There’s something about a uniform. It’s an introduction as well as a security blanket. It’s also a rig (what us Ralph Lauren alum call an outfit). At best, rigging is an unrecognized art form. At worst, it’s one less series of decisions to make at the beginning of your day. And I would be remiss to not mention the number of creative geniuses (Steve Jobs, Wes Anderson, Tom Wolfe, Karl Lagerfeld, Fran Lebowitz) and high-level decision makers (the President of the United States of America, Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg , the Pope) who’ve adopted uniforms for this very reason.
A uniform, as loose as it may be, is integral in shaping one’s personal style or … persona. Over time, it defines how you look. Consistency is key. If you always wear a uniform, you make a statement. And what you’re saying could be any number of things.
Wes Anderson’s films exemplify this idea. His characters often live in one costume that identifies what that character does, is into, or their associations. Often, the costume design is an actual uniform. Bellhops, concierges, shipmen, private school students, Khaki Scouts, a tennis pro and inmates to name a few. Quirky sartorial touches serve as the main vocabulary, often communicated through a singular signature piece.
Anderson’s oeuvre taught me that you could wear a suit every day for the rest of your life and you’d never be overdressed or underdressed, but seemingly just right. Whether you’re climbing the high school social ladder, traveling across India by train on a spiritual journey, or surviving a dysfunctional family reunion while confessing you’re in love with your (adopted) sister… all can be carried off effortlessly in a suit.
As a menswear designer, I choose to wear suits; they aren’t required. What they are is a uniform. And not all uniforms are created equal, mind you. After all, just because you’ve developed a signature uniform consisting of a hoodie and flip-flops, doesn’t mean you look great—or even good for that matter.
Most creative efforts require some iteration of workshopping. A script. A recipe. A musical. Hell, even a marriage proposal—especially a marriage proposal (gentlemen!). A uniform is no exception. But how often do we try something out and later forfeit at the conclusion that it doesn’t look quite right or make us feel like the best version of ourselves?
Last fall, when I conceded it was finally time to wear a black Schott Perfecto biker jacket (my mid-life crisis may have had something to do with this), I didn’t immediately know how to wear it. I’d been living in suits for the past decade, after all. While the Perfecto is arguably the sexiest singular piece of fashion I’ve ever encountered, how to wear it wasn’t exactly self evident. My Perfecto rig needed workshopping.
Workshopping a rig is a process I developed over the last ten years. It requires a little research. It takes some trial and error. And you have to ignore the tired social taboo of wearing the same thing twice in a row. Similar to method acting, a technique in which an actor stays in character for the three to four months of filming, my approach to workshopping a rig requires that I stay in uniform while I fully work out a particular look. I’ve been known to workshop a rig for as long as 21 days straight.
Do Your Research
The process works best when you focus on one garment. It could be a suit, a bold sweater, a statement piece—or a leather biker jacket. Knowledge is power and knowing what, and who, came before you is paramount. The Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, The Ramones, Marlon Brando, Joan Jett, James Dean. They all wore the Perfecto. The historical references won’t all be interesting or informative to you but take what’s useful and leave what isn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to rock this iconic piece like Brando or Dean, but as a call back to my misspent teenage punk phase, how Joe Strummer of The Clash wore it was interesting to me.
As in any creative pursuit, constraints are your friend. On any given day, I’m wearing some piece of FE Castleberry tailored clothing … so from the jump I was asking the question, “How can the Perfecto work with what I do while still channelling this punk esprit de corps?”
Trial and Error
The important thing is to start. You don’t have to get it right the first time. In fact, you won’t get it right the first time. Or the second time or perhaps even the third. For the first few outings, it’s okay to be literal. And yes, outings means going to work in it, drinks with friends, on a date. That’s where the feedback loop is. Reflective surfaces, compliments and snide remarks are all useful information.
Pertaining to my Perfecto, I swiped Strummer’s rig practically wholesale to start: black Perfecto, black or white band tee, black jeans, black shoes. It didn’t feel like me though.
Rinse and Repeat
For the next 21 days I wore the Perfecto and added, tweaked, and subtracted (and just as importantly, broke it in). It was day four that the lightbulb went off to swap out the black denim for black tuxedo trousers. Now we were cooking with gas.
Threw a black alligator belt with sterling silver engine turn buckle around the jeans.
Tucked my T-shirt in. Having not owned a T-shirt in over a decade, I’d never worn one tucked in. This was new territory for me and it felt good to be in uncharted sartorial waters. I was still learning, at 40.
Swapped the black denim for black barathea tuxedo trousers. This was a sweet spot between upper class opulence and downtown irreverence.
Donned my FE Castleberry sterling silver skull knuckleduster rings on all eight fingers.
Introduced the pearl necklace (a feminine counterpoint to the dearth of masculine energy).
A Dior brooch in lieu of The Ramones’ DIY pins.
Additional band tees with better patina (a David Bowie has been a favorite).
Adopted a black ground silk Hermès twilly around my wrist that shyly peaked out of the half zipped sleeve (an homage to Sid Vicious’ tennis wristband he wore while playing bass guitar).
Concluded with the final stroke of a mirror ball pinstripe tuxedo trouser for nights out when I felt a little more polished.
Each day spent in the Perfecto rig brought new insight, a new tweak, a new refinement. It is now one of the uniforms I wear once a week, with the confidence of knowing I look put together.
As young boy, I’d get dressed each morning by just grabbing clothes out of my dresser and throwing it on. Did it match? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It wasn’t necessarily high on my priority list of things to do that day. But, that’s how boys get dressed. We grab … blindly. We want to do it quickly. The business of playing, leaping without looking, and exploring seemingly cannot wait.
The thing is, as we become men, looking good becomes more of a priority in the morning. The idea of a uniform is that you can set it and forget it. You don’t have to think about it (too much). But when you do, be thoughtful.