How Much It Cost Me To Wear The Same Thing Every Day

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I wear (pretty much) the same thing to work every day. Yes, that’s right, I am Mark Zuckerberg/Barack Obama/That Woman At That Ad Agency In New York.

And it’s amazing.

You know that feeling in the mornings where you just can’t tell whether this top goes with those pants, and can I wear a sweater over it, but what if it’s too casual for that meeting…and the end result is a giant pile of rejected outfits, and nothing feels right? I do. It was a constant struggle in my life, as I tried to piece together outfits that struck a balance between professional enough to be taken seriously as a young woman, and casual enough not to stand out like a sore thumb in my “You can totally wear jeans!” tech and agency offices.

Thanks to my work uniform, I haven’t felt that way in over a year and a half. That’s right: I’ve been wearing the same work outfit for more than 18 months, and I will still proudly declare that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. (Yes, there have been a few exceptions to the uniform, like on days when I forget to opt out of doing laundry and wear dark jeans instead of my trademark black pants, but they happen so rarely that they’re not notable.) I’ve written about why I started wearing the same thing every day, and covered my coworkers’ reactions (which were surprisingly positive!), but I’ve never touched on the financial side of things.

Did this decision actually impact my money? The short answer is hells yes, in a big way. But as usual, there’s a more nuanced version of the story, because this decision has had different impacts on my money at different parts in the process — and it definitely wasn’t free.

Getting Started

This isn’t really the kind of strategy you can inch your way into — and I know, because I’ve tried. For years, every new piece of clothing I got was imbued with the hope that this was going to be My New Look, and the foundation for everything I bought going forward. Dude, it’s one sweater, it’s not going to overhaul your whole closet, or follow you around guiding your other purchases. (I know this now.)

So when I decided that yes, I was committed to trying this out, and fed up enough with choosing outfits that I knew I could stick to a work uniform for at least six months to make the clothing purchases worth it, I went shopping with one goal: Find a top that I could buy five-to-seven of, that would layer well under a blazer, and wouldn’t be too high-maintenance. (No dry-clean-only for me, thankyouverymuch.)

I found my top, a silky, machine-washable, not-see-through t-shirt blouse, at Express, and literally bought the store out of the mediums they had on hand in both black and white. Along with those, I found a pair of black skinny jeans that fit perfectly, and boom. I had my outfit — and was down about $400 (in US dollars, $297.28). (I say about, because I hadn’t yet started tracking my spending.) So the first money lesson in all of this: it’s not the cheapest strategy to get started with, and you’ll need to know you’re at least somewhat committed to giving it a try for a few months. Otherwise, you might just end up with a closet full of the same outfit you can’t stand to look at because you’re so bored of it.

Dealing With Seasons

If you live someplace where the weather holds steady all year round and is temperate and beautiful…I mean, I’m not saying we can’t be friends, but I’m hella jealous. I live in Ottawa, which is just about as variable as you can get when it comes to weather. We’ve got scorching hot, 95-degree-Fahrenheit, don’t-touch-that-hot-metal-thing summers with bonkers humidity, and we hit minus-40-degree-Fahrenheit, don’t-touch-that-cold-metal-thing on a not-infrequent basis in the winter. So I know about dealing with seasons when it comes to clothing.

Before I started my work uniform experiment, seasons were the death of me. More accurately, they were the death of my budget. I relied on really variable clothing to suit different seasons, and whenever I needed to replace a sweater, I went out and took in all the trendy new ways I could be dressing at the mall. More often than not, this was not a cheap or frugal activity, and I’d leave with purchases that seemed perfect at the time, but were either totally disjointed when I got them home, and didn’t really fit with the rest of my closet.

This is where the work uniform approach has saved me the most money. Sure, I still hope to be a perfectly put-together J. Crew model with an endless closet and perfect accessories whenever I walk by their store displays, but I’ve completely cured myself of thinking that’s something I will — or can — do in the near future.

Total money spent on being season-appropriate or on-trend? Zero dollars.

Adding On To “The Uniform” 

(Alternate title: the magic of layers.)

After the blissful summer season where my black pants and white top combo was perfectly appropriate, winter came, and with it the kind of bone-chilling temperatures that made a silky short-sleeved top the kind of thing that earns you some crazy side-eye. Like, did she not even look at the frozen wasteland that is our city before getting dressed today? Also, I was so cold. So I bought some layers to toss on top of the standard uniform.

This was during my year of tracking my spending, so I can tell you that three knit cardigans from Express ran me $159.95 (USD $118.87) exactly during their Boxing Day sale, and they’re still going strong as we head into the colder months this year. Bonus, they’re also key when the air conditioning gets aggressive during the summer. Offices, amirite?

Replacing Old Items

Ok, true life confession: my professional-yet-casual black pants are actually from American Eagle. What can I say, their pants actually come in lengths suitable for my gigantor frame (I’m very tall, which can be hard to convey on the internet, but there you have it). They also fit like a dream, so until they change their sizing or fit, I’m hooked. The only problem? They don’t exactly last for years. However, they’re pretty reasonably priced, so if it means I buy a batch of pants every year, that’s okay with me. I did exactly that this summer, and dropped $275 (USD $204.38) on replacing two pairs of jeans that had long outlived their useful life, and two new pairs of my beloved uniform pants. They’re so good that I put up with going into American Eagle and realizing that I’m not a ~youth~ anymore on a semi-frequent basis, okay? Those are good pants.

The Grand Total I Spent on My “Uniform”

So if you look at the direct costs of the outfit I wear every day, and the indirect layering-and-replacing costs, I’ve spent about $834.95 (USD S620.53) in the past 18 months on my work clothing. Which, you know, is probably the same as what I spent over the course of six months before starting up this whole crazy idea in the first place. But here’s the thing: this was never about the money. (Or, lol, the “fashion.”)

This was 100% about not having to think about what I had to wear to work every day. Eliminating that one decision saved me hours of stress, and piles and piles of feeling uncertain and awkward and less-than-totally-confident during my day to day. Decision fatigue is real, friends, and I’d rather spend my limited decision-making energy on things that make a real impact, like my work or my relationships or literally anything other than my clothing. I just don’t care about it enough to spend any more time than I have to thinking about it.

I also hope that what I wear is the least interesting thing about me on a consistent basis. Which, while this work uniform approach is entirely offbeat and weird and notable, might be asking for a lot. But you know what, I accept that high bar, and will continue to wear (mostly) the same outfit with pride. And I’ll revel in the fact that I’m not “overdue” for a fall shopping spree at the mall. It probably has a lot to do with why I can afford all those pumpkin spice lattes.

P.S. If this doesn’t provide a super-clear example of how minimalism is privilege, I don’t know what does. 

Desirae blogs about money at Half Banked, and spends altogether too much time onTwitter. She takes “money nerd,” “no chill” and “crazy dog lady” as compliments. 

Image via Unsplash

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  • Betsy

    I really enjoyed this piece. I have been doing a similar thing. I don’t wear the same thing but very close and when I find pants or a shirt I love and looks good on me I by as many as I can afford. My question is do you wear the same thing on the weekends? Or do you have some different weekend pieces that you mix in?

    • Des @ Half Banked

      That’s an awesome question Becky! It’s funny because I do kind of take the same approach on the weekends, but totally by accident, haha. I got really into the whole Marie Kondo, get-rid-of-all-your-clothes thing a while ago, and ended up mostly keeping soft cotton t-shirts, jeans and warm sweaters. So without any planning at all, that’s almost 90% of what I wear outside of work! It helps that my weekends are usually really casual, too, and I rarely need to wear “special” clothing outside of attenting weddings. If my life was radically different / fancier this wouldn’t work as well, but for right now it works well enough!

      • Betsy

        I too got rid of a lot of my clothes in a Marie Kondo fit of inspiration, and yeah most of my weekend clothes are similar to my week day clothes, I am lucky enough to work in a casual environment. I would say the only thing that is different is I wear jeans that are much more casual i.e. rips all over them. Thanks for sharing!

        • Des @ Half Banked

          Oh shoot and I’m just now realizing I typed your name in COMPLETELY wrong – I’m so sorry Betsy!

          • Betsy

            No problem, happens all the time! Thanks for apologizing 🙂

  • nicolacash

    I liked this piece too – my uniform is black pants with a either a thick sweater in winter or quality-material tanktop with a cardigan in summer. I feel like it saves me money, because I’m less likely to buy random new clothes if I consciously know I’ll only have the opportunity to wear it on the weekends

    • Des @ Half Banked

      Thanks Nicola! And omg yes to the not buying random clothing. I’m so much less likely to buy one-off pieces for things like holiday parties now, because I’m so painfully aware of how not-often I’ll actually wear it.

      Sorry, gold-sequined-skirt, it’s a no go this time. (So festive! So impractical!)

  • LynnP2

    I definitely have a uniform, at least for fall through spring (summer is trickier): leggings (black or grey), black boots, dress, cardigan if needed. Because the dresses vary in style, I don’t know how “obvious” it is, but it definitely takes the work out of getting dressed in the morning.

    • Des @ Half Banked

      Dresses are THE DREAM! Honestly, if I found a dress that was flattering and long enough for me (I’m awkwardly tall) that would be my next uniform for sure. Pick one piece of clothing, and have a full outfit? Yes please.

  • Laurie

    I want this so bad, I just haven’t found yet the outfit I want. I’ve just get rid of more than 100 pieces of clothing and my challenge is also that I live in Quebec 😉 I wonder if you have a place where I can see the outfit you pulled out as a uniform? I need an example! Thanks for this article again!

  • Violaine

    I want to do this badly!! I wear similar things every day at work (a suit, black, navy blue or grey, and a blouse), but I’d like to buy in bulk. I need to save a bit first, then go through what I have, and then I’ll probably do that. It just sounds like such a great idea.

    • Des @ Half Banked

      I would definitely advise the saving! I wasn’t entirely surprised at how much I spent, but if I had planned it out better I would have at least given myself a month to put away some extra money – and I also didn’t have to buy suits, which helped! (Although suits will probably last way longer than my flimsy white shirts, haha. Kind of jealous you work in a suit-type workplace tbh!)

      • Violaine

        Haha! To be honest I bought cheap ones because I never thought I’d get the job so I had nothing to wear when they asked me to start. I have had them for 18 months and they still look fine!! Surprisingly. You could always buy a couple of black jackets and it’ll look very business-like with black trousers, like you could work in a bank or something. It’s not fun but I got used to it and I like not having to worry about being dressed appropriately or having things that match!

  • AN

    I LOVE American Eagle jeans! I’ve tried some more high-quality “adult” brands, but nothing fits like AE. I have the opposite problem as you, I am 5’0″, and American Eagle jeans offer a short cut that falls just right.

    • Des @ Half Banked

      RIGHT?! AE jeans are bae. I don’t care if I’m in my 50s and shopping alongside my literal someday-children, I will be that embarrassing mom who refuses to buy real adult jeans.

  • Bless up to work provided uniforms

  • Yes I loved this post! I originally saw it on her blog, Half Banked, and I immediately took to this idea. I first decided the colour palette I would wear everyday and came to a white or black top, black or navy pants, and a grey cardigan or sweater if I needed extra layers. Then I went through my closet and sold all my work clothes that did not fit into that category, except for summer work clothes and then bought a few items I needed to make sure this would last. I wrote a post about my experience as well! It doesn’t always have to be expensive to start, go through the clothes you already own and see if you can work up a work uniform. Then try and sell the rest to help fund for items you may need to buy. You could also try to buy second hand to keep costs low.

    • Des @ Half Banked

      I love the idea of selling the work clothes that didn’t fit your palette! (If only mine hadn’t been so random and threadbare, lol.) And thank you so much for the kind words Jessica!

  • Tara Jane

    I totally do this too. I have four tops which double as casual/going out tops or as work tops when paired with a high waisted black skirt. I also have two dresses which are in good condition that I wear to work – no point in throwing out clothes that fit well and feel nice to wear! So my work “uniform” is high waisted black skirt + top + flats, or dress + flats. I have one black cardigan, a coat, and scarves for when it’s cold.

    • Des @ Half Banked

      I love that! I feel like the one true drawback to my uniform is that I’ve never found a skirt / dress to work into rotation if I really need to step it up – although I might be forced to soon for a big trade show where I think I’m being assigned the “hosting” duties, haha. But I totally agree that my current work tops do excellent double duty as going out tops! Skinny jeans + heels definitely help casual it up.

  • Summer

    I’m one of those people who will complain endlessly about her wardrobe and how badly it is lacking, yet due to a constant combination of not really loving to go clothes shopping + basically always wanting to lose 5+/- lbs + rarely setting aside money specifically for clothes, I very rarely do anything about my clothing situation and the cycle of frustration continues. I wear the very same 5-6 pieces anytime I do something that requires leaving the house and looking semi-presentable. I get tired of it, but I know I’m mostly sick of it because I have a bunch of other stuff that lays around, unworn, causing more frustration than opportunity. I’ve slowly come to realize that maybe I should just seek out more of the types of pieces that I reach for over and over again, rather than holding this lofty idea of a diverse wardrobe from which I can emerge each day looking perfectly put-together when I know damn good and well that I’ll still be changing clothes approximately 34 times before finally settling on something I’m not happy with in the first place.

    Great piece!

    • Des @ Half Banked

      Thank you so much Summer! And um, “basically always wanting to lose 5+/- lbs + rarely setting aside money specifically for clothes” – are we the same human? (Slash I think this is like, most of the people I know in life, lol.)

      I literally just went shopping – begrudgingly – yesterday for a somewhat fancy top, and knowing what I know now, I tried on like seven “fashion” tops and ended up buying the plain black tank top that I could wear under a blazer / that fits in with everything else I wear constantly. The trendy stuff was great, but like… I know I’ll wear it maybe twice.

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