I have a uniform, and people notice. Staring into my closet every morning, there were too many options: contrasting or complementing colors, textures, layers, and that was one creative challenge I didn’t want to suffer through anymore. I make a lot of creative decisions throughout the day; it’s an onslaught of concepts, words, images, and video. I put a lot of heart, soul and sweat into curating the absolute best on behalf of the brands we work with. It’s hard work, and I love it. I began noticing others who wore the same thing everything day, legends like Steve Jobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Pee-wee Herman. Maybe they’d suffered the same wardrobe dilemma as me and come up with a solution.
Noted psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a great book called The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less. He talks about the volume of choices we’re exposed to, how we make choices, and the connection of choices to happiness. The short version: the more choice we have, the more unhappy we are. Never-ending choice is a requirement in post-industrial western culture, but many are opting for fewer in pursuit of happiness. The concept of “voluntary simplicity” has been around for a while, and it’s interesting to see it’s rise in mainstream popularity. A small part of me digs the idea of the Tiny House for just this reason.
Michael Lewis did a great piece in Vanity Fair on Barack Obama. I read it, and it resonated.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing.”
Reading that, I instantly became aware of the volume of decisions i wanted to make and didn’t want to make. That conscious awareness gave me a choice I didn’t realize I’d had. I wanted a uniform, but what would it be?
Uniforms shouldn’t just be reserved for Catholic Schools, North Korea and Hot Dog on a Stick employees. What holds us back from developing individual uniforms? What does it communicate to wear a uniform? Maybe it seems eccentric or borderline OCD or OCPD? Maybe people will think I never do laundry? Maybe I’ll be ridiculed like Owen Wilson’s character in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket – those yellow jumpsuits kicked ass.
In our creative agency existence, we have briefs. These kick off projects and help to set the rules, goals and limitations of an assignment. So I applied that same approach to this one aspect of my personal life that I’d been struggling with – the outfit and the morning routine.
Like any creative director, I wrote a brief.
- Minimize wardrobe choice
- Maximize comfort
- allow for some variability
- be unique/memorable
- max budget $130 per uniform, including shoes
I stopped short of creating a brand style guide but did think about it.
This exercise in personal branding also reminded me of a design process and framework I like – setting variables. I see a lot of designers struggle, like I do, when we have too many variables, too many options, a completely blank canvas with no rules. Where do you even start? Found images? Illustration? Smart copy? It can feel overwhelming. There are too many options. I limit the possibilities by setting the variables, giving myself rules for what tools I can use, what colors, what kind of photography, etc. This gets me to finished product much faster. It’s the same challenge as “what do I wear?”
When I started rocking my uniform, it got attention. I was comfortable, and it was memorable. I should have done it a long time ago. Johnny Cash was on to something.