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EASY CHIC: Many fans of homegrown label In Good Company snap up the same dress in various colours or buy variations of a certain style because of the effortless wearability of the designs.
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MAKE IT WORK: Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney rock their trademark styles.

Work staples

Tired of trying to crack the office dress code? Why bother, when a signature, 'uniform' look would work just as well?
Apr 18, 2015 5:50 AM

MUCH has been written about uber-successful men who wear the same indistinguishable garb 24/7, but could female high fliers get away with rocking a "work uniform" every day?

Karl Lagerfeld does it; and so does Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, some of the history's most stylish women are known for a particular look - from Patti Smith's uniform of mannish shirts and blazers to Jane Birkin's bateau tops and bell-bottoms. And even Anna Wintour, fashion's queen bee and editor of US Vogue, has been known to have her favourite looks on heavy rotation, as does the impeccable Kate Middleton. Adopting a "work uniform" isn't exactly a groundbreaking act of professional defiance. So why then do most women feel like they have nothing to wear, every time they open their closets to get dressed for work?

"If a woman were to wear the same thing every day, she may be judged as being lackadaisical, not being bothered about dressing and therefore in all other aspects of life, including work," says Joanne Lim, founder and chief image coach of Image Success.

So unlike Mr Zuckerberg, who once said: "I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community", women aren't quite perceived as being go-getters when they don a work uniform of sorts, instead, they might be uncreative or even a tad lazy.

"I don't think society has evolved enough to not pass judgement if a woman wore the exact same thing every day," says Sven Tan, co-founder of homegrown brand In Good Company. "Men get away with it more because their dress codes are already an acceptable uniform - the common thought is that women have more options so why stick to one look? There's definitely a double standard."

Whether or not a woman could stick to a certain professional look rather than being expressive and eclectic about her sartorial choices also depend on her job role.

"It's more about the industry she is in than being a gender issue," says Andrea Wong, an investment banker. "Actually, there are many women in our line who wear similar looks like a dark suit and heels every day and I don't see anything wrong with that."

On the other end of the spectrum, it seems that many women (and men) in fashion also adopt a signature look. Grace Coddington, creative director of US Vogue, is known for her all-black look; designer Stella McCartney is almost always clad in her own signature blazer and low-slung trousers; and even Singapore's own editrix Jeanette Ejlersen, creative director of Female magazine, admits to wearing a no-brand white T-shirt, jeans and sunglasses on a daily basis.

"My 'uniform' is a natural progression of what works for me physically, for my work and lifestyle," explains Ms Ejlersen. "I started as a fashion stylist in my early 20s and spent most of the time either on all fours on shoots or sourcing or recces. My work requires me to think and produce creatively all the time, so the last thing I want to deal with is how I look. I just want whatever I wear to serve me well - in fit (it flatters my physique), aesthetics (my personal style) and situation."

A trademark outfit for devotees of a work uniform is therefore a reflection of one's personal style and lifestyle needs. Perhaps the difference lies in whether or not the look comes across as a deliberate statement, rather than an emblem of being in a style rut.

"On the other hand, such women could also be perceived as doing it purposefully - a calculated signature look, because women have so many choices, so if they were to wear the same thing, the perception would be that there is a reason behind it," adds Ms Lim.

One former fashionista who sticks to rotating her go-to staples is a designer who founded her brand as a solution to finding the perfect outfit.

"I was curating an art show at the Australian Embassy and I had to host two weeks of talks with various business groups, I searched the shops for a week for different outfits to wear each day and there was nothing, so I created just one outfit and wore the same number for two weeks," says Fiona Argyle, founder of Global Babe who designs a range of multi-way jumpsuits that also offer high sun protection. "No one even noticed! The takeaway is: I have an outfit that makes me feel and look great, so now I have time to work on the inside the things that really matter."

Similarly, many fans of homegrown label In Good Company snap up the same dress in various colours or buy variations of a certain style because of the effortless wearability of the designs.

"This is the exact premise of what In Good Company is about," says Mr Tan. "Best-selling styles are tweaked, reworked and released along with completely new styles. This could be a new band detail, a dropped hem line, or a cut in new colours or print. Having owned a similar style, they would already have recognised that the cut/proportion suits their figure, and it will go with other pieces that have worked before even though it's a new reworked style. Similar, safe, but not the same."

At the end of the day, as much as we might worry about what others might think when our wardrobes are not a reflection of the latest Spring/Summer trends, a lot of the anxiety is self-imposed.

"I was walking to a meeting in the morning in the same black outfit I wore to a dinner party over the Easter weekend, and I thought to myself, 'gee I hope no one sees me in the same outfit'," admits Ms Argyle. "These are the silly things women think to themselves but ultimately the same outfits are cool and this is what we need to tell ourselves."


UNIFORM GROUP

Looking for a signature look for work that transcends trends?

Here are tips from the experts to help you rock a uniform.

1 "Keep your work uniform simple but give it scope. For example, In Good Company has different versions of the quintessential white shirt: drawstring-waisted, double collared, pleated back, etc. Think classics staples of the same uniform but with different twists." - Kane Tan

2 "Ignore the chatter and wear whatever makes you feel best. That's it." - Sven Tan

3 "Keep the outfit consistent, for example, a jacket and skirt suit, but change the items worn with it, like the style of the blouse worn under the jacket." - Joanne Lim

4 "Mix it with vintage pieces from Hermes one day, with Yves Saint Laurent the next and Chanel on the last!" - Fiona Argyle