Uniforms, Roles & Main Character Energy

Thoughts on why allocating roles to my clothing has helped me hone in on my sense of style and sense of self.

It’s a Thursday and I’ve been persistently wearing the same sweater on and off since Monday morning when the street garbage gods blessed me with a curb-side find seemingly tailored to my exact size and interest in clothes. I had been on a morning coffee stroll when I passed a box marked “free clothes”, just around the corner from my home. At a quick glance, the garments inside didn’t appear particularly interesting, but I have developed a fortunate habit of sifting through even the most mundane piles of clothes in search of treasures.

What I found were—

  • A pair of white pointed ballet flats with a kitten heel in my shoe size
  • A waffle pattern knit button up sweater, perfect for casual wear in the spring or layering under a jacket
  • A soft hand-stitched checker print tote bag in blue
  • A semi-sheer white corset top, and finally,
  • A large navy blue knit sweater with the Playboy bunny logo emblazoned on the front. The pièce de ré·sis·tance.

The sweater is soft, perfectly slouchy and bares just enough spunk to be a fashion statement. As my roommate pointed out, it has main character energy. You’d expect to see it worn by the protagonist of a sitcom, in her home wearing a cute pair of underwear which the hem of the sweater perfectly conceals (not too long, but just long enough). Perhaps this is our protagonist’s favourite sweater, one which she can rely on to boost her mood when she otherwise feels bland. It calls on the bunny in her, a persona which only a select few embody—Regina George in Mean Girls, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Kitty Murdock in the 1976 Charlie’s Angels series, Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary and of course, Shelley Darlingson in The House Bunny, to name a few.

Whoever our main character is, she’s classy, feminine, and perhaps docile in manner, but she is not to be messed with. She has spunk.

These are the characteristics that I feel I embody when donning my playboy sweater, which got me thinking about “uniforms” or staple pieces in general, and why people like to allocate roles to their clothes. I don’t necessarily adhere to astrology but I’ve been serially watching Vogue fashion writer Liana Satenstein’s (@liana_ava) Instagram live series #NeverWorns, in which she doles out advice to prominent style figures with clothes they’re not getting enough wear out of. Satenstein, who has self designated herself @schmattashrink, closet therapy guru to the stars, employs a handful of tried and tested strategies for deciding what wardrobe pieces are worth keeping and which should be purged. In her second most recent episode, she hosted Alice Bell (@stalkalice), resident Astrologer at British Vogue. The two discussed birth charts, namely sun, moon, and rising signs and what they say about a person’s wardrobe.

According to Bell, you need to dress in adherence with your rising sign (otherwise known as your ascendant), more so than your sun sign (which would be the common misconception). The rising sign or ascendant shows how you want to present yourself to everyone else, she says, which has to do with clothing. It manifests in your physical body and outward style. Herself and Satenstein are Leo rising which means that they’re drawn to loud prints and colours. In essence, if you have a bold ascendant, dress bold! It’ll bring out that side of your personality. I don’t find my own rising sign as applicable (it mentions being self-effacing), but my takeaway is more that when establishing a uniform, or staple outfit, let the clothes speak for your personality, or else the personality that you want to embody.

Right now, I happen to be at a place in my life where I’m grieving portions of myself that I lost to a relationship. As I navigate heart break, and seek new passions and interests to sustain myself going forward, I feel that I’m lacking a stable sense of self. For a couple of weeks, I was attracted to the idea of being a completely new person, someone that both me and my past partner wouldn’t recognize. Now I’m feeling like I’m missing aspects of myself that felt familiar. So when I obtained this particular Playboy sweater on Monday morning and styled an outfit around it complete with chunky jewellery, hair and makeup, I found it really rewarding.

^As styled for the photo booth app on my macbook.

In fact, I’d argue that the outfit instilled me with a bit of clarity as to who I am right now and who I want to be. The sweater and the outfits inspired by it are comfortable for me, and I think it shows. The matriarchs in my family refer to this as ‘quiet confidence’, which in other words means a comfort with yourself that others can see. More than that however, the outfits have just enough pizazz to push me out of my comfort zone, so I’m comfortable but still challenging and inspiring my style instincts.

I’ve decided for the time being that those two effects are what I’m looking for from a uniform. Obviously it is not a universal definition— during quarantine many people’s work-from-home (WFH) uniform has subsisted of pyjamas, sweats or top/ no bottoms. Others have pushed the boundaries of comfort to incorporate fashion, which is where we see the revival of the Juicy Couture sweat suit, and other stylish full body sets. I of course, could not help but partake in this trend and sourced my own set on Poshmark (my WFH uniform during a two month period in which I sat at home all day writing reviews for an ad agency).

A highly popular (though expensive) brand churning out similar WFH inspired pieces is Barcelona’s Paloma Wool, responsible both for velveteen jumpsuits and matching knit sets.

^ Purple velveteen jumpsuit by @palomawool as worn by the aforementioned Vogue astrologer Alice Bell.

San Francisco’s Lisa Says Gah is another brand that sells stylish lounge wear sets, including stretchy pieces more akin to yoga clothes.

In mention of yoga adjacent clothes, I’ll take the opportunity to transition to the bike short trend that a lot of brands are also backing (another popular WFH staple I’m sure) often seen styled with accompanied athletically versatile tanks.

Other particularly “WFH uniform” evoking pieces that come to mind include hand embellished sweat shirts and pants like the ones shown below, and of course billowy tent dresses.

Right now I spend my days between two primary roles. On one end: as a barista at a small coffee shop in the west end where, thankfully, casual apparel is permitted and on the other: writing/ reading/ lounging at home, where I prefer to feel comfortable but also want to incite elements of my aesthetic that aren’t appropriate at work. Presently, my Playboy sweater achieves that and more, as do the chunky layered necklaces that I have yet to take off— such is my uniform for the time being.

Following this thought trail, I want to add that allocating roles to my clothes has helped me identify pieces of my wardrobe that I find more valuable than others— those which are versatile, have stood the test of time, or are simply iconic. This helps me hold on to a core collection that makes me happy and inspires the rest of my wardrobe, while being able to easier let go of clothes that no longer achieve either. Some of the pieces that I now hold the most affection for are not particularly special, but they have shown up for me time and time again.

This beige corduroy jacket for instance—

I think I thrifted it during my second year of university from the Value Village in Oshawa (a good find, I won’t downplay it) but it’s been one of the most persistent pieces of clothing I’ve ever owned. It works well with nearly everything I pair it with, and it always feels like me when I put it on. My uniform for a casual outing, like a walk to the farmer’s market or a coffee date, would still be this jacket paired with faded jeans, and a white top. It can do no wrong!

Funny enough, that clothing algorithm (jeans, white top, light jacket) was one of my first introductions to tailored fashion when I was all but a wee teen in the shwa. It had been the objective of my best friends and I in high school to establish style amongst ourselves and since one in our trio was partial to minimal, feminine looks (and Aritzia was considered the stake holder on fashion at the time) we often consulted American television personality Lauren Conrad for style advice— or more literally her 2010 manual on all things stylish, “Lauren Conrad Style”. Needless to say Conrad was a fan of the simple, but ever reliable jeans and blazer (with a pair of heels) look.

I regress just remembering the days of this consultation, but I know I had to start somewhere. In terms of how to bridge the draw to eclectic textures and patterns which I had donned as a child and the coherency that I craved as a teenager, my 15 year-old self was struggling immensely.

From then until now as a young adult, I’ve expanded my notion of a uniform from a rigid math equation to an adaptive epitome of my ever changing character. These days, I often make realizations like this about my style/ aesthetic/ wardrobe, and I’m always grateful to observe how expansive fashion is as a means of self expression in that I’ll continue to make these realizations for the rest of my life.

In the meantime, or at least until my next phase, I’ll be here wearing my Playboy sweater and trying to embody the bunny in me.

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