Why wearing a ‘uniform’ to work might just make your life better

Posted by | June 18, 2015 | How to be awesome at your job, Work tips

wearing a uniform blog header

I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, you’re wondering why anyone would wear a uniform by choice. 

Fair enough, there’s a raft of complaints — ultra-conformity, creative repression, the death of the soul — that all feel very familiar to those of us who sported kilts, ties and knee-high socks in our fevered youth.

Despite this gut reaction, spend a moment with me in contemplation. You must admit there is something undeniably seductive about uniforms (and I don’t mean in a not-safe-for-work kind of way). What do Janelle Monae, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Slash and Marge Simpson all have in common? Like climate change deniers in a hurricane, they cling desperately to the same daily outfit.

Curious? Stay with me as I examine the attraction of the uniform, exploring four reasons why wearing the same thing every day just might just make your life better.

Reason # 1: Less decisions = better decisions

Mark Zuckerberg looks pensive in his dependable grey tee. Creative Commons attribution: Raphaël Labbé

Mark Zuckerberg dressed in his habitual grey tee. Attribution: Raphaël Labbé

Decision-fatigue is a real thing, folks. We each have a limit to our decision-making energy. The more decisions we make a day, the poorer our choices and the more likely we are to act impulsively or not act. This New York Times article describes one study where decision-fatigue effected Israeli judges so severely that prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole 70% of the time, compared to a 10% parole rate for afternoon decisions.

Don’t let decision-fatigue get you! If you cut down the number of decisions you make, or so the argument goes, you then have more decision-space for your important work. Like Mr Zuckerberg, you could spend at least 5% more of your time looking pensive, or scheming to save sea lions from dental plaque. Win-win!

Reason #2:  Create a personal brand

Steve Jobs in his standard black turtleneck and blue jeans. Creative Commons attribution: Matthew Yohe

Steve Jobs in his standard black turtleneck and blue jeans. Attribution: Matthew Yohe

When you’re on the bus, thinking about Steve Jobs (as you do), what is he wearing? Where would Mark Zuckerberg live in the collective consciousness were it not for his jeans, teeshirt and hoodie combo? Can you separate Slash from his top hat, hair and glasses? (Please note that Do Good Jobs does not recommend attempting the latter).

If your chosen job requires you to appear in public, a uniform can be a big benefit. It creates a link between you and your work, whether it’s an eco-dystopic novel, a big NGO, or a new brand of free-range tofu. The important thing here is to choose a uniform that works for your line of work. A dinosaur onesie may be a novel talking point for your progamming gig, but not work as well in Legal Aid.

Reason #3:  Buy less, own less

Minimise your top hat purchaces, like Slash. Creative Commons attribution: DaigoOliva

Slash: one top hat for every possible event! Attribution: DaigoOliva

Have you heard of the Uniform Project? It’s where Sheena Matheiken wore the same ‘little black dress’ for a year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. The project also raised over $100k towards educating underprivileged children in India.  Sheena’s project raises a really interesting question: how many clothes do we really need, and how many could we do without?

Ideally, clothes should be precious items purchased only after considering their aesthetics, resource-use, and the health and income of those who create the materials used in garment construction. For those of us who can afford to buy a few high quality ethical items of clothing, instead of dozens of cheap items, that’s great. But even when we need to buy on the cheap, buying less is a good move too.

Reason #4 Express yourself, comfortably

Marge Simpson: classic pearls are suitable for every occasion.

Marge Simpson: a classic string of pearls is suitable for every occasion.

Have you ever arrived at a work function wearing a pink floral hat, a pink floral dress and and matching pink floral sneakers? Ah. This one might just be for me. Occasionally my pre-coffee clothing choices err on the side of slightly creative. If you’re also sometimes a little Luna Lovegood (gold lame in the supermarket, anyone?), choosing a uniform that expresses your personality (in a considered and professional manner) is a godsend.

Your daily outfit may also acknowledge other important factors. It be flattering, fit well, and have the capacity to allow you to run away from a Tsumani  with ease (perhaps with Elijah Wood, on a scooter). It may be practically perfect in every way.


Janelle Monae wearing her trademark suit. Attribution: Joe Mabel, Creative Commons

Janelle Monae wearing her trademark suit.   Creative Commons attribution: Joe Mabel

Well, there you have it: four reasons to convince you that wearing the same thing every day might just make your life better. 

So what do you reckon: would you wear a uniform? Perhaps you do already? What would you wear if you did?  Leave a comment, or come and have a chat. I’ll be easy to find: look for the woman wearing black jeans, leather jacket and a very classy all-purpose sombrero. Viva la uniform!

By Liz Willoughby-Martin

Like this post? You might also like 6 late bloomers to convince you that you’re not ‘too old’ and Type that personality: how Myers-Briggs can help you work better.



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