By Mark Ford, founder, Palm Beach Research Group: Ralph Lauren makes beautiful clothes. Over the last five decades, his company has grown from making a small line of neckties to a multibillion-dollar international name with nearly 500 brick-and-mortar stores.
Yet he dresses simply.
His usual attire is a pair of jeans and a collared shirt. I’ve seen dozens of photos of him over the years. He’s always looked good—even well dressed, albeit in a casual way. Even when he’s wearing a coat and tie, he’ll often be wearing jeans, too.
Yet if I had to describe his personal clothing style, I’d call it a uniform.
Not a uniform in a strict, militaristic sense. But a distinct and recognizable style that doesn’t really differ from day to day.
I have two colleagues who dress that way. Their uniforms are even stricter than Lauren’s.
One, a writer, wears jeans and a white T-shirt—sort of James Dean style—every day. The other, a publisher, wears jeans and a white main-tailored shirt, also every day, which I see as a nod toward formality.
I do sometimes tease them (“Wow! Great look today. You are so creative!”), but the fact is they both look good—always.
Like most people, I have a larger working wardrobe comprised of dozens of different pants, shirts, and suits that give me hundreds of options every morning. Sometimes I get it right—I feel well dressed and people say so. Sometimes I get it terribly wrong. If I’m lucky, my wife K spots me before I leave for work. Most of the time, it’s “fine”—as in, “You look fine,” said only upon prompting.
But the only time I feel better dressed than my colleagues in uniform is the 10% of the time when I nail it.
When you have lots of choices, dressing each morning takes time—even if you are an organization nut like me and have all your clothing sorted. On a typical morning, I spend 10 to 15 minutes getting dressed. That’s about as much time as it took me to write this little essay.
Yesterday, I spent nearly 15 minutes getting dressed and came up with an outfit that I decided to jettison at the breakfast table. Back I went again, and 10 minutes later got the deflating “fine” rating.
So I’m thinking about doing the uniform thing—and even thinking about it is getting me sort of excited. Not only will I save myself 10 to 15 valuable minutes every morning, I will also reduce a bit of stress and eliminate the fear of having a bad clothing day.
I’m serious. After a lifetime of trying to look good but different every day, I’m looking forward to picking a uniform.
When you think about it, the traditional suit and tie was the executive uniform for more than 50 years. It’s only since that look has been abandoned that we’ve been caught in the time-wasting trap of “new day, different outfit” thinking.
By the way, wearing a uniform to work doesn’t mean you have to wear it on the weekends or even on special business occasions. I recently saw the uniformed publisher I mentioned above at a corporate cocktail party. She was wearing a red dress and looked great. In fact, the contrast between her uniform and the dress made the look even stronger.
Besides the uniform, it’s possible to dress well and feel very good about your clothes without spending a lot of money. All you have to do is follow the two simple rules from my book, Living Rich, that will improve your wardrobe and save you a fortune:
- Buy quality, classic clothing and wear it for years. (You can even buy secondhand if you like.)
- Buy cheap, trendy clothing to replenish your wardrobe every two or three years.
And, of course, never buy anything—no matter whose name is on the label or how cheap it is—if it doesn’t make you look and feel good when you put it on.