The Uniform: Mystique or Mistake?

Are uniforms appropriate only for sports teams and the military? Not according to this wardrobe expert.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “A man in uniform is simply irresistible.”

This sentiment, of course, originated from the military back in the day. A man in uniform was both highly respected and considered quite handsome. As a matter of fact, I remember seeing photos of my Dad taken when he was a Navy pilot in WWII. He was not handsome in the traditional sense, but in those Navy whites, he was a striking figure of a man.

Watching a Chicago Bears game recently, I was mystified as to why the Bears were wearing bright orange shirts. I thought the team looked more like an overgrown pumpkin patch than a force to be reckoned with. The usual dark navy, on the other hand, looks much more powerful, fierce and intimidating from this stylist’s perspective.

And when I worked as a counselor in a private high school where uniforms were required, I noticed a distinct difference in student behavior and attitude on “out of uniform” days. It was a subtle difference, that’s true, but it was why, even on testing days like the PSAT for the juniors, uniforms were still required. The kids hated it, of course, but studies have shown that when students are dressed for business, they perform better on tests.

You can look it up!

Crazy me, when I suggested that the faculty also be required to wear uniforms, you would have thought I had said something outrageous . . . even sacrilegious. An outcry of  “no way” could be heard ‘round the world.

So why do we have this notion that a uniform strips us of our individuality and creativity? I’m a stylist, not a shrink, but I think there is a feeling out there that a basic uniform means everyone wears exactly the same thing, and that the thing they wear is uncomfortable and restrictive. Forget the fact that it makes life much simpler and easier and the fact that our appearance should accurately reflect who we are, what we do and how we do it.

I contend that a uniform does not have to be cookie-cutter same or uncomfortable/restrictive.

When I get dressed, I do not want to spend any more time than absolutely necessary thinking about what to wear or when to wear it. I have a business uniform and I have an arsenal of accessories that allow me to be creative. Belts, jewelry, scarves and shoes are called upon to individualize my look, but the basics are always the same. Even for my stay-at-home workdays, I have a casual uniform. If I need to run out to meet someone at the last minute, I can throw on some earrings, a scarf and a jacket or sweater and I’m out the door. Slam bam, thank you, Ma’am.

And because I make sure all my clothes fit well and are tailored for comfort (they love me), the issue of “restrictive” becomes a non-issue. Throw in the dollars I save on clothes shopping? No doubt about it, for me and for many of my clients, it’s a win-win from every imaginable perspective.

Maybe if you try it, you’ll like it!

As for the Chicago Bears? I know this for sure. The offensive line should always be dressed in dark navy.


robert poznanski October 29, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Went to Catholic school for 12 years, and the uniform was mandatory! Girls in jumpers,and blouse,boys, dress pants and white shirt and tie! There was no deviation allowed! You would be sent home, or forced to wear a hideous tie, stained past normal recognition! Of course, this was back when corporal punishment , was the norm, in the form of rulers to the knuckles, hall passes to the posterior, and liberal doses of Lifebouy , to the mouth! (still have a good memory of the taste) Well, if I can respond, to this article,about the abuse that "uniforms" had upon my "psyche", and the memories, they invoke, it would still be in your favor! They take away any source of personal style, which might develop, in the students, and put's everyone, on the same level!This ensures that equality is enforced, and that no student is perceived, better, than the other!Come to think about it, perhaps that when allowed to think and act for our self's, as we did, coming of age in the 60's, it was a good thing to have experienced the "forced uniformity, and the rebellion that followed,opened us all up ,to the possibilities! So, yes, uniforms can have a good social effect!
Sue Becker October 29, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Love the photo, Nancy - that's my uniform of choice, and I have 6 or 7 variations, plus accessories such as scarves, caps, socks and gloves.
Elaine Johnson October 30, 2011 at 04:28 PM
So what is your business uniform, Nancy? Slacks and a shirt? A limited color palette? Details, please.
Brian Howell October 31, 2011 at 12:49 AM
School uniforms! Yes! Virtually every other country in the world understands that this is a sensible and productive way to encourage better behavior, reduce social friction, and produce better citizenship in schools. Why do we resist? Uniforms, yes!
Nancy Pipal October 31, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Hi Elaine...for business, always a suit. I own four. Light grey for spring and summer, chocolate brown for fall, charcoal grey and black for winter. And always with a crisp white Brooks Brothers no iron shirt! If you need further details, please email me any time.
Nancy Pipal October 31, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Here, here! Thank you Brian. And believe it or not, productivity has shown to increase when business professionals are dressed like they mean business as well!
Nancy Pipal October 31, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Thanks, Robert.
Nancy Pipal October 31, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Seems we have an avid Blackhawks fan in out midst! You go girl! And Go Hawks!


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