Earlier this year I made a pledge to go a year without buying clothes. Six months in, that has been an incredibly pledge easy to keep. I dislike clothes shopping and I don’t have a personal interest in fashion. I don’t spend my free time browsing clothing sites or at the mall. I’m also lucky enough to mostly work from home, where I don’t have to dress professionally or stylishly. I can usually rock my gym shorts and tank tops all day.
I’m beginning to take on a bigger role in my non profit job though, which is great news. I like the work, I like my boss and I’m happy to be gaining more skills and experience. However, as my role grows and I begin to do things in a more professional and traditional work role I’m noticing my distinct lack of professional clothes. I’ve been trying to avoid it but the facts are the facts: I need to outfit myself with a professional wardrobe.
Like I said, I’ve never been a big shopper. Shopping stresses me out, takes way too long and generally doesn’t interest me. I have no interest in finding out what colors or shapes look best on me. I don’t get into the idea of creating a cute outfit each morning. I just want to wake up, put on some clothes and go about my day.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. Especially not the world women live in. There have been numerous studies that show women are judged more harshly on their looks and appearance than men. Women who don’t wear make-up make less than women who do. Heavier women make less than thinner women. It’s a rough world out there where women are still mostly seen as pretty object and not full fledged people.
I want to be conscious of that when I begin my search for professional clothes. I strongly disagree with this double standard and I won’t just bend to it. I’m not going to come up with a full make-up routine for meetings and I’m not going to drop thousands on clothes just because I have lady parts. I’m going to dress like the hard working professional I am and I’m going to continue to do good work. That’s it.
I recently read an article where a woman had bought herself a work uniform. She had several pairs of black slacks and several white silk tops and one black blazer. She wore a variation on the same thing every day to work and hasn’t bought new clothes for a few years. She plans to stick to this uniform for the foreseeable future. I admire it. She mentioned in the article the double standard women face and how for half the population, there is a uniform. It’s called a suit.
Men wake up in the morning, put on the same exact kind of outfit and roll out the door. Women are expected to craft a new outfit each day and have endless options: dress, skirts of a million varieties (A-Line, Pencil, Flared, Printed…), pants, blouses, sleeveless, blazers, cardigans, heels, wedges, boots, flats…it’s enough already! My boyfriend has four pairs of work pants, nine or ten button down work shirts and one pair of brown work shoes. That’s it. He wears the same nice outfit to work as he does to dinner with his parents as he does to a networking event.
I plan on building myself a work uniform and I like the idea of white tops and black bottoms. They go together so I won’t waste time piecing together an outfit that looks good. Luckily I won’t need to wear it every day so I can get by with fewer pieces. Since I live in the south and it’s warmer for a bigger portion of the year I will be adding in both pants and skirts. That’s purely for practical reasons. When it’s 100 degrees in Austin the last thing you want to be in are black pants!
What will I be buying?
– Three professional tops (two sleeveless, one button down)
– One pair of black slacks
– One black pencil skirt
– One pair of black flats (I currently have a beige pair)
– One black blazer
So. I’m set on the uniform idea. That’s already saving me some money. Where to find these pieces though? I plan to start at thrift stores. I know people find wonderful and quality pieces there all the time. I’m no pro at thrifting but I feel sure I can find at least part of my planned uniform there. I’m going to start my search off with the bottoms. They feel less intimidating than the tops. I’m looking for something well made and durable. I’ll be looking for fabrics like cotton, silk, and wool. These pieces have to last me years. I don’t want to have to do this again each year!
If I can’t find a piece at a thrift store, I plan to hit up stores like Marshall’s and T.J Maxx next. My final stop will be online shopping. I’m not completely opposed to buying something from a store but I do like to cut down on my consumption as much as possible. Buying second hand clothes is more environmentally responsible as well as cheaper.
I do currently have some professional pieces and I plan to mix those into my uniform. I don’t always have to be doing the white top, black bottom look. I have a nice blue top, a pretty grey one and a more funky but still professional polka-dotted one that I love and are well made. I can still mix up my look if I’m feeling like it!
Like all things in my life, I want my clothes to be simple and easy. A well made, good looking uniform fits the bill. I won’t be embarrassed by my clothes (like I currently am) and I won’t waste time or money trying to keep up with trends. I know I’m a kick ass employee and I want to start dressing like one.
I’m not really looking forward to this but it must be done. I am an adult after all and it’s past time to start dressing like one. And it’s a long term project. I’m not just going to shell out money unless I love the piece and it’s well made. I’m expecting to piece together a complete wardrobe over the next year. As the seasons change I want to take advantage of seasonal sales too. So stay tuned to see how snazzy I’m looking this time next year!
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.