The culture of work is changing, and with it, our office dress codes. As companies encourage staffers to bring their whole selves to work — and people embrace style repeats and “personal uniforms” in an effort to de-stress workwear — Thrive decided to take a deeper look into how what we wear to work affects our mental well-being, creativity, productivity, and authenticity. We welcome you to take a spin through our special section: The Psychology of What We Wear to Work.
If you have the freedom to choose your work outfit each day, it can be challenging to imagine what it feels like to wear a uniform. Does it make the experience of getting dressed each morning easy and stress-free? Or does it feel boring and restrictive? Thrive talked to five workers in five different professions about how they really feel about wearing the same thing to work every single day.
The medical assistant
“I work in a cardiology practice, and I wear scrubs every day. It certainly makes waking up in the morning and getting ready for work easier, because I can throw on whatever I want to get to work, and then I’ll know that I’m changing into my scrubs. I feel proud when I put them on because they signify to my patients that I’m there to help them. And for me, they symbolize a giving, helping mindset.”
—Joanna Freitag, 30, medical assistant, Brooklyn, New York
“I worked as a waitress in a fine-dining restaurant. The uniform I was assigned when I first started was a tight shirtdress. Together with all the female waitstaff, we fought against wearing it, because we thought it was sexist, and it bothered us. The male waitstaff got to wear button-downs and jeans. Luckily, the manager agreed, and we were allowed to switch to the same outfit as our male coworkers. That was better, but I still didn’t love the same-ness. In jobs I’ve had where there wasn’t a uniform, I could tailor my my outfit to my day in a way that makes me feel more at ease. When I had days where I needed to concentrate, I could wear loose things and not think about my outfit, for example. The waitress uniforms distracted me. I prefer when I can feel more like myself at work.”
—Chelsea Solmo, 30, former waitress, Key West, FL
The landscaping company president
“I decided to institute matching uniforms for my company primarily because I wanted a clean and consistent look for current and prospective clients. You never get a second chance at first impressions and in my industry, people are, or might be, welcoming you onto their property for the very first time. I wanted our ‘look’ to imply that we put effort into our appearance, and we will put that same effort into the landscaping of their property. I think the psychology of uniforms doesn’t just matter for how we feel in a uniform — it matters in terms of how our clients perceive us.”
—Chris Manwaring, 35, President of Niantic Lawncare and Service, Niantic, CT
The camp counselor
“I worked as a camp counselor, and had to wear the same t-shirt each day that said ‘STAFF’ and pair it with black pants. I honestly didn’t mind it because we had a locker room, so we could wear whatever we wanted on the way to work and then just change when we got there. That meant I still got to express my own style outside of work. And really, having the uniform was less stressful. It made it easier to not have to pick a kid-friendly and activity-friendly ‘work outfit’ every day. It removed that stress for me.”
—Emily Knoesel, 30, former camp counselor, Brooklyn, NY
The police officer
“I worked with my local police force in New Jersey, and each weekend when I put on my uniform, just the act of getting dressed in it immediately made me feel more prepared, and ready to perform.”
—Jeremy Helm, 31, former volunteer police officer, Bath, PA
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