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Alice Gregory on Finding a Uniform

Alice, photographed in her Brooklyn Heights apartment, wears her own black turtleneck and a J.Crew matchstick jean in classic rinse

An illustration of Alice (right) and her friend Molly (left). 

I’ve always wanted a uniform. Low maintenance and iconic, it’s a cheap and easy way to feel famous. I have an ex-boyfriend whose mother wore nothing but stripe shirts. She had what must have been hundreds of them. I never saw her in anything else. For years afterward, I tried fruitlessly to get my own mother to adopt a uniform too. 

If there’s ever a time to buy impractical shoes, wear revealing tops or make regrettable purchases, it’s when you’re young, and until very recently, I didn’t feel old enough to wear the same thing every day. It’s the same reason I still have long hair: I’d love to cut it, but doing so would feel like a waste of youth. 

But young adulthood is also a time when, by virtue of the mere absence of wrinkles and grey hair, one projects very little power. It’s hard to be taken seriously without the visible symptoms of experience. A uniform can be a way of performing maturity or, less charitably, impersonating it. A uniform insinuates the sort of sober priorities that ossify with age, as well as a deliberate past of editing and improving. There is a purpose to each item, and with each item comes the implication of superiority—that it is, for your purposes at least, Platonic. 

When the weather permits—and it does in New York from September to May—I wear a black cotton turtleneck, skinny blue jeans that (crucially) are not tight and a pair of black boots. My hair, I have decided, is my main accessory. If it’s cold and dry, I wear a camel coat. If it’s cold and wet, I wear a black down rain jacket. It is the most comfortable, flattering and inoffensive outfit I’ve been able to come up with. It’s almost never inappropriate, and it has the magical quality of taking on the connotations of its surroundings. In a bookstore, I look bookish. At an art gallery, I look arty. On the subway, I am invisible. I can look young or old, rich or poor, cool or humble. In my uniform, people see me as they want to.

Wearing a uniform is also a way of asserting your status as a protagonist. This is the reason why characters in picture books never change their clothes: Children—like adults, if they’d only admit it—crave continuity. We recognize Babar in his green suit and crown, Eloise in her suspendered jumper and Madeline in her little yellow raincoat. In other clothes, we’d confuse Babar for some civilian elephant, Eloise for one of Manhattan’s innumerable spoiled brats and Madeline for another of the 12 little girls in two straight lines. 

You save a lot of money by relinquishing trial-and-error shopping—those items you buy and never wear, try and fail to return. Gone is the mental math that goes into calculating how much you “paid per wear” for that sweater you only put on three times. And nobody thinks of a person who wears the same thing every day as unstylish. Rather, it’s simply a classification that does not apply. 

If you too are a person for whom the idea of expressing yourself through clothes feels embarrassing or even just inefficient, then I recommend you find a uniform of your own. There will be some inevitable missteps, but the end result will be worth the effort. Think of it as shopping so you’ll never have to shop again. 

Alice Gregory is a writer living in Brooklyn. She has contributed to Harper’s, GQ, n+1, New York Magazine and the New York Times, among others. 

Photographs by Bryan Derballa.

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TAGS: first person, personal style, womens, denim
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