A couple of years ago, I decided to wear the same outfit all of the time. I realized that shopping, and then deciding what to wear every day, was taking up too much time and energy. It’s not that I dislike fashion: I love high couture, but I’m no Daphne Guinness; I enjoy fashion as an art form, but that’s about it. I am, on the other hand, a UX designer, and I like designing experience for a goal.
So, first, my goal: find an everyday no-thought-required outfit reusable for most any occasion (with minor modifications) that is cheap, easy to replace, made of a breathable, stretchable material, and doesn’t look particularly trendy or easily dated. Oh, and I need to be able to ride a bike in it. Oh, and I hate having extra stuff around that I don’t need or wear, and I hate spending money on clothes, so everything should affordable, minimalist, and as long-lasting as possible. And it should look cool. No big deal.
When I was deciding what my daily outfit would be, I realized there are two literary characters whose views on fashion I’d always admired. I decided to emulate them.
The first is Ian Malcom, aka Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurrassic Park, whose views on clothing struck me as sensible even in seventh grade:
"…In any case, I wear only two colors, black and gray."
Ellie was staring at him, her mouth open. “These colors are appropriate for any occasion,” Malcolm continued, and they go well together, should I mistakenly put on a pair of gray socks with my black trousers.”
"But don’t you find it boring to wear only two colors?"
"Not at all. I find it liberating. I believe my life has value, and I don’t want to waste it thinking about clothing," Malcolm said. "I don’t want to think about what I will wear in the morning."
The second is Cayce Pollard, from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.
CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.
What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000.
FIGURING OUT WHAT TO WEAR.
When I first thought about a daily outfit, I naturally started off thinking about jeans—but jeans are a huge pain in the ass to shop for, and cuts are heavily tied to trends & fashion periods. They don’t dress up, either, especially for women. So jeans: out.
Then I thought about daily dresses, rather like the Uniform Project, but with less accessorizing, since part of the goal was to think less about clothing. I ended up trying out some H&M t-shirt dresses with sweaters, which worked out okay, but definitely required tights—you can’t ride a track bike in a dress or skirt without tights. Preferably opaque, thick tights.
T-shirt dresses actually worked for a while, but eventually got a bit awkward. They don’t mix particularly well, shrink oddly, and if you raise your arms it can be kinda dangerous. Jersey skirts, I found, were altogether better. They were more flexible pair with a shirt, and the waistline could be adjusted. And then I quickly learned to add a longer tank underneath: when you ride a bike every day, you need to make sure that your ass will be covered when you bend over.
Then I discovered leggings are almost always better than tights; they’re more flexible, come in a wider variety of fabrics and cuts, and there’s more movement leeway with footless leggings. Suddenly I had my outfits.
I’ve gone through and listed out what I wear every day below. My final outfit is really casual, but can easily be dressed up, and works in literally any situation: Yoga? Check. Funerals? Check. I rarely go to funerals, thankfully, but I’ve included a list of more dressy substitutions if my base outfit seems too casual. So without further ado, this is what I’ve been wearing for the last year and a half.
WHAT I’VE BEEN WEARING FOR THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF.
Every San Franciscan, and probably every American between the ages of two and seventy, owns at least one hoodie. Right now I have three identical Gap Fit Zip Hoodies in black. Before I discovered the wonder that is Gap Fit, I generally switched up between American Apparel and H&M hoodies, but having gone through two different Gap Fit models now, I can confidently say they are the clear winners in the basic hoodie category:
| ||Gap ||AA ||H&M|
|Fit ||For ladies ||For dudes (torso too long) ||For ladies|
|Quality ||Soft cotton; keeps shape ||Shrinks & pills ||Major shrinkage|
|Colors ||Limited to basics ||Many ||Many|
|Pockets ||Deep ||Shallow ||Varies by cut, but usually shallow|
|Bonus ||Thumbholes || ||Varies by cut|
I’ve often considered getting a higher-end hoodie, like Chrome or Outlier’s merino hoodies, but so far neither has come out with a hoodie that fits me well enough to justify the price increase. Gap hoodies are $40; I could buy four for the cost of one Chrome hoodie.
Pluses: Great in most weather. If it gets really cold, I just double up.
Minuses: I lose them a lot. And if I didn’t live in San Francisco, they might often be considered too casual for work.
Fancy sub: cardigans or bomber jackets.
Although I’m a sucker for beautiful designer t-shirts, I realized they cycle too quickly for the price; what’s popular one year is often dated the next. So although I’ve kept a few favorites, I mainly wear band t-shirts now. Band t-shirts are often also well-designed, and they have the significant advantage of being the one article of clothing that will for sure get cooler as it gets older.
The only downside is that most band t-shirts are printed on basic men’s-cut t-shirts, or American Apparel’s Women’s T, neither of which are particularly flattering to me. So I generally cut up every t-shirt I get, hacking off sleeves and scooping out the neckline. I highly recommend it as a great way to salvage an excellent t-shirt you’d otherwise never wear.
Pluses: Very cheap. And chopping up t-shirts gives you a sort of homemade punk vibe.
Minuses: Cheap t-shirts = probably slave labor.
Fancy sub: Any other dressy shirt, really.
A tank top.
I always wear a tank top underneath my t-shirts. There’s a few reasons for this:
- I mainly wear Gap Pure Body’s really lovely, super-soft cotton tanks, which feel great.
- I don’t wear belts, though I love the optical effect they produce. Having a white or colored strip of tank around your hips gives the same effect.
- It’s nice to have an extra layer in case you get sweaty, or cold, both of which are likely to happen in San Francisco.
As I mentioned, I mainly wear Gap’s Pure Body line, but they have a very limited color selection, so I’ve got a few H&M tanks and random other brands in the mix, too.
Pluses: Color bisecting your middle = belly camouflage.
Minuses: You do sometimes have to think about coordinating tanks to t-shirts.
Fancy sub: Something silky.
I’ve gone through a lot of leggings trying to find the perfect pair. I haven’t quite found them yet. In the meantime, I’ve got leggings from the Gap, J. Crew, H&M, pricey boutiques, Modcloth and Uniqlo in my closet. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Gap Body capri leggings: Soft milled cotton, excellent. I bought one pair and have been forever kicking myself for not buying more.
- Modcloth’s Perfect Pairing Leggings: All synthetic, but hands-down the best fit. I have eight pairs; they’re my go-to leggings.
- J. Crew: A pair of heavy, long cotton leggings bought in desperation in NYC in December.
- Uniqlo’s Heattech leggings: Also bought out of desperation in the cold, cold NYC winter. Not really that warm, but light and soft, much like the Gap Body leggings. Another favorite
- H&M: Don’t bother. They fit weird and don’t last.
- Pricey boutiques: Generally never worth the price, though often have cool details or linings.
Pluses: Don’t have to worry about flashing anybody. Great if you feel, like me, there’s no reason anybody should ever see your legs.
Minuses: Finding leggings of the right length can be tricky.
Fancy sub: Fancy tights.
Like leggings, I still haven’t found the perfect skirt. What I want is a black cotton jersey a-line mini. What I usually get is a straight-fit mini. If you have recommendations, let me know.
In the meantime, I have about eight pairs of Cotton On’s Annie skirt; though cheap, their materials are nice and thick and the cut is good. I used to get H&Ms classic jersey skirt, but they’re really only worth the $5 you pay; semi-transparent when they stretch, and they rip at the seams.
On a lark, I bought a pair of Patagonia’s black miniskirts, which have a nice cut, but use such thin fabric they don’t hold their shape.
Pluses: Dresses up outfits that would otherwise look like workout clothes. Miniskirts are essential if you have a track bike.
Minuses: You do have to wear a pretty tight skirt all the time.
Fancy sub: A dressy skirt.
I only wear three kinds: Gold Toe Men’s Cotton Liners Athletic, Gold Toe Men’s Fluffie Midcalf, and American Apparel’s Calf-High Socks (which are surprisingly nice).
Pluses: Buying 30+ pairs of the exact same sock = life is really much easier.
Minuses: I never have interesting socks.
Fancy sub: I suppose…no socks?
The nice thing about wearing leggings and skirts is that you can pretty easily fancy up any outfit with heels if you like. But I don’t like, so here’s what I normally wear:
- Converse low-tops
- Dr Martens Triumph 1914 Black Mirage mid-calf boots
- Ballet flats
- (very, very occasionally) basic black Tom’s
Pluses: I generally wear the first two pairs of shoes on the list 90% of the time, and they serve me well.
Minuses: Sometimes I do have to wear heels, so I keep a couple of pairs around. But I don’t like the wasted space.
Fancy sub: Fancy shoes!
WEARING THE SAME THING EVERY DAY IS AWESOME. BUT THERE ARE A FEW DOWNSIDES.
When I first started looking for things like a ‘standard tank top’ or a ‘standard jersey skirt’, I thought they’d be easy to find. They’re really not. Most clothing is designed to be seasonal, and so each brand adds their own little touches: odd zippers, weird flaps, truly appalling patterns, and so on. This problem is actually compounded at local, ethical boutiques—designers are generally trying to make their name with interesting designs, not create basics. So when I find a product I like, I buy it in bulk.
Additionally, I’d much prefer buying my skirts and tanks from an low-waste, green company. Please let me know if you see an item on my list and know where I could find it. I’m aware of companies like Alternative Apparel, but unfortunately they often don’t have what I need, or the quality is so low I can’t justify spending the money even though I support them philosophically.
Incidentally, the outfit I ended up deciding on is similar to the one Pollard wears in her introductory scene:
'…a fresh Fruit T-shirt, her black Buzz Rickson's MA-1, anonymous black skirt from a Tulsa thrift, the black leggings she'd worn for Pilates, black Harajuku schoolgirl shoes.'
I’m sure a lot of you read this, thinking, “I basically do this anyway; this is no big deal.” That’s awesome. If you do find yourself stressed about clothes, just take a step back, look at your wardrobe, think about what you really like to wear—and what you think presents your favorite view of yourself—and then buy ten of ‘em.