👖What is a “Personal Uniform”

Graphic by K8 Strassman

Before you read this week’s Up & Down, two key phrases to note:

  1. Culture Curious: people that are always looking for “what’s next”
  2. Uniform: an identifying outfit or style of dress, typically worn by the “members” of a given profession, organization, team, or rank

NET NET: The future of the “Uniform” = Personalization

As we shed our sweats / athleisure and leave our “nests”… The “culture curious” are challenging the traditional meaning & purpose of the “uniform.”

They are putting their own personal spin on “uniforms” by making them unique to themselves. They are cultivating a shortlist of their own tried and true ensembles to make up their everyday outfits. Rather than conforming to what they should wear, the “culture curious” are challenging expectations, expressing their signature look, and simplifying the process of getting dressed everyday.

It used to be that “uniforms” were a form of conformity — reserved for athletes, construction workers, flight attendants, school kids, stockbrokers, silicon valley entrepreneurs, etc. Wearing what everyone else is wearing signaled who you work for and how you rank. It meant there was one less thing to worry about. It evened out the playing field. Uniforms were the opposite of personal style. Not anymore.

WHAT’S UP: The post-quarantine “Personal Uniform”

Here’s how the culture curious are driving momentum for the “Personal Uniform” movement.

DISRUPTION: As our culture moves closer to gender equality and embraces fluidity, culture curious women are adopting men’s fashion rules and are rewriting them. It’s always been “okay” for guys to wear the same three suits.

Think: IBM with their blue suit and red tie. Steve Jobs with his black long turtleneck and jeans. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey with their hoodies.

Hillary Clinton had her own “uniform” for years with her signature pantsuit. But she was the exception. Now women across all industries are embracing “uniforms” that express their own personal style. Leading ladies like Kamala Harris and Jill Biden are paving the way with their own personal power uniforms.

To push it even further… the culture curious are re-defining the notion of a uniform, shifting the emphasis from group to individual. Uniforms are becoming more about showcasing the “personal brand” of an individual.

INNOVATION: Quarantine life made us rethink how we get dressed for work & everyday… the simplicity of having a “go-to” outfit during quarantine freed us from having to overthink our outfits… we realized that we like and want to maintain that mental relief. Defining a core “capsule” of go-to outfits and an “equation” for personal style lets us look and feel pulled together and express individuality without the stress.

The culture curious are building their new personal “capsule collections” with a mix of some pre-quarantine clothes they haven’t worn in 1.5 years paired with new pieces that reflect their post-quarantine style.

One culture curious influencer we spoke to said she has an “equation” that she uses to put together her daily outfits. She consistently mixes basics from ASOS or Zara with higher end luxury items that pop and show off her individual style:

“The key to an amazing uniform for me is mixing high / low pieces… it opens up endless possibilities for me to re-wear what I already have in my closet mixed with newer luxury pieces, like my new Balenciaga floral coat (that I bought on sale), chunky Chanel sandals or Aime Leon Dore sneakers. I only add one item with flair. I always wear my signature nameplate necklace + Rolex. That’s my every-day personal uniform.”

Traditional brands are starting to pick up on the movement. Introducing hybrid dressing: formal brands like Ministry of Supply and M.M. Lafleur are dressing down their styles in the name of comfort. Casual, leisure brands like Birkenstock are stepping up to compete with more “formal” options, such as the Work Birks.

SOCIAL IMPACT: The tension between fast fashion / disposable clothing and sustainability is coming to the fore. Re-wearing outfits is now socially acceptable — in fact, in our eco-conscious world, rewearing the same clothes over and over is considered ethical.

Not everyone can afford to wear sustainable fabrics… adding a selection of intentionally purchased fast fashion staples in your personal “uniform” that you will wear every week achieves the same environmental goals.

STICKINESS: The culture curious are curating the pieces within their uniforms with a heightened level of intentionality — focusing on the stories behind each piece.

Rather than buying from the same traditional brands, they are instead looking towards platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Etsy to discover new brands — taking the time to learn about the brands’ values, ethics / sustainability and origin story.

One culture curious influencer we spoke to shared the story behind one of his favorite start up brands: The Binary Group. Founded by two of his friends from the Midwest, the brand started as t-shirts that were company merch for their production company — which works with brands like Adidas, Budweiser and Darryl Brown. As it has evolved to a full clothing line, the pieces reflect the story of the founders and the way they are using their Midwest roots to shape the fashion industry.

“The Binary Group is an amalgamation of art, science, spirituality and culture. The two creators try to use it as a medium to bring people together through visual and product communication.”

POLARIZATION: Going “anti uniform” has become a form of personal and social expression — from athletes to the new Gossip Girl stars putting their own twists on traditional uniforms to drive conversation.

WHAT’S DOWN: Pre-quarantine standards of dressing. We’re challenging everything else post-quarantine… now it’s time to challenge how we dress.

Mattress maker ViscoSoft is relaxing its dress code as employees return to its Charlotte, N.C. headquarters in June. Instead of the button-down shirts and slacks that were the norm before the pandemic, staffers can now wear joggers, leggings and sweatshirts. “I told them no pajamas,” said Chief Executive Gabriel Dungan.

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M