Why I Wore The Same Thing For An Entire Month Straight

There’s a 50/50 chance that a person is going to LOVE the idea of wearing the same exact thing every day for a month. The alternative is that they’re going to be vehemently disgusted by it. At least, that’s the response I got when I told people that I was embarking on a personal challenge to wear the same outfit — the same shirt, pants, cardigan, shoes, socks, and bag — for the entire month of May. Love it or hate it, there was no in-between, which was strange considering the fact that figuring out what to wear each day is one of the more minor decisions we make in our lives. “Why would you do that to yourself?” some of my friends and colleagues would say. “That sounds wonderful! I want to try it, too,” responded others. Some people credit the tech industry for creating the concept of the everyday uniform. But, no offense to Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, I think fashion people have a more intimate understanding of the power of an outfit that just works. Think of Grace Coddington’s all-black sheaths, or Emmanuelle Alt’s skinnies-and-blazer combination — even prolific, creative designers like Karl Lagerfeld establish a personal look they stick to. The benefits of wearing the same thing every single day are, in theory, manifold: To be consistent with your clothing is to know who you are and what you believe in, and for people who hold leadership positions that are pegged on vision, that sort of unwavering stability is key. The tech set also points to the idea of “decision fatigue”: once you eliminate the small, inconsequential choices you make daily, you can free up your mind to be more creative and productive. There’s also the idea that one perfect outfit will eliminate the stress of wondering whether you’re dressed appropriately — as ad exec Matilda Kahl told Harper’s Bazaar in April — which gives you more confidence in the workplace. All these supposed benefits made me jump at the opportunity to try this out.
Now, I’m not the most obvious candidate for something like this. I don’t have that many clothes in the first place — which surprises some people — and I regularly rotate between 15 or so outfits. I don’t shop a lot, but I don’t get rid of much, either. I’m not the kind of person who obsesses over what they’re wearing or regrets what they put on. In all, I am not a clotheshorse, which has made me feel like there's something wrong with me, considering I spend my days thinking, talking, and writing about garments. My peers and colleagues talk about clothes the way most people reflect on a first love, and while I get that soul-stirring feeling from conversations about clothes, I feel zero tingles when I’m actually getting dressed in the morning. I hoped this project would help me rekindle my appreciation for clothes while also imbuing me with all that productivity and creativity that Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg enjoy. Bring. It. On. The first step was to decide what my uniform would be. It had to be work-appropriate (fun-office-environment-appropriate, at least), but transition to a Brooklyn dive bar with ease. It also had to be warm enough for chilly early-May temps and cool enough for the end-of-May heat. It had to be boring enough to not be distracting, but also feel fashion-forward. And finally, even though I’d be regularly laundering my clothes, I still needed the items to be hardy: wrinkle-proof and patterned enough to hide dinginess. It also had to be the most comfortable outfit, ever — I would be wearing it every single day, of course, and it couldn’t pinch, pull, or itch. I ended up choosing a J.Crew blue-striped cotton button-down with a hint of stretch; a pair of cropped, black Theory trousers; a camel-colored Comme des Garçons Play cardigan; black ankle socks; patent Doc Marten oxfords; a Mango belt, and a red, metallic Issey Miyake bag. I bought an extra shirt and pants so I could wear one pair while washing the other. I bought 15 identical socks from Uniqlo. I was set. The first day was awesome. I always love talking about the stories behind what I’m wearing, and asking other people about theirs, and I had a really good story this time. I am sure that if I was being followed, I would have annoyed the living hell out of anyone who heard all my conversations that day. Oh thank you! Yes, the shirt is new — I’m doing this really cool project where I wear the same thing every day… For every single time that I’ve rolled my eyes when someone can’t stop talking about their new juice cleanse or workout regime, I was dishing it back a hundred times more annoyingly.

The high didn’t last long.

But, the high didn’t last long. By day three, I felt myself getting more urgent with my explanations. “Yeah, I’m wearing the same thing,” I caught myself saying when I wasn’t even asked, just so I could make sure everyone knew there was a perfectly good reason for my outfit repeating. As someone who’s never been neurotic about her clothes, this was an unwelcome new habit. My morning routines, though were getting ridiculously efficient. I had never thought of myself as slow, but my uniform allowed me to fly out the door. A week in, I clocked the time it took me to go from slapping the alarm clock to locking the front door at 20 minutes. A truly enlightened human might have invested that saved time in something creative and productive (like inventing Apple computers or something); I took it to mean that I could sleep in for an extra half-hour every day. Curiously, even with the extra sleep and the sped-up morning, I found myself more tired when I got to the office. Without the time spent picking out my clothes, my brain stayed shut off until I parked in front of a computer. Once there, I found that the first decision I made in a day tended to be an important one, and more often than not, my brain wasn’t primed to do it. I might have had a tiny coffee habit before this month, but I was totally addicted during it. A week and a half in, and I encountered my first big test: I was going to Tokyo on a press trip with Uniqlo to interview some of Japan’s brightest business minds. On top of that, we’d be sightseeing around Tokyo and Kyoto, and attending a variety of events that ranged from formal kaiseki dinners to a robot burlesque show in the back alleyways of pachinko arcades. Typically, I would have spent a couple days stressing about what to bring. This time, I could fit everything into a quarter of my suitcase. I decided to bring along an emergency formal dress and heels in case the itinerary called for something nicer. I was going to be consistent about my uniform, sure — but I wasn’t going to be an asshole about it.
For however easy packing was, flying was as hard. Spending 13 hours in one seat is a nightmare, however you spin it, but wearing what amounts to business clothes felt like torture. And I have to tell you, changing out of your plane clothes into another set of clothes that looks and feels exactly the same does not offer much relief. Thankfully, it was already evening, and after dinner with the press group, I was able to climb into my pajamas. The next morning, I decided to be pre-emptive about explaining why I’d be wearing the same clothes for the entire week, and told the few people in my group what I was doing. While most hadn’t noticed that I was still wearing my plane clothes, one girl did: “I wanted to ask you if you lost your luggage, but didn’t want to embarrass you if that wasn’t the case!” Cue: massive embarrassment. For the next three days, I hiked in my uniform, conducted interviews in my uniform, knelt on tatami mats in my uniform, and knocked back sake in my uniform. I had to wear the dress and heels during one fancy meal, after one of the Japanese organizers came up to me in what’s got to be one of the most awkward moments of my life to ask, “You are changing into new clothes for dinner, correct?” I did notice how much time and conversation the rest of the group devoted to what they were going to wear. They'd discuss outfit possibilities before any outing, and, not really being able to participate myself, I noticed it for the first time. I wasn’t traveling with a group of sartorial divas, either — it’s a real, daily ritual for most humans, and I was able to observe as an outsider that we dedicate a disproportionate amount of energy to it, especially when we’re traveling. In Tokyo, I brought fabric wipes with my everywhere. I was obsessed with not getting dirty, and I got through the entire trip with just two changes of clothes without issue. On the way back, though, the horror of the previous 13-hour flight led me to break my uniform and change into a pair of leggings. Yes, friends, I wore a button-down shirt and a pair of leggings; I looked like a corporate superhero, and I regret nothing. The end of that trip marked two and a half weeks into the project, and I was beyond sick of my clothes. I was doing a ton more shopping during my downtime as an outlet, which was the opposite of the austere mindset I thought this experiment would foster. Around that time, J.Crew released a campaign in many of the subway stations I hit during my daily commute that featured a carefree, fresh-faced girl wearing the exact shirt I had on. I hated that girl. I hated that she was smiling in that shirt, and that I always saw her every morning after I put it on and every evening after spending a day in it. I hated that people could see that we were wearing the same shirt, which made the fact that I was wearing the same shirt each day all the more obvious to me.

You overestimate how much other people even acknowledge that you’re there, much less that you’ve got the same thing on.

Here’s the thing about people paying attention to me: I had hypothesized at the beginning of this experiment that no one would even notice that I was repeating outfits. People are inherently egocentric, I told myself. You overestimate how much other people even acknowledge that you’re there, much less that you’ve got the same thing on. That theory’s even been put to the test, where subjects were given a potentially embarrassing T-shirt to wear and had to indicate the rate at which they believed other people noticed it, which was always higher than what actually happened. It’s called the “spotlight effect,” and it’s very real. But, you know what’s also real? Very observant people. And one very observant person dropping a casual, “Are you not changing your clothes?” will negate the hundred unobservant people who didn’t say anything. Sure, my boss might have asked me when I was going to start my project after I was already doing it for a week. But, an intern asking me if I had a rough night the night before because I was wearing the same thing again could send me into a solipsistic shame spiral.
The last week was an incredible bummer. I didn’t look in the mirror, and avoided cameras. I sent my cardigan to the dry cleaners to remove a couple red-wine drips and was horrified to actually feel something like separation anxiety during the day it was there. My belt had also started to fall apart, and each time I had to readjust it, I said a silent vilification for all the people who designed it. I saw a woman on the subway who was wearing my shirt, and I was struck by a feeling of abject abhorrence you might feel if you saw someone wearing a mask of your own face. At this point, my uniform felt inextricably linked to my person, and I couldn’t stand it. I had been reduced to a certain color combination and a specific ankle crop. While before I might have rejoiced in a silhouette as “so me,” I now felt exasperated that I was the outfit. When the 31 days were over, and I woke up on the morning of my first day of freedom, I actually felt first-day-of-school butterflies. I was more awake and energized than I’d felt the entire month before, and spent a glorious 15 minutes trying on my other clothes and picking out an outfit. I went to work, wearing my favorite felt culottes, a new polo I picked up in Tokyo, a trench coat I was waiting to debut during a special occasion, and shiny shoes. That high lasted a full week. Getting dressed hadn’t been that fun since high school, and I was relishing it. Those tingles I thought I was missing out on? They were like thunderbolts, and I felt like I finally understood what exercise fanatics and meditation nuts rave about. I could choose a whole new outfit whenever I wanted, and life was good. I did miss some things about my uniform. Wearing the same solidly constructed shoes for a month made a huge difference on my feet, and I immediately got blisters and cramps as soon as I started changing pairs. Secondly, I didn’t realize how many of my other clothes were aggravating my contact dermatitis — after living in 100% cotton for a month, my skin was a baby around synthetics. Also, changing up my outfits meant that I wasn't as attuned to the small fluctuations my body went through each day. Before, a certain belt hole meant that I was bloated; a twinge in my shoes meant that I needed to get up and walk around. Without those physical reminders of how my body was doing, I was out of touch with myself. But, had my attention at work shifted? Was I more creative and productive as a result of taking daily outfit changes out of the equation? Meh. Or, at least not enough to tell, especially when there was the added nonsense of worrying about things that I’d never worried about before (people noticing, people not gripping their glasses of red wine tightly enough, etc). If anything, I was less creative, less inspired, and less motivated. Everything in moderation, though, right? People can’t fast for their entire lives, and it’s not a great idea to spend all day every day in Spin class. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily die if I couldn’t change up my outfits when I wanted to, I definitely wouldn’t be living. Getting dressed in the morning lifts me up and inspires me. It was nice to experience a few days just south of transcendence, but not at the expense of 31 days at a half-life. Give me my closet, my choices, and the occasional blister — I’ll gladly give you back those 30 minutes of sleep.

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