Katrina Clarke | Feb. 20, 2016 | Toronto Star
Natasha Koifman’s closet is a shrine to the dark side.
“I don’t want to have to think about colours and think about clothing and dressing … every single morning,” says the time crunched Toronto PR professional. Her entire closet — every thousand-plus piece in it — is black.
It’s a uniform she’s embraced for two decades and a style of dressing that — as Mark Zuckerberg recently demonstrated with a Facebook post showing his expansive wardrobe of identical grey T-shirts and identical grey hoodies — is alive and well.
In Toronto, stylists say the movement to adopt a uniform is spreading among working women. They report seeing more women gravitating to some version of a uniform — be it a rotation of 30 pieces, a monochromatic wardrobe like Koifman’s or a stack of identical items, like Zuckerberg’s.
More clients are looking to pare down their closets, creating capsule collections of essential items they can mix and match.
Adoptees say the uniform gives them a signature look that saves time, allows them to focus on more pressing issues and they feel comfortable with their appearance.
“We (urban professional women) lead busy, crazy, insane lives. I think people are just wanting to get back to the basics (of dressing),” said Christie Ressel, a Toronto image consultant and stylist who helps clients create “modules” of six pieces of clothing they can be interchange. “Women, now, have too much variety. They want to simplify their outfits.”
For Koifman, who is in her early 40s, it just felt right.
“I remember cleaning out my closet and just noticing that I still had pink or brown or blue (clothes), just sitting there with tags on,” said Koifman, recalling a purge two decades ago when she was living in New York. “I just didn’t feel good in colour.”
She scrapped the colour and never looked back.
Today, as the founder and president of NKPR public relations firm, Koifman says her signature all-black look is integrated into her corporate brand — NKPR’s logo is black — and that it’s benefited her in professional settings.
“Black is a colour that doesn’t distract,” she said. “People aren’t looking at what you’re wearing, they’re really paying attention to your ideas.”
For Matilda Kahl, 28, a former art director with a major New York ad agency who now lives in Sweden, all it took was one frustrating morning four years ago to shed her mix-and-match work wardrobe.
In a popular article for Harper’s Bazaar last year, Kahl recalls tossing on clothes and tearing them off before settling on an outfit she regretted the minute she got on the subway. That day she arrived at work stressed out, frustrated and late to her morning meeting, only to find her male colleagues relaxed and composed.
“That morning I decided that clothes would never again get in the way of me and the things I actually care about,” Kahl wrote in an email to the Star.
The next week she bought 15 white shirts and seven pairs of the same black pants — a look she’s worn every workday since.
“The number one benefit is definitely that I’m less self conscious about what I wear and how I look when I’m at work,” said Kahl. “It might be hard to understand for men, who don’t have the same pressure on them from society to always look flawless. But to be able to fully immerse yourself in a project without ever having to reflect on how you look is, as a woman, a very rare feeling. And I must say, very liberating.”
Indeed, whereas men can throw on a suit when they want to look polished, women sometimes struggle to find a flattering, work-appropriate outfit that won’t attract unwanted attention or criticism. Having one go-to look can mitigate these problems, said Kahl.
That sartorial sexism is a reality Australian TV presenter Karl Stefanovic exposed two years ago when he wore the same suit on air every day for a year straight. No one noticed.
“I’m judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humour — on how I do my job, basically,” Stefanovic told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Whereas women are quite often judged on what they’re wearing or how their hair is.”
While some might say it’s simplistic to suggest wearing a uniform can tackle sexism, it’s indeed the outfit of choice for some of America’s most powerful people.
Famously, Steve Jobs wore mock turtlenecks and jeans. Zuckerberg has his hoodies. Barack Obama told Vanity Fair he only wears grey or blue suits to minimize the number of decisions he has to make each day. Elizabeth Holmes, an American billionaire CEO, has a penchant for black turtlenecks and blazers.
“To me, that’s confidence, 100 per cent, that’s confidence,” said Natalie Sexton, a Hamilton-based stylist.
Referencing Holmes specifically, Sexton said her outfit makes a statement. It screams “power” and broadcasts that “she’s much more than what her outfit is, obviously.”
But Sexton’s not convinced uniforms make all women look authoritative.
“In one way, it can exude complete confidence, but on the end of the spectrum, it could portray the complete opposite — hiding a little bit, being afraid to be noticed,” said Sexton.
Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of YouYou Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal AboutYou, said the reasons people wear “uniforms” range from wanting to make a fashion statement to having a small budget to being overwhelmed by clothes. They could just be pragmatic, too.
“Having a uniform makes life easier,” said Baumgartner. “It’s easier to buy, everything matches … It’s simple. It’s sophisticated.”
The trend also touches at something French women have long known — if it’s stylish, repeat it.
“Sometimes you can’t even tell a difference (with a French woman). Was she dressed like that on Monday? I think that way you really have a style,” said French style blogger Garance Dore, in a recent interview with the Star about her new book, Love Style Life. “I have a few outfits that I wear over and over.”
North American stylists say most women aren’t likely to voluntarily wear the same clothes everyday anytime soon, saying the look is too unexciting or too extreme, but that women are indeed inching closer with their capsule collections and pared down closets.
And the question on everyone’s mind: Don’t those uniform-wearers get bored?
“I can’t imagine ever feeling good wearing colour,” she said. “Wearing a white T-shirt, it doesn’t feel comfortable. I feel like I look like a marshmallow.”