My Fashion Uniforms

“Uniform dressing” is always a bit of a misnomer for me. Most people I know who love clothes don’t wear the exact same thing day in and day out. But we all tend to have what I think of as “outfit formulas” — a set of equations that add up to that ineffable thing called “style.”

I think you could structure a biography around the evolution of people’s outfit formulas. I know my own set of uniforms have changed a lot since moving back to the Midwest, getting older and becoming a mother. Back when I lived in NYC, I was all about “cool mini frock + boots” or “blazer + oxford button-down + skinny jean + riding boots.”

Of course the minidresses went out the window when I became a parent, but I found the second formula just didn’t feel so right — it didn’t meet my emotional needs. I didn’t need strength, polish and tomboy refinement; instead I craved something easier, comfier, softer, even gentle. More feminine, perhaps.

Now my outfit formulas — my uniforms, ha — are different, and I really lean on them when I don’t have a lot of time to experiment and fiddle with clothes. (One of my favorite writings on fashion uniforms and becoming a mom was actually when Gwyneth Paltrow wrote about her uniforms for an early incarnation of Goop…it’s about the only time in my life I found myself relating to GP!) My formulas hit my criteria of practicality and getting me out of the house quickly — but also offer both a foundation to help me feel grounded while giving me space to play. Which is a good definition of uniform dressing, right?

Silky blouse + skinny jean + refined but sturdy shoe

This is my fail-safe for when I need to be polished, refined and somewhat elegant, but still need to keep up with a busy day of work, toddler wrangling, meetings and just go, go, go. A pretty blouse in a lovely color or subtle print helps me feel distinctive but jeans in a classic silhouette make me feel grounded. The shoe varies on my day’s schedule and my personal fancy, but is usually an ankle boot — though I do like a ballet flat or a block-heeled loafer too, and lately I do like busting out my black riding boots, which works really well with this look.

Sweatshirt dress + legging + cool slip on or boot + beanie

This is for a more kid- and mom-intensive day, when I am super physically active and need comfort but want to feel like playful and just a bit of punky. I’ve already written about my love of sweatshirt dresses and tunics before, but I think cozy sweater dresses could be subbed in this formula. (I can’t wear sweaters as much anymore because my skin is super sensitive to anything now!) The shoe varies — I love wearing my suede high-top slip ons from Fabletics, but I also like Vans and ankle boots and Frye boots. (I will always love boots, right?) But what really makes this for me is the beanie, because I don’t have to think much about my hair but it still looks cool!

Elevated sweatshirt + leggings + athletic shoe + scarf

This is basically for days when I go to the gym and work and mom around. Yay, athleisure! I like an elevated sweatshirt just for something a little special, but I find the scarf makes it just a tad cozier and stylish. What makes this look work in real life is actually my choice of outerwear and bag, though — I try not to default to something overly utilitarian and go with a more polished or cool option, like my moto jackets or a grey wool cocoon-y coat. But I do bow down to the elements!

Gamine top + skinny jean + rock ‘n roll shoe

I like this just for a more carefree yet kid-adjacent day, like running errands with my little one and then taking him someplace fun like a museum or library. What I mean by “gamine top” is typically a Breton striped one, or an Oxford button-down — but it could also be a hoodie sweatshirt or a plaid flannel button-down or even a silk vintage-y camisole. Something bohemian tomboy, I guess, or even “Kate Moss in the early grunge era.” A skinny jean is a given and a “rock n roll” shoe is basically a punky ankle boot or moto boot, but could also be Vans (Cali-punk!) or even Vans type slip ons. I have been known to just default to ballet flats, though — but loafers feel just a tad too preppy for me with this formula. This is also where I like to add a blazer, too, if I’m feeling like I need armor.

Pretty but easy top + easy pant + simple classic shoe

This formula is for when I just don’t feel that great, whether I’m feeling a little sick, frayed at the edges, worn down or just crappy about myself for whatever reason. I don’t want to feel constrained and need a little ease — so no skinny jeans — but I also don’t want to be too sloppy and demoralized. That’s where the top comes in — it can be a nice top or blouse, or even a cashmere v-neck or cute sweater, but it’s usually something that ties the line between loose and body-skimming. The easy pant is generally a fleece jogger or just a loose track-style pant in an easygoing fabric, and honestly, the shoe more often than not is a ballet flat or sandal, or just a Toms slip on. This is one of the few uniforms where I don’t default to a boot — I just need everything to feel light and gentle when I reach for this formula. If I head out the house for some time, I might wear jewelry to signify some degree of refinement — this is one of the few formulas where I feel I need some typical jewelry, interestingly enough. But generally I need to feel comfort more than anything.

It’s funny to look at all my fashion formulas in one place because I can see so easily my defaults — jeans and boots! — but also where I get more creative, like patterned tops or shoes and accessories that are either delicately bohemian or punky. I can see the creative tensions in my style — punk bohemian tomboy vs. straightforward feminine chic — as well as a certain elemental foundation that feels very Midwestern, earthy and practical-minded, but also kind of grunge. Writing down your outfit formulas and fashion uniforms has been a genuinely interesting exercise — I highly recommend it!

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