To construct a couple of minimalist work “uniforms” for summer, I figured I should start with an inventory of what I own, what I love, what I tend to wear to work, what I don’t love, and what I tend to avoid. This is the inventory edition of my journey to figure out the best pants for minimalist work uniforms.
Regular Work Pants (for the Not-Yet-Minimalist Work Wardrobe)
1) Black straight jeans
They are lightweight, but oddly hot and sticky in summer (particularly in the rear, I don’t know why). I do wear them in summer, too, but not when it’s going to be humid or in the 90s. They don’t look fantastic, but they are fine, and I like the sharp, solid black.
2) Blue straight jeans
These are a great, lightweight summer pair. It goes with pretty much anything, and thanks to the dark wash, I can dress it up pretty easily. Add a white shirt and a black suit jacket, and I feel sharp without feeling, you know, corporate.
3) White skinny jeans
I like the lightness these white jeans add to an outfit, but they look a bit sausagey from behind, to be honest. I gained 4 pounds or so in the few years since I bought this pair, and despite some effort on my part, I think the pounds are here to stay. I was pretty conservative in my dress for much of my 20s, and these were the first white denim pants I ever bought. I still remember the “wow, this adds so much fun possibility to the wardrobe!” feeling back then, after sticking to dark-colored bottoms my entire life. If I decide that I want to keep a white option, I probably need to buy a new pair. These white jeans are starting to look a little dirty around the edges, too, so a replacement is probably not a bad idea.
4) Blue boot-cut jeans
I bought these this year, after looking off and on for a boot-cut pair for at least a couple of years. I’m loving the leg-elongating effect of a boot-cut again after years of sticking to skinnies and straights. The material is a bit on the thick side for summer, but still wearable. The wash is lighter, which makes this pair a fair amount less business-y than the straight blue jeans above.
5) Blue linen pants
I bought these lightweight and breezy pants on massive sale a few years ago. They were something like $5. Back then, they were a bit baggy on me, and I didn’t wear them much. After gaining the 4-ish pounds, though, I look better in them. It’s better, but not great. There’s something not quite right about the cut. I might have had them hemmed half an inch too short, too. Right now, these are pretty useful summer pants, though I wouldn’t say I love them.
6) Khaki/green satin pants
These are maybe 3-4 years old. I love the heavier-weight material. It has a beautiful shine and retains shape very well. This (and the other two below that belong to the same series) is one of my favorite pairs of pants that I wish the manufacturer would have made a perennial classic. (They did have the style for a couple of years.) It’s not deadly hot, but I wear this pair mostly in cooler months, partially because the color looks a little hot on a muggy day.
7) Black satin pants
They belong to the same family as the one above. I need to be on a good day, i.e., a pound a two lighter than my recent average, to fit in them comfortably. I do love these for the same reasons as I love the khaki/green pair.
8) Brown satin pants
These also belong to the same family as the khaki ones. I can fit into this pair but won’t stay comfortable for a whole day, though I still love the somewhat unusual color (“melted chocolate ice cream brown” might be the most apt description I can come up with) and shape. This would be high on the “discard” list for a rational minimalist, but I have a hard time parting with it because I know it’d be hard to find a comparable pair. Thus I’ve been clinging to the irrational “keep, in case I manage to lose the flab.”
9) Black boot-cut dress pants
These are ancient, probably more than 10 years old. These are made of polyester, and while they aren’t unbearable, they are kinda hot in summer. The cut is pretty good, but I can’t love this pair. I think it’s the cheap feel of the material, even though I don’t think it actually looks that cheap. (And I generally dislike synthetic material in clothing, other than performance wear for gym and hiking.)
10) Black summer ankle pants with white dots
They are made of lightweight cotton and have a fantastic cut. It’s more of a “fun” piece than serious work outfit, but I love them for summer. I don’t wear them as often as I’d like mainly because it’s difficult to create a good overall balance without going barefoot in my work shoes. My sweaty feet absolutely cannot go bare in leather shoes, and even footsies often cause blisters. I’ve thought about wearing novelty socks and let them show between the top of my shoes and the bottom of these pants, but the pattern of the pants itself can clash badly with novelty socks. So I’m stuck with black socks, which works all right, I suppose… I love how the pants feel and fit, but I guess I”m ambivalent about the whole outfit it can create.
11) Khaki chino boot-cut pants
This replaced a similar pair last year that was made of a much thicker fabric (which I actually liked). The predecessor had a strange cut that dug into my crotch, and this one solved that problem. However, I can barely fit into these high-waisted pants these days. Another sale purchase I never really loved (stupid, right?) despite the light, summer-friendly cotton fabric, this is definitely a candidate for a farewell party.
12) Blue denim wide pants
I bought these trendy pants earlier this year. Though the weight of the denim is pretty substantial, the loose cut makes them pretty breezy and wearable even on a hot day. I like the dark wash, too, which goes well with most of my shirts and keep the pants understated despite the more nontraditional cut. This is another “fun” piece. I’m not sure how long I can wear this pair without the current wide pants fad is over. I bought it knowing that it might be a one- or two-season item, and that’s okay. (But yeah, that means I should wear these more often while I can!)
[No photo: These are hibernating somewhere in the back of the drawers.]
13) Heat-tech blue skinny jeans
This is a winter-only pair made with some sort of special fabric that converts the body’s natural moisture into heat. (It’s not a huge difference, but the heat generation thing does work. Somehow.) I don’t love the slightly frumpy cut or the lighter wash, but these pretty comfy jeans do go well with most everything I wear to work, and I end up wearing them on a regular basis come winter. There’s something convenient and reliable about this pair.
14) Brown corduroy straight pants
Also winter only. These are probably 4-5 years old, from the time my work outfits were a bit more casual than they are now. I do like the fit, and I wore them quite a bit in its heyday. I’d already gotten rid of a worn-out sister pair that was a boot cut. This pair might be on its way out, too, unless I start wearing them on weekends; I don’t quite see myself wearing corduroy pants to (current) work.
Dressier Work Pants (for the Not-Yet-Minimalist Work Wardrobe)
By “dressier work pants,” I just mean wool pants. I have three of these. I used to own another absolutely beautiful pair made of the most lightweight wool I’ve ever seen, but the poor pants got eaten by moth before I had too many occasions to wear them, and I had to throw them out. That checkered pair was from some high-end designer, a surprise find at a discount store for something like 5% of its original price, and one that taught me that once you go above a certain dollar amount, the quality reeeeeally gets upgraded. It’s a pity that pants didn’t fit my life when I had them! Anyway, though.
Black suit pants
I only wear them with the matching suit jacket on special occasions–read: interviews and such. Though I don’t wear them often, these are a necessity.
Blue suit pants
Ditto. Can’t get rid of them.
Brown wool pants
This decade-old veteran has been worn maybe 5 times? I bought it for work interviews, wore them for exactly those occasions, got the job that led to my current job, and never wore them since. Until I started listing my pants, I’d mostly forgotten about this one.
There’s nothing wrong with the pants–they fit well, I like the material and color, they aren’t particularly hot or cold. It’s just that I don’t wear wool pants regularly, mostly for cleaning and ironing concerns. And maybe suit-style wool pants don’t quite go well with my shirts and shoes that skew more casual. This pair can easily stand in for the brown satin pants above, though. (Aaaand I still fit in these, lol.)
Just listing this, and not even getting into the other one or two pants I don’t wear to work, three shorts, six hiking pants and two gym shorts, I’m kind of staggered by just how many freakin’ pants I own. (I must have been a centipede in my previous life.) And honestly, just how many of them I can’t be 100% in love with for various reasons.
The good thing is that most of the work pants are versatile enough that I usually rotate through just two or three of them during our two-week laundry intervals unless it’s the height of muggy NYC summer. That means I already know I only need three or four pants for my “work uniform.” The harder part is deciding which ones. I do feel like with the visual inventory, I’m getting some clarity on what I like, why I don’t like some things, and what I should look for in pants for minimalist work uniform, but I’ll have to try some things out before deciding which pairs to include in my first trial set.
Yesterday was tough. I got yelled at in the morning rather extensively, then in the evening had to have business dinner with the yeller and a business partner who was also at the earlier scene. Without getting into too much details, I’m still fairly convinced that the yeller should have listened to my (perfectly airtight, obviously) reasoning for a change in direction before unleashing their anger, but it was dumb on my part to have forgotten (seriously, me!?) to loop in the yeller on the direction change earlier on.
There’s always been plenty of unhealthy and unproductive dynamics going on, and this was just another manifestation. It would have unsettled me a lot more even just a year ago, but for better or worse I’d managed to disentangle my sense of self from this particular job at this particular organization in the last 10 months or so. Though annoyed by my own tactical mistake, I was more or less all right. It’s a difficult balance between keeping a healthy distance from dysfunctions at work and staying fully engaged with the work itself, but I like to think I’m better off now than a year ago, when I was leaning far more toward the latter. Not having to attend dinner on the same day would have been nice, though.
Anyways. That’s a long excuse for the unhealthy breakfast galore I had this morning!
My lunch plan included eggs, so I decided to avoid eggs in the morning, and settled on breakfast chicken patties I picked up on the way home last night. I’ve generally found Al Fresco’s chicken sausages to be a bit on the bland side, with too much reliance on the flavoring additions like cheese and herbs (which, well, usually don’t seem to solve the blandness issue), but the “country style” chicken sausage patties were pretty good. These patties actually had that junky-good mix of fat, spices and sweetness that I find addicting at diners but can never get my hands on from grocery store breakfast sausage patties.
In the Japanese minimalist circle, making one’s outfits into “uniforms” appears to be a common thread these days. (Dare I say, a fad?) I don’t know where this minimalist approach to work clothes all started, but the basic idea is to come up with a couple of set outfits for the coming season, and just wear those, every day. Some apply the principle to work clothes while others use the “seasonal uniform” strategy for their personal, non-work clothing.
I’ve been thinking about pros and cons of minimalist work clothes, and I must say, this “uniformization” strategy for work clothing has certain appeal.
Merits of Minimalist Approach to Work Clothes
Theoretically, your “uniforms” consist of pieces you really like wearing, while having more clothing usually means you have some that aren’t on your “A list.” With the “uniform” approach, you get to wear your favorite pieces every day, rather than rotate through a mixed bag of favorites and so-so’s. And you get to wear your favorite pieces more often, because you don’t wear (or even own) the so-so ones at all.
Your outfits are already constructed, ready to go; in the morning, you just need to grab one and throw it on. No need to stand in front of the closet and spend 5 minutes trying to figure out what to pair with what.
That means you save time, and far more importantly, you aren’t expending your precious brain capacity on clothing choice for the day. (Decision fatigue is a real thing; see Jobsian black turtle necks.)
It also follows that you don’t have “ugh, this outfit doesn’t quite work but I gotta go now; I feel kinda crappy” days.
Thinking about a few people in my daily life who seem to have just a couple of outfits that look pretty similar to each other, I think of them as “the cool people who knows what their personal style is,” not as “the sad people who have to rely on just a few pieces of clothing.”
No closet space issues. A minor but nice bonus for space-constrained New Yorkers.
You aren’t constantly on the lookout for the next cool piece to add to your work wardrobe. This saves time, money and again, your brain capacity. One person described this benefit as “never feeling hungry for more” because you know by default that you already have all the pieces you need. This seems like a great place to be. (She actually used a slightly stronger word than “hungry,” more like “famished.”)
There’s too much produced on sweatshop labor, shipped with fossil fuel and discarded in landfill. If I purchase fewer pieces, I might contribute marginally less to that global problem.
There are definitely a whole bunch of articles offering tips on how to do this:
I’m definitely feeling the temptation, but not completely sold yet.
Disadvantages of Minimalist Approach to Work Clothes
During the week, the only things I wear are my work clothes and pajamas. If I stuck to just a handful of preset work outfits, would I be losing the (admittedly dubious) fun of self-expression through clothing?
Wearing uniformized work outfits would eliminate the “Ugh, I feel crappy in this outfit that didn’t quite work out…” days. It can also eliminate the “Wow, this combination totally kicks ass. I feel like a super-capable person!” days. Do I want to lose those moments of triumph?
Given our laundry schedule of about once every two weeks, I’d need far more than 2-3 work outfits, most likely 3-4 pants and at least 5-6 shirts, if not more in summer. That’s not a huge reduction in the amount of work clothes currently in my closet. Is this minimalist approach to work clothes still worth the effort?
How do I deal with weather variations and different indoor/outdoor temperatures I might encounter on different days? Do I need to pre-figure out all the possible weather and A/C combinations in order to construct uniforms for the two-week rotations? Hmmm… this seems like a lot of upfront effort with maybe a dubious payoff…
It seems the points 1 and 2 can become non-essential if I manage to construct work outfits that make me feel great. And, really, I should be feeling great about myself because of the stuff I accomplish at work, not because of how I dress (though I wouldn’t totally dismiss the latter–dress is an integral component of playing a part, which is what work is.)
The real stickler is probably 3 and 4. Just yesterday, I had to throw a shirt in the laundry bag after wearing it just once (I usually wear shirts twice before washing them), because it was so humid out that it was completely soaked through (a few times over, actually–yuck). How do I deal with a curve ball like that?
But You Know What? I’m Going to Try This.
With all that said, though, I’m curious to try. Today happens to be our laundry day, so I can start fresh next week. I could hang the pieces that comprise my “uniforms” in the front of the closet and all the other pieces in the back and see what happens.