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I am a male graduate student in natural sciences at a public university. I want to simplify my life a little bit by wearing the same outfit (more or less) every day. (Obviously I would have multiple copies to be hygienic.) I tend to wear untucked casual button-downs with some casual khaki pants and sneakers. Would this be looked down upon by the faculty? I am not so worried about other graduate students, but I do not want to make a poor impression on the faculty. Any guidance on this would be much appreciated!

Of potential importance: I am TAing one class right now and will be taking two classes this upcoming semester.

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    When I was in graduate school, I taught with shorts and a t-shirt and sandals (and I still continue to do that in the summer — it gets hot down South). It wasn't uncommon to see others wearing gym shorts when teaching/TAing. No one ever said anything — I'm in the humanities — but I can't imagine it being too terribly different until you jump into the professional fields (the Pharm.D. here has an draconianly ultra-strict dress code, for instance). – user0721090601 Dec 27 '15 at 20:15
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    Buying the same shirt in several boring colors works pretty well. I do not get as many comments about it as people who wear the same color every day. – Anonymous Physicist Dec 27 '15 at 20:33
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    Some interesting example that even TV hosts get away with this: bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/30069564/… – Bernhard Dec 27 '15 at 20:34
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    There's a professor where I attend school who does that. No one thinks poorly of it, but it has caused a few students to dress up as him for Halloween. – apnorton Dec 28 '15 at 2:17
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    I'm with AnonymousPhysicist; I have button-down shirts in several colors and rotate them randomly, paired with with khaki trousers (multiple, mostly identical) and tan boat shoes. I do tuck my boring shirts in, and I wear a tie when I'm teaching, though. – Bob Brown Dec 28 '15 at 3:06
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Life can be simplified without resorting to wearing a set of uniforms. While uniform is the ultimate form of simplicity, when your are the only one doing it in a place that uniform is not a norm, people may perceive you wearing the same piece of clothes everyday even you change into a clean set daily. It's easy to explain it to an acquaintance, but difficult to clarify if a professor has decided that you're unkempt. They cannot really come up close and sniff you so visual clues are the only clues.

We can get the best of both world by simplifying the wardrobe while keeping the maximal versatility. One of the common concepts is capsule wardrobe. Here is an example:

enter image description here

By using different combinations one can get different looks from Mon to Fri with only a few shirts and a couple pairs of pants.

Designing a capsule wardrobe does take time but it'd serve you well for a couple seasons or even longer. Tips to make one are available online. Here are some general points:

  1. Plan for the shopping instead of base on impulse.
  2. Decide on a set of color schemes that are easily paired, colors along grey, blue, and brown scales are a good start. I often pick one accent color (currently green) for more variations (e.g. a tie or socks with green patterns).
  3. Start small. For a season, I found 3-4 tops, 2-3 pants, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1-2 jackets seem to do the job quite well. I don't wear suits for the current position.
  4. Buy quality stuff, especially for coats, suits, wool sweaters, and shoes.

It's actually not that difficult. I tried it last year. I cleaned up my closet, and then just find some scheme online that I like and modify them to the colors and style that I wanted. So far I can pick out my clothes without even thinking about it and I never felt I'm wearing the same thing day to day.

Hope this helps!

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    I love this answer, but I think the wardrobes should be ordered as Wed, Thu, Mon, Tue, Fri... – Earthliŋ Dec 28 '15 at 20:06
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One of my faculty colleagues who just received tenure (at my r1 university) has worn basically the same outfit (same colored button-down shirt with khaki trousers) for the past decade - from graduate school to his current position (he may have indeed been wearing this his entire life, but we only have data for the past decade). I believe his closet only has one type of shirt and trousers.

Aside from gentle ribs from others about his 'uniform', it's well tolerated by others as it's a minor eccentricity compared to some of the other faculty. Just be open to someone asking you if you: 1) have multiple shirts or a single shirt; 2) wash them regularly.

tldr: If it saves you money / brain-cycles / spoons / closet-space to wear the same uniform clothing every day, do it. It worked for Steve Jobs, it can work for you.


Fine print: There may be a gender factor as men in academia and industry who basically wear a uniform are well known but it is rare to encounter women who do the same. This requires more exploration.

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    I've known a few professors who do this. Never heard any complaints, but that may be influenced by the fact that people tend to assume that I'd consider it silly to worry about that kind of detail. (correctly) Another approach would be to select only stuff that matches and blends well s.t. any permutation works fine. You can still just grab the first things and go, but others don't need to know. If you're bashful about this (as the question seems to imply) that might be a more comfortable approach. – The Nate Dec 27 '15 at 19:33
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    @Corvus six month hipster club? They need to man up to the lifetime club: slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2014/05/30/… – user0721090601 Dec 27 '15 at 20:45
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    Some women in my department wear a "uniform" of jeans and solid-colored t-shirt (and a sweater in cool weather.) I think a uniform is pretty well-accepted regardless of gender. – ff524 Dec 27 '15 at 20:50
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    While its generally fine to have your 'uniform', just note that you'll need to break it sometimes (you don't want to wear khaki trousers to a black tie event). – David says Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '15 at 1:59
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    @ff524 - I know women who wear nearly the same style of clothes every day, but I don't know of any women who wear the identical clothing every day such that people around them wonder if they ever change/wash their clothes or if their clothing rack is monoclonal. This was the status of my colleague above until we established that he really only wears a single type of shirt and pants, identical in all regards, every day. – RoboKaren Dec 28 '15 at 16:51
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I think the social norm in the US is to never wear the same clothes (or in your case, clothes that look the same) on two consecutive days, especially if you want to appear professional (or what passes for looking presentable in the academia). That being said, if you don't see your advisor or students on a daily basis, you might get away with it, as people may assume that did change your clothes on days when they didn't see you.

But really it is not difficult to have two or three different sets of outfit and "rotate" through them. As I've learned, people don't care about whether you washed your clothes before you wear them again two or three days later (as long as it isn't too dirty), as long as you change your clothes daily. An anecdote to illustrate how easy it can be: I once had a math professor who would wear almost the same plaid shirt everyday, except for the fact that all of the shirts are of different colors. I suspect that he just ordered every single color available for that one shirt he really liked.

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    Shirts are the most important for having your slight differences: pretty much nobody will notice if you're wearing all identical khaki pants or jeans. – jakebeal Dec 27 '15 at 18:46
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    I understand the prejudice if reusing clothes goes to the level of being literally unhygienic, but I have never witnessed such actually reaching that point, and really, forcing everyone to alternate outfits or else deeming them 'unpresentable'? What good is it to anyone? Do most people do it just because they can (get away with it)? Isn't it about time that someone (and why has no one yet successfully) did something about this judgementalism based on the most superficial/visual traits rather than silently letting it go unopposed? – Vandermonde Dec 28 '15 at 17:31
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    @Vandermonde Wow someone's got a sense of social justice... Shame on me for sanctimoniously conforming to the totally outdated and discriminatory social norms about the so called "proper" clothing practice. – Drecate Dec 28 '15 at 17:57
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    Well, as it stands the situation is like the peacock's tail or prisoner's dilemma. Although some uncharitably call us hobos or flood victims or some combination thereof, I do my part to dress comfortably and as I please, and some of my similarly more idealistic colleagues are joining the mild martyrdom in order that we might one day come to be viewed as normal. Don't complain; the lower standards will make life easier for you too. ^_^ – Vandermonde Dec 29 '15 at 5:50
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    @jakebeal as some empirical evidence, I once had two of the same t-shirt and wore them after each other (this was in 6th grade, US), and kids freaked out. Later I wore the same pair of pants for a month straight, only using Febreeze to keep them smelling fresh. Not a single comment was made. – Wayne Werner Dec 29 '15 at 18:49
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I think the standards in academia are much looser than the standards in the business world. So bear in mind that when you get out of school and get a job -- assuming you get a non-teaching job -- you're going to have to upgrade your wardrobe.

Still, if people think you're wearing the same clothes for weeks at a stretch, some number will think that's distasteful. I think the simple solution is to have two or three different colors and alternate.

Personally, I have several white shirts and several blue shirts, and several dark blue pants and several gray pants (and I think one khaki). And I just make sure that when I change clothes, I put on a different color than I wore the day before.

Unless you have some reason why you want to look exactly the same every day -- you consider this an essential element of your personality or you swore an oath on your father's grave that you would always wear the same colors he was wearing on the day he died or whatever -- I just wouldn't. Many won't notice, and most who do won't care, but some number of people will thick you look grubby, and one of those might be someone whose opinion is important to you.

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    "some number will think that's distasteful" -- if in fact you're wearing clean clothes every day, but they think you never change your clothes, then that could eventually provide for them a valuable learning moment as to why they think it's so important when in fact they can't tell the difference between "grubby" and "same colour shirt as yesterday". Whether you want this valuable moment for them, to come at a cost in suspicion directed towards you, is another matter ;-) – Steve Jessop Dec 28 '15 at 17:31
  • "assuming you get a non-teaching job -- you're going to have to upgrade your wardrobe" - unless you get a job in the software industry. – Nicolas Holthaus Dec 28 '15 at 22:49
  • @SteveJessop Sure. But when your the undergrad assistant or the young guy at his first day on his first job, that's probably not the best position to be pointing out the foolishness of your seniors. There are times when you should stand up for principle no matter the consequences. But this isn't a principle I'd want to fight to the death over. There are times when it's just good manners and good sense to go along. – Jay Dec 29 '15 at 6:00
  • @NicolasHolthaus you were probably speaking in jest, but even in the software industry there are jobs where you're expected to wear a suit and tie even as a junior. Especially banks can be notoriously rigid about these things. – Cronax Dec 29 '15 at 11:32
  • @NicolasHolthaus Sure, there are jobs with very lax dress codes, so I suppose it's an exaggeration to say that ANY job outside academia will require a wardrobe upgrade. I suppose people who clean sewers are not normally expected to wear a suit and tie. – Jay Dec 29 '15 at 15:19
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I think there are two issues to consider here:

  1. Are the clothes clean? That's the gold standard here. People might look more closely when you wear the same outfit every day, but if the clothes are well-maintained and don't smell (let alone stink), you should be fine.
  2. Do you own that you wear the same (type of) clothes each and every day? Seeing it as "is it acceptable" (by others) ignores that your attitude influences how others perceive you and your clothes. If you are insecure about it, others will notice and it might become an issue. If you own it, I don't think you have much to worry about (and like others have written, some highly creative people did the same thing, so you're in good company).

Hmm, also, going by this PhD Comic, there's also dressing for the job you want. ;-)

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