Wearing Uniforms to Reduce Decision and Wallet Fatigue

We live in a world full of choices. Everything from what we want to do, who we want to do it with, to what brand of toothpaste to buy at the grocery store. And if you are like me, you make dozens (if not hundreds) of choices every single day.

In my case, I like to think they are important choices. As a business owner and lawyer, I have to make critical decisions for my business and clients on a daily basis. Everything from accepting or declining a case, to prioritizing tasks to making important strategic decisions on a client’s matter. Some of these decisions can have a grave impact on my future, and the future of the people who have hired me. And then there are the more mundane choices. What to have for lunch, what exercise to do next at the gym, etc. These choices can be nice luxuries, or in some cases they can become an anxiety laden burden leading to decision fatigue.

Personally, ever since I got out into the working world my goal has been to simplify my existence. That’s what attracts me to paying off debt and pursuing financial independence. That’s what attracts me to trying hard not to focus on acquiring a lot of “stuff”. The end result is cutting out all the bullshit that can consume people. The endless hamster wheel of the rat race. Maybe it’s because deep down, I’m lazy. Keep up with the Jonses? Fuck that, I’d rather stack some cash so I can eventually check out. Regardless, the goal for me is to try and declutter and simplify my existence wherever and however possible. You can argue it’s to free up mental CPUs to make better decisions when it really counts, or a deep desire to avoid bullshit at all costs.

One way I have been able to cut down mundane decisions and to free up mental CPUs is to wear a uniform. If you were to see me at my office on any given day I’ll be wearing dark gray or navy blue slacks, a blue or white long sleeve button down dress shirt, a black leather belt and black leather shoes. I basically rotate through all my clothing and grab whatever is next on the rack. I won’t claim to be the first person to come up with this. Plenty of successful people wear uniforms.

img-steve-jobs-uniform

The trick for me is to buy quality clothing that fits well and is comfortable, and then to stick with what works. I like solid colored shirts because people will notice if you wear the same patterned shirt all the time. I have 4 pairs of the exact same shoes, which extends the life of the shoes dramatically.

Granted, all my work stuff is relatively expensive (Brooks Brothers clothing and Allen Edmonds), but it looks good and holds up well. I also have a tailor by my office, and I make good use of her to mend and alter my clothing as needed. It’s money well spent because clients and other lawyers notice and appreciate the fact that I look like a professional. It sounds a little ridiculous, but in the working world image is important, and it all goes to the bottom line.

So while I am generally pretty cheap, work clothing is one area where I don’t want to be a tightwad.

But even if the clothing is expensive, it all gets used regularly and I get my money out of it. I think this is far better than buying a bunch of clothing that never gets worn. This happens, especially if you buy a lot of trendy or one off pieces. I have cleaned tons of stuff out of my closet that I bought on an impulse and then rarely or never wore. Eventually that stuff gets chucked to Goodwill, and it’s like throwing money in the garbage. I know exactly what dress shirts I like, what pants I like, etc. Everything gets worn and nothing gets wasted. At the end of the day I think it saves money.

I have enjoyed having a work “uniform” so much that I have instituted the same policy for my after work and weekend clothing. On the weekends I’m a lot less formal. It’s shorts and t-shirts for me year round. I used to wear cotton t-shirts when I was younger and assembled an impressive wardrobe of graphic t-shirts. Stuff I thought was cool.

Once I got a little older I was able to step out of my own mind a little and stop trying to be so “cool”. I switched to plain t-shirts and polo shirts. This approach worked well for law school. It was a little more mature than the sweet wolf t-shirts I wore in college, and I began to appreciate the simplicity of having a uniform of sorts.

img-sweet-wolf-shirt

I also found some plain cotton shorts at Wal-Mart for under $10 a pair that I really liked. I bought several dozen pairs. They are called Wangler “Timber Creek” shorts. Wal-Mart no longer carries them, instead only selling goofy cargo shorts, but I was happy to see that K-Mart stocks them, and that there is still a K-Mart in my town.

These days I wear a gray quick-dry shirt and plain shorts on the evenings and weekends. These are perfect for working in the yard, going to the grocery store, working out, etc. I pair these with some dark brown Sperry Topsider boat shoes and I’m basically ready for anything.

As an aside, I have had my Sperrys for 5+ years now and they are still going strong. The soles are surprisingly tough, and although the leather has worn and cracked a bit, they are still semi-presentable. I like the fact they are closed toed (a must if you have any common sense), plus there is no need to wear socks with them. They have held up way better than a pair of tennis shoes. I think what I will do is acquire another pair and keep them as my “nice” pair, if I go out to dinner or do something that requires looking sharper. The old pair is still perfect for mowing the lawn or tooling around on my bicycle.

And if you live in the South, then I highly recommend shirts made of “quick dry” material. For whatever reason it took me a while to jump on this bandwagon, but I am never going back to cotton t-shirts for casual wear. I sweat like a pig, and while these quick-dry shirts still take a while to dry out, they are a lot better and a lot cooler than cotton shirts. Just don’t put them in the dryer (they shrink).

While I can never say I spent a ton of money on clothes, if you are looking to shore up your budget, this is one place to look. Some people go on clothes buying bans, or only wear rags. I’m not that extreme (or that rich), and probably spend under $200 a year on clothing (including shoes, underwear, etc.) and I’m comfortable with that level of spending. I have never been a big clothes shopper so if the stuff works I’ll pay for it and get on with my life.

Work clothes I’m probably at $500 a year or so after building up a base line of suits, shoes, etc. This is for 2 or 3 dress shirts and couple pairs of slacks. Throw in a pair of good shoes and I’m probably pushing a grand. It’s a fair amount of money, but in my business you have to look the part. The acquisition of the clothing may be a little painful, but I never wake up worrying about what I am going to wear. I argue that the peace of mind is priceless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *