Style, Wardrobe

City Uniform

Growing older, I’ve found the distinction between my clothes in “town” (aka Manhattan) and my clothes at home in the “country” (aka the much less populated suburb of Long Island where we currently live, and where my family has been for several generations) to be more defined than in the past. Gone are the days when I’d wear polo shirts and boat shoes into Manhattan (though, to be fair, those were standard “town” wear in Washington, D.C., especially my neighborhood.) I also never wore black, outside of my little black dresses (#navyornothing). Now, things have changed. I feel like I need to dress up a little, to live up to the best things about Manhattan. I also feel that, as an adult, a wife and mother, and the director of a nonprofit, I need to step out of my former uniform and live up to the person I am now.

But I am a creature of habit who definitely prefers a uniform, so I’ve pulled together my own “city uniform.” I feel comfortable and confident, which cuts down on daily stress, and I always know what to wear, which is crucial on days when I go from getting my son ready for the day to the train station.

While a uniform seems simple, arriving at it was actually more complicated than I’d thought. I had to take in several factors:

  1. It has to be practical. Commuting on the LIRR, the subway, and the walk to my office, then the whole process in reverse, means that an outfit that is easy to move in is essential.
  2. It has to involve layers. Especially at this time of year, the weather is so changeable–cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon, and freezing in my office. Layers are crucial to staying comfortable throughout the day.
  3. It has to fit in. As Nan and I discussed in her What’s in Your Closet? interview, you can always tell a New Yorker from a tourist. I’m a native New Yorker (born in the East Village), and while we don’t live in the city any longer, I still consider myself a New Yorker (and always will!) Fitting in is, frankly, a lot safer, and it’s also a lot easier to maneuver through the train/subway/walk commute when you don’t look like a tourist. (Plus, you get better service when you go out to eat if it isn’t so obvious that you’re not local!)
  4. Everything has to fit together. This goes hand-in-hand with point two above. If I remove a layer from my outfit (for instance, my tweed jacket), the rest of the outfit has to look like an outfit, and not just as though I shed the jacket. I like to pack a scarf to tie a monochromatic outfit together if I have to shed my jacket.

My actual uniform is so simple compared to all the criteria I have! I try to keep my core items monochromatic (in the fall, I love my cigarette pants and turtleneck combination, particularly in black) with a piece in color to tie it together (Points Two and Four). I favor my Kiki jacket for this layer. I also love a scarf!

I wear comfortable but simple shoes (Points One and Three). I favor my Belgians, ballet flats, or Stubbs. These are great for walking but are still elegant (I abhor the sneakers-for-commuting look.)

I use a practical bag (a large Longchamp Le Pliage in black, which can fit everything for the day). I also bring outerwear if it’s cold, either my Barbour or my trench coat.

I always feel more polished when I’m in my uniform, which makes me think that I need to upgrade my daily uniform from leggings and sweaters to something a little nicer, even if it is these pants with the same sweaters (one of the items on my fall wishlist!). Still the same comfort of leggings, but a little nicer, and I wouldn’t have to change if I have to run out to the store to get a last-minute ingredient for dinner. At a stretch, these might also work for the city, especially the suede options.

Do you have a city uniform, and if so, what is it?

7 thoughts on “City Uniform

  1. How has your Longchamp held up? (I assume you’ve had it for years like me.) I love them and want to work with them but they just wear so quickly!

    1. Mine has actually held up really well! I received the one I use for the city from my godmother maybe five or six years ago. I only use it for commuting, though, and have a smaller Longchamp for everyday use. I think it’s held up so well because I keep everything in pouches within the bag–like one for a notebook/pens/chargers/batteries, my wallet, stuff for my computer… so I think that’s helped improve its life. I also don’t use this one every day!

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