I’ve always been envious of my boyfriend’s uniform. It’s not a literal uniform, you understand, he isn’t a firefighter or an airline pilot. His ‘uniform’ is just a basic outfit that he’s able to wear no matter what the day: jeans, t-shirt, hoodie. In the summer: shorts, t-shirt, shirt. On the off-chance that we’re invited to a wedding, he owns one single suit. He never has to scrabble through his wardrobe trying to decide what to wear.
What’s more, he never has to field questions or comments about his outfit. “Where did you get that top?” “Oh, that colour really suits you!” “You look different – is that a new jacket?” He wears his uniform, and people leave him the fuck alone.
What do you get for the woman who hates everything?
Clothes have always been a sore spot for me, because I have never been very good at choosing them. From a very young age, I have dreaded going clothes shopping – hauling my arse around shops that are far too hot and busy, staring mournfully at racks of tops and trousers and skirts that I know will only highlight how different I look to the people wearing them in the pictures. Clothes shopping always makes me feel like there’s something wrong with my body: my legs are too long or my shoulders too broad or my stomach too big or my arms too gangly. I have this dip at the side of my hips where they meet my thighs, which makes me look like I’m wearing knickers that are far too tight. I have tan lines on my shoulders which mean this top looks odd. I’ve got a long body so most tops stop an inch or two short of my waistband, displaying a pale line of tummy to anyone who fancies a peek.
But there’s nothing actually wrong with my body. Apart from my eyesight, PCOS and occasional migraines, there is nothing I really want to ‘fix.’ I am big and tall and broad, but I am also thirty five so I’ve had a long time to work on my body confidence. The aching horror I used to feel when looking in a mirror is far more likely, these days, to give way to genuine pride. My tits look great. My stomach is awesome. These tiny knickers show off just how gloriously naked the rest of me is. I look at my best when wearing my boyfriend’s PJ bottoms and nothing else, when I can twist and turn in the dim half-light of our smart lightbulbs and stare at myself in the full-length bedroom mirror, growling ‘yes you fucking do – you look gooood.’
The problem isn’t my body, it’s having to dress it up so it looks good. And ‘good’ is an ever-changing, nebulous thing. Usually tied somehow to the femininity I know I can’t (won’t) ever achieve, which also seems to twist and turn depending not just on season but on fashion and style.
Well fuck that.
About a year ago, I found one particular type of jumper that worked really well on me. It’s got a nice cut, it’s comfortable, and it has 3/4 length sleeves which I can push up if I need to get my hands dirty, or pull down if I’m feeling cold. I found a website that sold the exact type of jeans in which I’ve felt comfortable for most of my life.
So I bought seven of each.
Wait, don’t go thinking I’m completely boring! I bought the jumpers in two colours (black and grey), and the jeans in two sizes (I go up and down a size depending on the time of year). But broadly, the same clothes. My outfit is the same Every. Single. Day. If I’m going out to the pub in the evening, I’ll straighten my hair and wear makeup. If I’m staying in, I won’t. Either way, I’ll be wearing the same jeans and the same type of jumper. It’s like a uniform, only I got to choose it.
Why I like having a ‘uniform’
No one asks me about my clothes when I wear my uniform. If I were feeling optimistic I’d tell you no one actually notices, but they clearly do – as evidenced by the fact that when I wear a dress (like at a wedding I went to recently) lots of people gush about how nice I look when I dress up (I don’t: I look uncomfortable and awkward, but they mean well). It’s tempting to draw these comments inside and wallow bitterly in them, reminding myself that what people are actually saying is that I should make an effort more often. But honestly? I genuinely don’t care. I am really enjoying my uniform: same jumper, same jeans, every single day.
I feel sexier in my uniform, because my confidence isn’t battered to hell by having to try on a bunch of different outfits that don’t look ‘right’ when I look in the mirror. I feel comfortable in my uniform, because the jeans have a bit of stretch in them and the jumper is cosy. I’m warm and happy. And in case you’re worrying ‘but what about summer?!’ don’t worry – I have a uniform for that too. Four pairs of breezy shorts that cut off just below the knee and a set of identical lightweight tops (although I’m more adventurous with colours in the summer – one of them is red, not black).
If I want to dress up, or dress different, I still have a bunch of tops and skirts and shorts that I can crack out if I ever want to. But it turns out that I only ever ‘want’ to about once every three or four months. So when I wake up each morning, or go out after work, I wear my uniform and feel like a huge weight has been lifted off me: the worry and stress of having to choose clothes based on whether other people will comment on them, or whether they’re ‘appropriate’ or I have given visual cues which show people I’ve made the correct amount of effort.
Can any woman wear a uniform?
As with so much of life, I am a lucky lucky fucker. I work from home, and I am my own boss. While that does come with certain down-sides (turns out my boss is an absolute workaholic bitch and she won’t let me get a moment’s peace), it comes with huge benefits. I no longer have to dress nicely (or at the very least dress ‘like I haven’t just been dragged out of the laundry basket’) for work, an issue which used to eat me up when I worked in an office.
I’d pop on the clothes I felt comfortable in, then take off the jumper and realise it was probably more appropriate to wear a shirt or nice top. Grabbing something itchy, seamed and uncomfortable, I’d then haul myself into work only to find I still got comments on what I was wearing. I hated it – even if they were ‘nice’ comments. “Your top looks nice!” “Is that shirt new?” “Where did you get that skirt?” I understand I’m weird about this – to most people these are kind, innocuous compliments, but I found them really uncomfortable. Why do you keep noticing my clothes?! They are just clothes. I put them on so I can leave the house without scaring the neighbours, and I do not want to have to think about what they look like. The fact that you’ve commented on them today means I know you’ll be noticing tomorrow if I wear the same outfit, so now I have to remember to pick different clothes, in case you go noticing them all over again.
Occasional negative comments were rare, but usually they’d be about scruffiness, if I ended up walking into the office in the jeans-t-shirt-hoodie ‘uniform’ which my partner wears every single day without comment. There’s a gendered thing here, I think, and I want to unpack it, but to be honest I’m not sure that my personal views would allow me to do it in an unbiased way. I do think women get more comments on their clothing, and I do think we have it regularly reinforced by people who make helpful ‘suggestions’ designed to let us know that our clothing choices matter. But I also know that as someone who hates making those choices at all, I am not best placed to decide which comments are reasonable and which are a tiny bit sexist.
So I’m just going to put a pin in that which reads ‘gender? BLARGH’ and move on to a much smaller and less significant point: these days I wear a uniform, and you can too. I know not everyone’s going to want to, and some people get genuine pleasure and joy from carefully selecting a cool new outfit to wear. But I also think there may be other people like me who are sick of having people comment on their clothes, police their clothes, and just generally notice their clothes, so I wanted to tell you that you’re allowed to fuck all that off if you really want to.
Clothes are opt-in, and at the moment I’m opting out. I wear a uniform. And it’s brilliant.