There's a lot to be said for simplifying one's wardrobe.
When a man wears the same outfit to the office every day of the year, no one bats an eye. But when a woman does the same, she's considered unfashionable or even unfeminine. Think of how Hillary Clinton was criticized for her 'boring' pantsuits, meanwhile Barack Obama's monotonous grey and black suits were never questioned.
This double standard has been in place for years, from the early days of the modern fashion industry targeting women's apparel over men's. It creates a real dilemma for women who certainly don't have any more time than men to get ready in the mornings (one could argue they have even less, with the typically unequal distribution of household and child-raising work), nor superfluous funds to pay for all those extra clothes. It's also a mental stressor to have to think through one's outfits in great detail every day.That is why Fast Company decided to do an experiment. It asked two female editors to wear the same outfit for a period of time and see what happened. Editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta opted for a black turtleneck and long black skirt and wore it for two weeks straight, while associate editor Lara Sorokanich chose a black T-shirt and dark grey jeans and stuck with it for six weeks. The results from the experiment are interesting.
Both women found themselves putting more effort into accessories, like makeup, jewelry, and handbags. Lara said it felt liberating not to have to spend time thinking about her clothes, while Stephanie felt somewhat constrained, as she views clothing as a form of personal expression. But both discovered that no one else seemed to notice.
"Stephanie believes her outfit was so inconspicuous – perhaps even bland – that people did not seem to remember what she wore from one day to the next. In Lara’s case, it took five weeks for anybody to comment on her outfit choices, and even then, a colleague simply observed that she had been 'wearing a lot of black lately.''"
So maybe the old double standard isn't quite as set in stone as we're taught to believe? Perhaps women impose it on themselves, or judge each other unfairly, when it comes to dressing. The valuable message from this experiment is that women needn't be so concerned with maintaining variety in their wardrobe, but should focus on dressing for themselves – in a way that makes them comfortable, confident, and relaxed. In Lara's words,
"It was really instructive. We assume that other people are paying attention to what we are wearing when they are all really more focused on their own lives."
This is good news for those of us trying to pursue more sustainable fashion practices, such as buying less, buying better, and wearing clothes for longer. Establishing one's own uniform and investing in high-quality pieces that make it always feel professional and put-together could be a more astute career move than wasting time and money on trendy, seasonal outfits. Give it a try and see if anyone notices.