How Uniform Dressing Taught Me To Take Better Care of My Things

A coming of age story, as told through ugly shoes.
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Eliza Brooke
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A coming of age story, as told through ugly shoes.
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A few weeks ago, I went into my closet, grabbed every clothing item I hadn't worn in the last month, shoved it in an oversized tote and hauled it to Buffalo Exchange to sell for cash. 

It wasn't much money. I think I bought a burger and a beer with it. 

A wad of cold, hard fives wasn't the point, although the burger was delicious. I'd grown really sick of standing in front of my closet every day before work and looking at a bunch of things I didn't like — or that didn't fit, or that rode up awkwardly in the back. All non-essential items were given permanent leave of my wardrobe, and they had to get out of the building, stat. 

Over the course of the last year, I've been whittling down my everyday rotation to fewer clothing items that I really, really like. Put glamorously, one might call me a uniform dresser, like Grace Coddington. One could also refer to it as "literally wearing the same shirt every day." There are a few reasons for this.

1. I am a writer and live in New York, ergo most of my salary goes toward rent. Better to stock your wardrobe with very similar items and let your co-workers figure out for themselves how large your closet really is. 

2. I am a creature of habit. 

3. Once you graduate from college, you cannot slouch around in leggings and a tank top on a weekday because you are too hungover to function. If you are suffering the 7 a.m. mind-fry of last night's cheap white wine, it helps to have a limited (read: no-brainer, because actually where has your brain gone) supply of clothing on hand. Preferably one sensible enough to delude people into thinking you are a real life adult.

4. I have, at least for the time being, figured out what works on my body and what I like. 

Those things include oversized button-down shirts (Everlane), t-shirts with a certain amount of structure at the arm (Gap), black denim (Paige) and A-line skirts that hit mid-thigh (Cos). I have three pairs of shoes that I wear with everything: Black high-top Converse, Nike sneakers I found at a thrift store that people keep confusing for hiking boots but seem to charm boys endlessly, and these ugly (AWESOME) loafers from a now-defunct brand called Selby. It's all very minimal, with either a schoolgirl or a tomboy twist, depending on my mood.

The loafers are my favorite child. They were my mom's in the '80s, although they would be appropriate for a grandma in any decade. I've been building what may be the first tan line of my adult life on my feet because I wear them every day. That's a big deal, because I'm very pale. And like those vintage Nike kicks, they're basically irreplaceable. 

That last point is what made me realize that if I'm going to have a limited wardrobe and grow deeply attached to every single thing in it, I need to clean up my act and learn how to take care of my stuff. I'm years away from flossing on a daily basis or actually buying more soap when the bottle gets low rather than just adding some water to it, but by god, I will grow the hell up for the sake of my prized retirement home slippers.

Let's be clear: Mastering wardrobe maintenance is an ongoing process, because as it turns out, it's kind of a lot of work. I have started taking my shoes to the shoe repair when they get gnarly in an effort to slow their eventual deterioration. I brought a skirt to the tailor to get an undone hem fixed. I even internalized my roommate's advice about separating clothing by color before washing it and honoring each individual item's tag instructions, which is huge because I hate admitting she's right.

I've also been asking around for pro tips from known uniform wearers, of which my roommate is not one. A friend who works for the online branch of a well-known fashion magazine suggested dry cleaning everything, even cotton dresses that could be washed, because it keeps them looking better longer.

"Also when cheap or comfortable or casual (or all three) things are dry-cleaned they look more expensive and profesh," she wrote in an email. Expensive, but good advice for a young lady with career ambitions.

Her roommate is a minimalist in the truest sense of the word. After a few years spent paring his closet down to the barest of bones — black jeans, Uniqlo tees and polos in white and black, one fitted blazer — he can fit all of his clothing (excluding winter sweaters and coats) into a single suitcase.

It makes you want to throw all your clothes out, or hide under your covers in shame. What's more, he takes really good care of everything.

"I make sure to only use cold water when throwing my clothes in the washing machine and usually only have to dry clean my blazer," he explained. "I've always stayed away from dryers unless absolutely necessary." 

I like the sound of his method, mostly since it costs less money than dry cleaning everything. As for footwear, he has a grand total of two pairs of shoes, which he has polished and resoled often in order to keep them looking fresh. They're both over two years old at this point.

After finishing his email, I swiveled around in my desk chair to examine at my own loafers. They looked like shit. I swore I would put them in a bag to take to the shoe repair the next day, which I promptly forgot to do the next morning. I swear, it's going to happen tomorrow.

And then I'm going to buy more soap.