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How a work uniform is helping women focus at the office

Wearing the same outfit to work every day might not sound like fun, but it's a growing trend among women who want to minimize distractions.
/ Source: TODAY

Wearing the same outfit to work every day might not sound like fun, but it's a growing trend among women who want to minimize distractions and get more accomplished at the office.

Kathryn Brown, who works in the tech industry in Portland, Oregon, told she wears a white shirt, skinny jeans and a scarf every day to work to save time in the mornings.

“I adopted it maybe two years ago,” she said. “I was joking about it with my office manager. One day I said, ‘You look so cute every day, but I just can’t do it.’ I can’t coordinate. And I went to Buffalo Exchange and sold all my fussy clothes.”

“But as a woman in tech, I still want to be feminine,” added Brown, 31. “I don’t want to be the typical hoodie-wearing coder.” She said the scarf adds style and lets her change the look when she wants.

Kathryn Brown shows off her work uniform at her tech job in Portland, Oregon.Courtesy of Kathryn Brown

Brown isn’t alone in her desire to cut out fashion from the routine. Amy Zinck, who was recently profiled by the Chicago Tribune, told she's been wearing a black pantsuit to work for more than 15 years.

"Women today are managing more than ever before," said Zinck, 47. "It's not a matter of not caring what you look like. It's not caring to spend as much of your valuable time getting to that look. So when you establish your personal style, you find a uniform, you're saving your most valuable asset: time."

The concept of the so-called "work uniform" has been taking off in recent months, as more women share the stories behind their go-to outfits. Art director Matilda Kahl wrote in an essay for Harper's Bazaar that, after one particularly frustrating morning getting dressed for a meeting, she now wears the same black slacks and white silk blouse every day, with a thin leather bow around the neck of her shirt. Entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the healthcare technology company Theranos, is often photographed in her trademark black turtleneck. And J.Crew's Jenna Lyon's high heels and skinny pants have practically become her signature.

"I'm a huge fan of the work uniform because I think what happens is when we're super busy, the little decisions are the ones that can eat us alive," expert Samantha Ettus, who specializes in work-life balance coaching, told "If you have a complicated morning with anything, it's hard to hit the ground running. Anything that adds to your confidence and simplifies your morning routine is a huge win."

Women who have adopted a work uniform — wearing the same or a similar outfit every day — say they not only save more time in the mornings, but also perform better at work, because they spend less time fussing over what they're wearing. It’s a habit that’s worked well for men — think of Steve Jobs’ turtlenecks, Mark Zuckerberg’s T-shirts hoodies and even those who wear suits every day to the office.

Of course, wearing the same thing over and over has its downsides. You could easily get bored, and coworkers might start wondering if you haven't been home to change in a while. To fend off office gossip, Ettus says you have to own your look.

"If you're going to have a work uniform, wear it proudly," she said. "Like, this is my look. When we think of Audrey Hepburn, we think of her in a little black dress. No one is saying, 'Gosh, Audrey always wore black!'"

How to make your own work uniform

  1. Figure out what looks best on your body. "Notice what people are complimenting," Ettus said. "If there's that one dress you wear, it's probably not the dress, but how it looks on you." Take a fashion-savvy friend shopping with you, or ask the stylists at the department store. Maybe your signature look is a shift dress, or a blouse and trousers.
  2. Buy in bulk. Once your figure out your style, buy multiple items. Some people might want to stick with one color or neutrals, but you can also have a uniform of one style in different colors and patterns. Ask the store manager about discounts.
  3. Embrace layers. To make your uniform work year-round, add a sweater or blazer over your blouse in the winter. For dresses, add tights when it gets cold and look for the same silhouette in heavier fabrics. Brown said she rotates between a white tank top, white blouse and white button-up as the seasons change, so her look is still the same but stays weather appropriate.