Have you ever wanted a uniform?

1920" russian avant garde school uniform

On the heels of Friday’s fashion post, Erik has encouraged me to share my current uniform fantasy with you all.

See, I’ve always wanted a uniform. I love the idea of never having to decide what I’m going to wear again. The older I get, the more I want to keep things simple. I don’t want a closet packed with potential decisions. The less choices I have to make on a daily basis, the better. I think I’d be okay living in a cave with nothing but a robe and a wooden bowl.

As of now, my wardrobe is limited in both type (practical) and color (cool neutrals), which helps, but its not as simple as it could be. I still end up standing in front of the closet wondering “Black short sleeved shirt? White long sleeved shirt? Or is this a t-shirt day?”

I want even fewer options.

The uniform fantasy has been with me for a long time, although the uniform type changes. I’ve never taken the leap into wearing a uniform, though, for two reasons. The first is simply that I’ve been too lazy to construct a uniform. The second is that it is a rather eccentric move– adopt a uniform, and you become known for wearing that uniform more than anything else.

I suppose that if you’re super famous, like Tom Wolfe (white suit) or Erik Satie (identical velvet suits) you can wear the same thing every day and nonetheless your work and your personality will rise above that eccentricity. But I’ve feared that if I wore a uniform I’d become one of those strange local characters, like “the kilt guy” or “the bathrobe lady.”

Still, I do like the idea of fashioning a garment which suits all of my needs (fit, comfort, pockets, good fabric etc.) and making it my very own.

I also like to think that having a uniform would eventually save in laundry and reduce material waste over time. It would harken back to the days when people simply didn’t have more than a handful of outfits to wear, but those outfits fit them well and lasted a long time because they were made of quality materials.

Lately I’ve been obsessing over the outfit at the top of the post, which dates from Russia (or rather, the newborn USSR) in the 1920’s and various Internet attributions say it was designed by Nadezhda Lamanova and Vera Muhina, or perhaps designed by Lamanova and illustrated by Muhina, or perhaps even designed by Muhina alone–although she was primarily a sculptor. To make things more confusing, to me, this outfit seems very much like something Varvara Stepanova would design. It was a small community of people collaborating and doing similar things, so it’s easy to get confused.

I’ll be going to the library for both information and a higher quality image. So, take this all with a big grain of salt. If I find out more, I’ll amend the post.

Anyway, I’ve always been very fond of the Russian avant-garde and the Constructivist movement. In the 1920’s they were very much into designing clothes for an idealized workers utopia. The pattern itself is dubious from a sewing perspective, because it’s obviously more about the Constructivist love of geometry than the realities of hanging fabric. What isn’t visible in this picture but typical of the movement is use of folk embroidery/weaving on the garments, so they were modern yet spoke of place and history and identity.

This particular design is for a school uniform, I believe. I didn’t know that when I first glommed on to it– I thought it was a factory worker’s uniform. But whatever — I like it. I like the red and black combo–very iconic, commie chic. I like her little boots, I like the Mandarin collar (it seems to have a black band at the front, like a negative priest’s collar!) and I especially like the black apron.

I’ve a real fondness for aprons, which has only developed recently. In the past, aprons seemed a symbol of oppression to me, but I’ve grown to appreciate their utility–and I especially love aprons with deep pockets (since, as we’ve discussed, women’s clothing is lacking in pockets.)

Nowadays I often wear an apron in both the kitchen and the garden, mostly because of the pockets, and also so I can wipe my hands on the apron, rather than my butt, which is a real step up in the world. Also, I’ve come to associate the apron with craft, the apron of the cobbler or the blacksmith, for instance, rather than the frilly ornamental aprons of June Cleaver.

And let’s face this: Just as the Constructivists, a bunch of arty intellectuals  developed many of their design concepts around their notions of the nobility of work, I–a keyboard-pecking “knowledge worker”–also fetishize the symbols of manual work, like aprons. (And I’m not alone– witness the artisanal axe.)

I’d like to make this dress in several versions, from a lightweight sleeveless form for summer, to a sturdy workday version, to a fancy version with embroidery for going out. Of course, I do happen to be the world’s worst seamstress, as Erik will relate to you, between the tears of laughter, as he remembers my previous attempts at sewing. However, there is a sewing school very near my house, 8-Limbs, and if I make the decision to go forward, they may be able to help me draft a pattern.

And then I can become yet another colorful neighborhood character (and believe me, my neighborhood is not short on characters.)  I just hope I don’t end up looking like a goth Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Should I do it?

Do any of you have a uniform which works for you? Or do you also fantasize about a uniform, as I do?

Leave a comment


  1. Just the Yuppie uniform of Dockers and polo shirt for me – keeps the daily choices small anyway. I think Steve Jobs did a ‘uniform’ black turtle-neck and pants for the same reasons you give. I say give the uni a try. To me it’s a blue collar vs. white collar thing. If I were a farmer or factory worker a uniform makes sense. But as an office worker I like some variety.

  2. I wear very geometric medieval tunics on a regular basis, and you’d be surprised how well geometric construction drapes and fit curves when put together. In particular, those underarm gussets in your picture will give your arms a great range of movement — I love them.
    The one thing I tend to worry about with a uniform is that people will think I don’t ever bathe/launder it if they see me in the same thing every day. If I did it, I’d pick different colors and rotate them/let them air out between wearings.

  3. Yes! I had a uniform at school and while I loathed and despised it at the time, I have missed it ever since. Oh the irony! I’d definitely skip the polyester, but otherwise I would probably start with the basic components of that uniform, which were: skirt (it was a kilt but I don’t think I’d go that way, something longer and simpler), shirt, lace-up shoes or boots. I love the idea of adding embroidery and definitely an apron with a pocket – genius. And a goth Laura Ingalls Wilder sounds pretty great to me. I like a separate shirt and skirt because the laundering is easier, but a dress has definite appeal too. Have you seen the folkwear Afghani nomad dress pattern? I had a dress like it once and it was amazingly practical and comfortable, and also brilliant with long underwear tops under it in winter for warmth/ease of laundering.

    • Those folkwear patterns are fantastic, and may be a starting point for my uniform construction.

  4. I have the same fantasy. In 8th grade I bought standard jeans, a work shirt and work boots and that was going to be it. I endured one entire day of humiliation and gave up on that idea.

    Aprons, I’m sure you already know, were for preserving dresses, or dress, as most women in the past had one dress. Aprons let you change it up a little, express yourself a bit.

    SO love your line about the cave, the robe and the bowl. I can sew, let me know if I can help.

  5. I once had a German teacher named Urs who wore exactly the same thing every day: black t-shirt and black jeans, and I didn’t even realize it until several weeks into the class. I had a theory that he did this on purpose so as to fade into the background as a floating teacher head upon which we could better focus. That or else it was just that his entire wardrobe was nothing but black t-shirts and black jeans (all lined up neatly on matching hangers).

    And yes, I kind of fantasize about having a uniform. I might as well – I basically only rotate four outfits, and the rest of my wardrobe (despite multiple purges over the years) is 80% stuff I keep meaning to get around to wearing/repairing but never do.

  6. I started learning to sew from my grandmas before I went to school. Both were exceptional needle-women. I sew just about everything, from slipcovers to kids’ clothing, mostly on my 1871 treadle machine, which I love. Thanks Grandma!

    Anyway, what’s printed above can’t be an actual pattern, because it’s just not possible to join the back and the front of a bodice by folding it, unless you’ve got only one arm. In addition, even a loose-fitting garment like this requires facings around the neck/neck opening and at the ends of the sleeves; these are not shown. Nonetheless, someone with experience drafting patterns could use this to come up with a working pattern.

    Now you just need to learn to sew. It really, really isn’t hard to master the basics of sewing, and a garment this simple is within the range of someone who has the basics. Of all the necessary skills, setting the sleeve caps properly will probably be the hardest, but it’s simple after you’ve done it a couple of times.

    • I’ve always thought a treadle machine would be less intimidating, and more pleasant to use than an electric machine. And yes, even I can tell that patter is…er…highly conceptual! 😉

    • Mrs. Homegrown:
      In some ways, a treadle machine is less intimidating than an electric machine, particularly in that it just doesn’t sew as quickly. However, since they are decades, if not a century old, they have their idiosyncrasies. And parts are hard to get. On the other hand, there are features on modern machines that do make clothing construction less fearsome, as well as electric machines that allow you to control the top speed so that your project won’t get away from you.

      You definitely ought to sign up for a sewing class; not only will you learn to sew, but if the teacher is providing the sewing machine, you’ll get to try it out so you have some idea what you like or don’t like about it. If students are bringing their own machines, you could ask them about their machines. In that way, when you decide to buy a sewing machine, either new or used, you have a clearer idea of what features you definitely want.

  7. I have a uniform-of-sorts right now, but mostly because I don’t have much clothing. Jeans with a T-shirt for home or with a polo (choice of two) or blouse (choice of 3, same style different colors) for work. Khakis if I have a formal meeting. I’d like to cultivate a better style, but right now I have limited options (I’m overseas and it’s difficult to find clothes that fit) and very limited funds.

    There was a woman a few years ago who designed a simple “little black dress” and wore it every day for a year with other accessories — tights, long-sleeved shirts, footwear, jewelry. You’d have to pick the accessories every day, though, which is pretty much the same predicament you’re already in. (Also she may not have worn the same combination twice, which suggests she has a mountain of accessories.)

    • Thanks for the link. It’s a great project, though, yes, I think I’d be a little overwhelmed by the accessorizing. 😉

  8. boy i struggled with should i even comment on these two posts….not that it matters – my opinion…but it really kinda bothered me some of the comments about how people are judged by their clothing and that we “shouldn’t” wear pajama style pants….i go to the thrifts and love finding sari pants in gorgeous colors and fabrics for 48 cents – i think they are comfortable and beautiful and they make me happy. my go to pants are black leggings….i don’t do jeans – i sort of envy people who wear jeans well but i don’t. i find them horribly uncomfortable and cut off my circulation while i am crawling through the dirt. i wear cut up t-shirts from thrifts and garage sales and pick tees with pics/designs that make me happy. t shirts last through everything and are comfortable and wash and dry on the line well and of course no ironing for me. i do still have my horrid job so i have my horrid work clothes but those aren’t me – those aren’t who i am and when i quit they will all go to the thrift store. yes, i love seeing the older gentlemen around town who, no matter what the chore, wear collared shirts and slacks but i also adore seeing people walking barefoot in threadbare clothing….i don’t like shiny new cars and i guess that was why i got so ruffled about the thing about people judging us because of our clothes….i get those comments from co-workers all the time because of my old rusty vehicle…..really screw off i say – I’m not dressing or living or driving or wasting my money for others….it took me plenty of years to get to where i walk out of the house and not give a damn if my hair isn’t neat or makeup on or dressed “properly” and if someone is happy and comfortable then let them be i say – i like to see all the diversity…. sigh. but even so i need to purge because I’ve got far too many clothes. my french teacher in high school had a “winter” and “summer” jacket – the cooler season jacket was like a brown wool type and the warm weather jacket was a red and white stripe seersucker material – those were the only two jackets i saw him in throughout HS. our older neighbor when i was growing up had a house dress she wore during the day and her nightgown hung outside and then she would change, wash her house dress in the sink, and hang out her house dress in the evening. i would like something more like that….just a few items that i interchange. i would love to incorporate house dresses and an apron – pockets are needed more in functional clothing definitely…and longer sleeves in women’s clothing. but i do love tattered clothing, too. so whatever….i don’t know my point here….ugh….i guess it will just be to add to the mix and include for your “experiment” that it really irks me – people judging on clothes. and i will continue to wear pajama type pants wherever the heck i want 🙂 and cheap ass flip-flops….im all about those too….love them….its the closest to barefoot i can get. so uniform for me i suppose that (not counting work) 99% of the time i am in flip-flops, black leggings, and cut up t-shirts. in winter, my winter boots, wool sweaters over my cut up tees, my feather vest, and layered black leggings.

    • I think the pajama pants comment is for the pants that are actually sold for bed or lounging before bed and are fuzzy or have a “bed print.” Don’t ask me what a “bed print” is, but I know it when I see it. Palazzo pants or straight legged pants are nice to see. I love those, probably what you refer. I think sometimes people do not have anything else, but I don’t condemn them. In the 60s we put a coat on over our pajamas and went to the grocery? Why? Because we could. We were young and our mothers did not tell us what to wear at college. I would certainly not worry about it if I were you. It sounds like you are working in an environment that requires what you wear. I have a 2000 Malibu and intend to drive it into the ground since it works, it is mine. I do repair it instead of trading it in.

  9. I don’t mind deciding what t-shirt to wear in the morning, but I’m definitely with you about women’s clothes needing better pockets.

    My current “uniform” is a utility kilt with lots of pockets. I have several, but there’s a basic summer one and a basic winter one which is longer and warmer. Then all I have to do is pick out a top, which depends on mood, weather, and degree of dressiness I want.

  10. Another facet of clothing selection that begs discussion is the health and safety aspects of clothes. What fibers keep you cool? Which are best at warming? As a life-long southerner, I scoff at the ads for synthetic “wicking” fabrics. Aside from the fact that wrapping myself in synthetics seems to increase the need for sweat management, the fibers only wick moisture away from the body until the length of the fiber becomes saturated with moisture. Then you are essentially wearing a wet plastic bag. (Do cloth manufacturers think that nobody knows any chemistry and physics anymore?) Unfortunately, I have lost most of the cartilage in my thumbs, so I have become aware of the strain that various apparel items place on those oh-so-critical joints whilst dressing and undressing. Pulling jeans on and off places huge amounts of stress on the basal thumb joints, to the point where I frequently have to wear skirts during particularly painful days. How many times a day do you pull up/down your jeans (especially women, who are more prone to this type of degenerative arthritis than men)? Multiply it over a several decades, with bonus points for the skinny jeans years, and then ask yourself if the loss of thumb health is worth a daily uniform of jeans. On the flip side, skirts and dresses, especially the comfy flowing ones, are very dangerous around machinery and open flames.

  11. I read that Obama wears essentially a uniform, to reduce the number of “unimportant” decisions he has to make: http://www.npr.org/2012/09/11/160898373/inside-obamas-decisions-from-libya-to-lunch

    I was telling a friend last weekend that if it wasn’t too much cultural appropriation*, I’d wear salwar kameez every day: Pretty tunic, easy pants, done. Then I realized that’s about what I currently do wear every day: Basic shirt, jeans, done.

    *Also, I wish I could find them in natural fabrics. I can’t stand wearing the polyester ones in temperate climates – I can’t imagine wearing them in the tropics. Maybe the expat stores are only selling the fancy special-occasion ones?

    • I agree that traditional garments have so much going for them. I wish we had our own folk tradition here, but as a product of the industrialized west, I suppose the only folk garment I have is jeans, maybe western wear at a stretch (since I was born in Colorado–on the open ranges of Denver, don’t you know). Anything else and I am appropriating and/or wearing a costume.

    • That stuff is great, isn’t it? If I could reincarnate backward, I think that would be a fun scene to hang out in.

  12. I love the idea of a uniform, as I’ve worn one for work situations at more than one point in my life. Haven’t made the transition to that for my current wardrobe, but that general concept has helped me streamline things quite a bit. And yes, completely and totally cosign with the lack of decent POCKETS in most women’s clothing!!! That’s one of the reasons I like the sewing patterns from Tina Givens (she’s even got several free ones on her website) because they are easy, fit people of a wide range of body types, and they almost all have NICE BIG POCKETS 😉 They aren’t necessarily as practical for yardening because, as someone else noted, too comfy/flowy isn’t always compatible with that, but again, it’s a good start. Meantime, here is a “uniform” wardrobe created and worn by textile author and artist India Flint (from her book “Second Skin: Choosing and Caring for Textiles and Clothing”):

    Hemp shift dress with big pockets
    Shorter wool shift
    Drawstring Linen trousers
    Long-sleeved t-shirt
    3/4 sleeve t-shirt
    Stretch knit crop tops [ie instead of bras]
    4 pr knickers
    2 pr socks
    Loose Wool Cardigan
    Silk or Wool scarf
    Soft Hat
    Soft silk drawstring trousers
    Long-sleeved silk top (Jammies or for layering)
    Cotton tights
    Apron or Two

    • Hey, I have that book on reserve at the library! (been waiting for it forever). Maybe I put it on reserve because you recommended it? It was a reader rec, for sure.

    • thanks P i forgot about that – yes totally cotton sport bra type things instead of the cumbersome bras.
      and when it isn’t too hot, i found that for tops, medical scrubs (there are tons at my thrift) are great because of the pockets.

      your ensemble sounds really lovely actually.
      ill have to start my thrifting focus on silks and linens.

      i need to learn basic sewing skills.

    • But what about uniboob? Sports bras create the dreaded uniboob thing on those of us who have natural breasts (breast implants are impervious to the squishing effects of sports bras) and as much as I would like to not care about things like that, I DO!

    • I don’t do sports bras, either – rather camisoles/undershirts etc that don’t squish. Yes, this means more “movement” in general, a different profile to how one looks in clothing, and different clothing selections based on things like transparency/thickness of fabric in places, as well as clothing choices that just don’t work because they are flat out made to be worn with one (dart placement and such). There’s a whooooooole ‘nuther subject on the topic of going without bras/societal expectations around that in particular, but let’s just say that I am so thankful not to hurt everyday anymore in taking one off at the end of the day – even with the sports variety -(ie due to the lymph cutoff/buildup in the tissue) and a whole host of other benefits. I’m currently working through old knitting patterns (and a few modern ones) I’ve gathered to make a custom knitted crop top design for myself for warmer weather undergear, as well as old-fashioned lingerie slip patterns (horribly difficult to find a well-made slip that’s either not made of synthetics or obscenely expensive)! I do know many other women who have made the choice that I have – including ones who are much, much more endowed, and including ones who work in offices and such – but it’s definitely a big adjustment to make – both psychologically, as well as in continued choices of wardrobe!

    • Yes! The whole bra thing…ugh. Just ugh. I wear a lot of camisoles, myself. I like the idea of knitting your own!

  13. Amazing how many of us are thinking alike. Had not gotten to the uniform level yet; although have added aprons for practicality of pockets and protection of my other clothing. Still have work out clothes, work clothes, a few that can dress up. Buy my clothes at the thrift and they work around a few basic dreary colors (black, brown, dark green skirts, black tops – long sleeve for winter, sleeveless for summer). But now that you have me thinking about the simplicity of the uniform . . . and it can still be the A-line long skirt, black top and apron, I can give up the colors and choices . . . .

  14. Part of my decision to go to nursing school was based on the ability to wear basically pajamas and tennis shoes to work every day!

    I have long been in search of the ideal black dress that could serve all other clothing-related purposes.

  15. Yup, creating my own work uniforms cuts down on the morning decisions – jeans (loose) and a v-neck tshirt with comfy black athletic shoes, and a sweater if I need it. Jeans pockets hold everything I need with hands free – keys clipped to belt loop, bandana, pocket knives, lip balm, or whatever else needs to be on my person. The sweater is as close as I can get to a cozy flannel shirt while still looking professional, and in the AC environment I work in, I wear it for part of my day, every day.

    I still feel the social responsibility to wear a bra (gravity is a harsh reality for those over 40), but no one can make me wear underwear 🙂

    I say GO MAKE THAT UNIFORM and wear it with joy!

  16. If you want to make the top, do remember that little triangle bit under the sleeve. It is actually a diamond shape and it makes the ease into the sleeve for your arm more natural. The skirt is simple, you could make a drawstring to keep the sizing super flexible, or you could have an elastic waistband. Because your website is mostly about thrifty use of items perhaps already in possession, I would recommend the drawstring. You might have boot laces or shoe laces not already spoken for. Alternatively, you could sew a drawstring from the fabric for your skirt and/or shirt. I hope you have great success.

    • Thanks for the link!

      Fibershed is an idea worthy of its own blog post. It’s on the to-do list!

  17. The ‘goth Laura Ingalls Wilder’ comment made me giggle out loud. My high school seemed to be a fashion competition – one I couldn’t compete in as my family didn’t have the money. I went to Australia for a year, and to my delight, found that they wore uniforms – I loved it!! I hate thinking about what I am going to wear. Someone pointed out to me that I wear mainly green shirts- I didn’t even realize that. I think it’s because someone about 30 years ago told me that green complements my eyes. ah, how vain of me!!!

    • School uniforms would have helped me a lot growing up, too — for the same reasons as you — we didn’t have the money, so I never looked “right.” At least until high school, when I figured out my own look. But those were some dark days in junior high!

  18. I would love an actual uniform. I don’t think the dress would work for me- I like the legs fully covered, since I am generally too lazy to shave them. And that apron front is way too low, for someone who’s as messy as I am. Wearing an apron while cooking has saved so many shirts! Nice look though- would love the embroidery you mentioned.

    When I’m in control of my own day, I wear jeans and a v neck t shirt (long sleeve in winter, short the rest of the year.) I hate high collars around my neck! Cardigan on top when it’s cold, cotton long sleeve button down work shirt for gardening (sun protection and to keep my so-far unstained t shirts in better shape). Summer is my least favorite season because it’s really too hot for jeans. I go to cotton capri-length pants then, grudgingly.

    Of course there are days when work demands nicer, or an outing of some kind, inducing wardrobe-paralysis. Probably why I would like to be a hermit.

  19. Long before the “blocking” idea of the 90s, I made patterns in the 80s for a wardrobe.

    1–top was one piece that worked for front and back. I just knew how to cut the scoop to make one piece the front. I marked where to cut for making the blouse the top for a dress.
    2–sleeve that worked for a blouse or dress.
    3–gored skirt piece–I cut four of these. The skirt was full and felt good as it hit my ankles. I like loooong skirts. These were flared. (When I discovered the pencil skirt, I wore those for dress along with the full ones.)
    4–pants, a front and back piece.

    That makes 5 pattern pieces for a whole wardrobe–pants, short-sleeved top, long-sleeved top, dress and skirt. I made these in various colors.

    Back then, I bought fabric in boxes that were almost a cubic yard, maybe more. The fabric was ends and cost me about $0.50/lb. These “scraps” were usually 2-6 yards. I could buy a box of white or black or prints or colors. Often, the whole box of black or white were identical fabric.

    Even though this is not the type uniform of which you are speaking, it was a uniform in that there was no variety in the cut. I traded some of these for earrings at various shops. I had a great accessory wardrobe and wore earrings for about four years solid–EVERYDAY.

    I got innumerable compliments on my knit wardrobe. Once woman at church who wore silks, linens, and wool told me I was the classiest woman she had ever seen except for her mother. Since I was aghast, my mouth actually fell open. I told her she had expensive clothing and fabrics and I wore knits all the time. She still stuck by her statement. Obviously, I had something going on.

    You don’t need the gore with the pattern I cut. You can make the top without a seam as I have often. And, the sleeve shown is not a cap sleeve, neither is mine. You can even make your own pocket pattern like I did. Nothing fell out.

    Last night as I arose from my chair, my dangling cell phone fell from my pocket into/onto a disposable cup with water in it! It knocked the water over, but got my phone wet. I snatched it up and wiped it on my clothes and dialed it. It worked. But, at 3:30 this morning, my phone decided to dial a friend who finally had to call the phone company and eventually had to unplug his ringing phone. I had to turn off my phone to stop the dialing, but it still disrupted him for 30 minutes. The point of this story?–my pocket is too shallow.

    When I can sew again, I intend to resurrect my 30-year-old pattern and use it as it is. It will be colors I like and can find cheaply again.

    I no longer wear long sleeves, ever. It is just too warm in the South. But, I have several black sweaters that were cheap on sale–$1. A sweater can be removed if needed. Actually, back then I only had two long-sleeved blouses. I made one long-sleeved tshirt and hated it but still have it for days when the temperature reaches the teens.

    I make my own comfy bras just to cut down on the jiggle factor and stares. I don’t care if my nipples show–someone else’s problem. lol–I am not going to be uncomfortable to control your penis. However, when I worked I did wear a bra. I really do care about the social impact of not wearing a bra.

    • oh you make your own bras – how wonderful!
      all of you here are so great with the sewing it sounds! i really really need to work on this skill.

  20. Love, always have, the idea of uniforms, for a inll the above reasons When my kids were little, I lived Japanese farmers pants and t-shirts for years. There is a book called “Make Your Own Japanese Clothes” by John Marshall that is pretty basic, and useful once you get a few sewing skills.

  21. Another vote for a uniform 🙂

    I’ve mentioned my mild Medieval/Tudor history obsession before, and having worn Tudor clothes to work in and after recently attending some Medieval festivals (as a visitor, not a re-enactor, sadly) I’ve also decided there was a lot going for knowing exactly what you will wear every day. I’ve worn a uniform as a nurse (1990’s UK, so a dress not scrubs) and we may get a uniform in my current job, which I’m thrilled about, but the Tudor clothes are so well thought out.
    Natural fabrics, so warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Easily washable layers next to your skin or coverings for areas that may get soiled- aprons (love ’em) and sleeves. Hitch up the skirts when needed; they’re not cumbersome or impractical (talking peasant clothes rather than upper class outfits, obviously.) I’ve sawn wood, dealt with small farm animals and carried out domestic chores in a Tudor servant’s dress.

    The uniform may also be part of the appeal of the Amish too, I think.

    • I agree that skirts are very practical, and they’re also easy to make and care for. Is the Tudor dress you’re speaking of an overdress with a chemise or something under it? I’ve always found that combination very appealing.

  22. I’ve been watching waaay too much Naked & Afraid these days, since Bear Grylls stopped making Man vs. Wild and since that new fake military guy kicked out Cody, N&A is the only show worth watching.

    So at night mostly, I’ve been walking around my backyard Naked, although not so Afraid, just to see how it feels. And I must admit it feels very liberating and intunes you.

    Are there nudists urban homesteaders out there?

  23. The world labels me an “ultra-orthodox Jew” (I never understood how it knows what “ultra” is) and mocks my clothing.

    Truth is, as this blog entry implies, I truly am a free man because I continue along a most meaningful path forged by my ancestors and free of the agendas of those who want to take, not give.

    I bless all of you to find your own path, too, whether it’s of your ancestors or your own forging. Thank you for all of your input.

    • thank you for this – i don’t know why but it made me both happy and tear up…..written so beautifully and simply…of course, it makes the most sense and i will keep it in my heart along this path of mine.

      and shame on whoever is mocking anyone…

  24. At first glance I thought maybe this was a sort of Amish schoolgirl instruction page for making their clothes, lol. Then I saw the writing and realized it had to be some sort of Eastern European item. I think it’s cute, and since you’re already sort of famous you could get away with it. I can see you being introduced in articles and podcasts as being “know for her use of the iconic workers garments of the early USSR, as well as her extensive knowledge of homemaking techniques.”

    • I’m sorry but for all of us forced to live under the communist oppression this glamorization of the terrorist regime is offensive and the uniform pictured is a symbol of that. Millions of people died at the time of early USSR.

  25. Yes yes yes, I too have a hankering for a uniform. I live in Tasmania and would need to develop something that could be warmed up and cooled down as needed.
    I do a lot of ‘dirty’ work, horses, gardens, cattle, small children and the like. I am fond of the Japanese tunic and have many many aprons that are well loved. This post may have just launched me into action!

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  27. My partner has been talking about wearing jumpsuits for ages! He hates having to make clothing decisions. Just wants a set of jumpsuits. I have no desire to wear jumpsuits (because of the aesthetics, how huge and flat my usually lovely derrière would look, and I just don’t like the idea of having my shirt attached to my pants) but I definitely get the appeal of a uniform. I really enjoy dressing up and putting outfits together… when I have time. But for the average everyday? It’s a ribbed tank top or t-shirt, a comfy sports bra, and leggings or shorts.

    I’m curious though, why a dress? I feel like it would be kind of inconvenient for just about anything involving kneeling- which seems to be a major part of gardening, at least in my garden.

  28. Here on the other side of the world (New Zealand) almost every school has a uniform. Many Maori people wear uniforms identifying their iwi (tribe) or sometimes a street gang or sports team. Most people of all cultures in NZ wear black incessantly. So the uniform proposal is not very attractive to me. But as I sew more and more of my own clothes, the styles are reduced to a few patterns I know fit, flatter and are easy to make: fitted trousers or leggings with smocks or tunics on top, mostly from recycled second hand fabric in whatever bright colours and natural textiles I can scavenge.

  29. Two words: Army Surplus. With so many women in the armed forces women’s sizes in clothes and shoes abound. For sheer comfort, durability and protection nothing beats a pair of army issue camo pants: pockets galore, loose fitting, cool in the heat (I live in FL)and nothing, I mean nothing, wrecks them. The boots worn by service women in the desert: super, super durable, cool, great fit, unparallelled protection for my feet. I farm, so need that safety. In town it is jeans (from a resale shop) and a tshirt (from resale or garage sale) and Birkenstocks (only big ticket item). At work it is black or navy pants (Talbots) and a button down cotton shirt(LL Bean) and Birkenstock maryjanes; dressed up with a scarf for formal events. Simple, simple , simple and super durable and utilitarian all the way around. I spend less than $400/year on clothes (mostly on the Birks) and I bet less than two hours a year “clothes shopping”.

    • I just read all these posts in wonder! Great ideas, and I’ve been heading the same way. After 20+ years of wearing military, especially BDU’s I miss them terribly ( especially the pockets! ) I’ve saved a fair number of simple patterns from the old days of Woman’s Day and Family Circle and have a great tiered wrap skirt pattern, very simple, and with deep pockets. Also have that Afghan dress and the Harem pants. I hate women’s clothing today. It looks awful on everyone!!! Skinny Jeans? Really?? I’ve been searching forever for a decent pair of cargo pants ( pockets please!) and a bit of stretch to the fabric. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I can’t even find a decent pattern or fabric that would work! Help? Also just a note: as a bra hater myself– ex officio makes a nice little crossover that breathes. Very comfy, and not soaking wet at the end of the day. Anyone interested in the skirt pattern, let me know.

  30. On a related topic I would really like to buy only well-made clothes that use very long lasting fabrics. I have no interest in fashion but as I have to wear clothes I would like to buy them as little as possible and have them last as long as possible.

    I buy work-wear brands from what’s available in Australia. These generally last well. But I’d be also happy to buy from artisan clothes-makers or even mainstream clothes-makers if they sell clothes that will last a long time.

    Bespoke shirt makers in Britain used to make their shirts so that the parts that saw heavy wear could be replaced. An excellent idea.

    Buying only clothes that last a long time is a great way to support companies with a focus on quality and to reduce waste etc And even if these clothes are more expensive to purchase, not having to replace them continually may save money overall.

    I think there are various measures of how well various cloth will wear. So well-made clothes using longer-wearing cloth should last.

    Perhaps some Root Simple readers know of some good clothes along these lines


  31. I have a uniform!

    Eight-pocket carpenter jeans, tank top, and and, weather-dependent, collared shirt and sweater. In the summer, I wear chaco sandals, in the winter, I wear variations on lace-up oxford shoes (the last two years, I’ve been rocking some nice walking shoes by keene).

    I’ve been wearing this basically since I was a junior in high school, with varying success. There was a horrible period between 2001 and 2005 or so when no one made ladies’ carpenter jeans and I actually learned how to make my own jeans in protest (I’m a pretty decent seamstress). I’d still make my own jeans, except it is time-consuming, and the quality of denim that I could find wasn’t great — if I’m going to make jeans from scratch, I don’t want the material to get thin and wear out after six months. Fortunately, Carhart finally started making a decent ladies’ carpenter jean last year, so I’m saved for now, at least.

    I also made most of my own collared shirts, as I have a build that doesn’t fit well into commercial patterns. I’ve worn most of them out, and need to get a new pattern made, which has fallen by the wayside for now, but hopefully I’ll be able to this winter.

    The sweaters, at least, are easy — I knit two or three a year, and have been doing so for long enough that I have both old work sweaters and new nice sweaters.

    I’m fortunate enough to work in a white-collar profession with a casual dress code (operations at a hands-on museum), so I dress pretty much the same at work and at play.

  32. I too vote for the uniform! I am a stay at home mom now so my wardrobe has become a series of mid length long skirts and tank tops/tshirts with Birkenstocks. In winter, the skirts are a-line and the boots are practical for our Canadian winters. I have found my style over the years has essentially been the same with some variations depending on my working circumstances.

    I used to own a dog walking company in Toronto so my clothes needed to be exceedingly durable and comfortable with pockets so cargo capris from The Gap were the best (summer) and fleece leggings from Old Navy (winter). And Gortex. Man, I wore a lot of Gore-tex!

    Then I entered the corporate world and that uniform was undoubtedly the most uncomfortable. It was like going from one end of the comfort spectrum to the other.

    I always liked Georgia O’Keefe’s style, the black and the white oufits, simple and elegant but practical too. And of course the Jackie O uniform of the A-line dress dressed up with accessories. Somewhere between the two would be ideal.

    And speaking of aprons, I have several and don’t wear them nearly enough. I will begin to in the garden though, that is a great idea! I used to live in an area in Toronto with a huge Tibetan population and many of the women wore these beautiful colourful aprons called Pang-den. Simply gorgeous items of clothing.

  33. Oh this is fun – A “zero waste”* outer hooded tunic pattern layout inspired by the traditional costume of Siberian reindeer herders. This one was made from an upcycled bedsheet and a bit of fake-fur trim:


    *”zero waste” patterns are those that are designed to incorporate every shape cut from the fabric into the finished product, therefore, no wasted fabric to throw away etc. Traditional undertunics/dresses are often made like this, but this is different because it also incorporates a hood and POCKETS 😉

  34. Bravo! on the uniform. I, too, wear a uniform. I sew. I have one pattern for a dress, one pattern for a jumper, and one pattern for a blouse. ( I purchase cotton knit tops.) I add minor variations in my construction, especially color, to “fly under the radar” of current styles. Add a pair of shoes that are comfortable and work for me, knitted by me legwarmers for dipping northeastern weather, a cardigan or two, and voila! an easy peasy wardrobe. As long as I am neat, clean, and the style works for me, it does not matter what anyone else thinks. Based on my observations,”style” and “fashion” are words that are no longer relevant.

  35. How awesome is this!

    The awesome: He did it to make a point (though, not about sustainability directly, rather, in how we “notice” fashion or not between males and females).

    The not-so-awesome: He proved his point. Females get much more criticized for their garb than males do, though I wonder if she wore a single, splendid cut “uniform”, whether she might not hear the noise turned down on that as well???


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  37. One of the things that I like about going Plain a few years ago is that I now have my “uniform”. I have several dress/apron combos, but they’re all in the same green shades that I prefer, so I don’t have to worry about my socks/tights matching. I have a couple of dresses for each season, so I choose what I wear based on how hot or cold it is. They’re long-wearing, stain-resistant, have pockets (on the dress, hidden under the apron) and comfortable. And because they’re long and not tight, I can wear leggings, long johns or whatever I like underneath to keep warm.

    It’s really freeing to know exactly what I’m putting on in the morning, and it cuts down on laundry (washing, sorting, putting away …), shopping (I just don’t do it – the dresses are made by a seamstress friend) and that awful feeling of standing in front of the closet wondering what to wear.

  38. In her later years living in New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe created a uniform for herself, a long wrap dress of sorts based on a Japanese kimono.

  39. I’ve worn black boots, black jeans, and black t-shirts for well over a decade now. I get comments about the lack of colour well before anyone notices the lack of variation of outfit.

    I just buy 30 T-shirts at a go (bulk purchases are really cheap) and then replace them when they’ve worn out. I have a photo of my wardrobe to convince people I’m clean. Laundry is once every two to three weeks, but I have managed a month without an issue. I suppose I could make them, but it’s not a skill I possess, and I didn’t make the fabric or the tools either, so what’s one step?

    • heather,
      OMG!!!!! wow i love those dresses! thank you for the link.

      yes, i am constantly obsessively looking for tunics, overall dresses, and mummus. all with pockets and natural fibers!!!
      as well as boots of all kinds – sturdy or not.

  40. Hello, after having spent a year in school uniform I missed the “no decision” element in dressing keenly for years. The little black dress mentioned in the comments is fine, but perhaps more sympathetic to your idea seems to me the little brown dress that sadly is only available via the wayback machine (I hope this link works).
    One dress every day and no fancy accessories.

    I think if you can sew leather into shoes you should have no problem with fabric. Good luck!

    • Thanks! It’s inspirational to see someone actually doing this, and carrying the experiment through. Thumbs up!

    • Clicked on the section where she has the full posts about the project and it was very insightful to get the details/logistics of how it worked for her (or didn’t) along the way. I loved the observations about whether certain choices might be “giving in” to the reasons that drove her into trying this project in the first place, how there may have been some “shifting the balloon” effect with the desire for adornment, and so many other aspects of it that I hadn’t thought about, but could totally understand how I would feel the same were I having to make some of the choices she did. Awesome stuff – thanks so much for sharing!!!! 🙂

    • Yes! I’ve just sat down with those, too. Fascinating. And can you believe someone stole the dress? I like her follow-up project, even more– making everything she wears.

    • re: making everything she wears – ah, yes, that’s been my mental utopia goal for awhile LOL 😉 I am – verrrrry gradually – starting to cross items at least off of the “*ability* to make everything I wear” list. Then there’s the actual TIME to do it all!!! Definitely turning into more of a lifelong project goal, but it does feel empowering to even know that I *could*, even if the actual *doing* part is slow. Meanwhile, I’m at least focusing on the mantra of when buying is necessary because I haven’t the time to make the thing yet, buying only things that I know are versatile and will LAST long enough to survive washings/mendings etc. for many years.

      Recently read a book on the women of the Coast Salish tribes who make the traditional Cowichan sweaters where they talk about the fact that the sweaters are so unique and yet practical/durable that people often actually make provisions for them in their wills!

      There’s also a great book on Norwegian knitting where they show examples of the endless mending/remending/reworking of knitted items before the pieces would finally end up being sold to the rag factory “Everyday Knitting: Treasures From a Ragpile” by Annemore Sundbo. Includes photos of how folk would make (really) warm underwear from old, patched up sweaters.

  41. I love this idea, but since I now work in corporate America, my “uniform” is reserved for non working hours. Several years ago I discovered yoga pants. I love them. The ones I wear are lose, have pockets and are so comfortable. I pair these with a cotton tank top and quite honesty could wear these indoors all winter long. In the summer I substitute a pair of loose cotton shorts for the yoga pants and I’m in heaven.

    • If you google “Thai Fisherman’s Pants”, you can find some free patterns for those style of britches online (minus the ankle gathering part).

      The upsides of these pants – VERY adjustable, so especially great for wearing them longer or more like cropped pants, as well as being able to layer or not with tights etc. underneath them and for monthly weight fluxes etc or into/out of being preggo. Also, no zippers or buttons to break or to snag on other items in the wash etc. (or, read as no zippers, buttons, or drawstring channels to have to SEW if you are making some yourself – sorry, bodkins need not apply 😉 ). And yes, POCKET action to boot! 😉

      An aspect some find challenging – some have described wearing them as feeling a bit like “wearing diapers” due to the extra fabric wrapped around. You generally also have to be comfortable with the profile that it gives (esp w/ the top part folded down, as they are worn traditionally), which is definitely not the western norm etc.

      That aside, I got some of these last year (from another source) to give them a whirl, and while they are different to get used to (both with the extra fabric and such a high waistline), I’m really grooving on the possibilities as a longterm wardrobe staple.

      Burda offers a slightly modified TFP pattern on their website for $4 (model in the pic is shown wearing them more tradtionally – ie with the top folded down):


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