less items, but more quality. You make it seem so simple. I’m curious about the Hackwith Design House dress you posted here in your photos. I love how you have winterized it with tights and a turtleneck. Do you like the dress on its own? And does it wash well?

    • Joy February 28, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Oh, and is it true to size? It’s so hard to tell based on a size chart!

      • Andrea February 28, 2017 at 10:25 pm

        I bought a medium, and I normally wear a size 6, and it fits great!

    • Andrea February 28, 2017 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Joy, so glad you’re here! It’s definitely not simple, but I try! Yes, I got this dress in the winter, but I love how it wears on its own, it’s my preferred shape (shift/loose) and I think it will be awesome to wear in the summer. It’s machine washable (and then line dry) so it’s pretty low maintenance! The fabric is tencel, and it is woven and sturdy, unlike a jersey fabric which stretches and could pill.