EDC Part 0: The Individual “Uniform”

One of the things I miss most about my brief time in the military is wearing a uniform. I don’t mean getting all spiffed up in dress blues or anything like that, and I certainly don’t mean being recognized as a military member. Much more simply, I just miss never having to think about what to wear to work. Today I’m going to talk about something that is near and dear to my heart: clothing as EDC, and creating your own individual “uniform.”

EDC Part 0 | EDC Part 1

What is an Individual Uniform?

What is an individual uniform? Quite simply, it’s a uniform that you choose for yourself. Again, I don’t mean a uniform with epalets and badges and polished buttons (unless you’re a French general, of course). I mean a template set of clothing that will satisfy your dress code requirements in 80-90% of your life. I mean a single setup – a pair of shoes, some pants, a shirt (or layered set of shirts), and maybe a warming layer – that is completely interchangeable.

Why do I like this concept so much (and I do really, really like it)? There are a few reasons. To be clear, there are tons of articles about “individual uniforms” or “personal uniforms” or “capsule wardrobes.” Most of them are probably much better than this one, and focus on fashion, minimalism, financial minimalism, or some other benefit of a uniform.

Though you probably shouldn’t look like a slob, this article doesn’t care about the fashion aspect. Instead, I believe I offer a unique perspective on clothing: it is the very first line of your everyday carry (EDC) setup. This doesn’t get a lot of play in EDC media. There’s a TON of focus on the gear you carry, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article about the clothing you carry it in. I think this is weird; clothing is the most “ED” of all your “C” items. Let’s look at the benefits of the individual uniform, then I’ll talk about some considerations for making one.

BENEFITS OF A UNIFORM

This article began as a simple case for building and wearing your own uniform. This is – obviously – a practice I really enjoy. The more I wrote, the more I realized there are some real, tangible benefits to wearing a uniform.

Though many – including me – will cite famous dudes like Steve Jobs (black turtleneck over jeans) and reasons like, “geniuses don’t have to waste time thinking about what to wear,” I think that’s mostly bullshit. If Steve Jobs had wanted to think about what to wear, I’m sure he could have and still led Apple to greatness. I certainly don’t like having to think about what to wear, but there are more important reasons for a personal uniform.

Importantly, I’m a function-over-form kind of guy. Your clothing is your first line of defense against everything. Clothing protects you from the elements: heat, cold, wind, sun, and to some extent, rain. Clothing insulates you from the ground. Proper clothing can mean the difference between being able to perform tasks comfortably and being terribly uncomfortable. Your clothing protects you from poisonous and prickly things like plants, and from cuts, scrapes, and other abrasions that could lead to infection. Clothing is ridiculously important but we give it almost no thought other than, “how does this look?” or “when was the last time I wore this?” or the reductionist, “dress around the gun.”

I’m going to explore some different reasons for considering clothing as EDC. As I go through them, a couple types of reasons should emerge. The first type is capabilities that clothing affords, like support for EDC items and basic protection for my body. The second type of reason is the ancillary benefits of the personal “uniform.” These are largely convenience reasons, but some dovetail well with the practical reasons. Let’s get into them.

1. POCKET STANDARDIZATION

Five years ago I imagine I was like most people.  I had half a dozen pairs of jeans that had been purchased at various places, at various times. Even though most of them were from the same manufacturer, they were all a little different. Nowhere was this more true than in the size, shape, and durability of the pockets.

Some of them had deep pockets and some had shallow pockets. One pair had back pockets that weren’t deep enough for my wallet and left 1/2″ sticking out. Worse, one pair of jeans had very thin pocket liners and the right pocket failed very early in their life cycle. I repaired the pocket twice; when they failed a third time I knew it was time to let the whole pair of pants go.

My EDC items are a very carefully curated collection of tools that I’m very reticent to do without. If they don’t fit, or don’t fit well, into pockets, I’m probably not going to wear those pants. A common pair of pants that I can wear 99% of the time solves this issue; if I always buy the exact same pants (and buy a bunch up front) I know exactly what the pockets are going to be like. I also happen to know that the pants I’ve settled on have very durable pockets. This solves the problem of “favorites” and keeps me from spending money on pants that I’m not going to wear. Let’s look at the next reason, which is pretty similar.

2. BELT LOOP STANDARDIZATION

This is another problem I’ve historically had with pants: belt loops that vary in position depending on the pants I’m wearing. If you carry a firearm on a daily basis you probably already know what I’m talking about.

I carry in the appendix, inside-the-waistband (AIWB) position. A belt loop that is a little bit off, fore or aft, can alter the position of my carry gun. In just the wrong place it can force the choice of carrying the gun too far forward or too far backward. This impacts printing and comfort, and I have having to change things up (by carrying something else or carrying in a different position), or accept added discomfort based on the pair of pants I’m wearing.

This problem is completely, 100% avoided by choosing a pair of pants you like and sticking with them. I carry two things on my belt: my handgun and a magazine pouch. I know exactly where these two things will fit with no variation from day-to-day.

3. KIT STANDARDIZATION

I have a bag packed and (mostly) ready to go at all times. I will talk about this bag – which is part EDC bag, part bug-out bag, part get-home bag, and part short-notice travel bag – at some point in the future. Though it would be incredibly useful in an emergency, it is also incredibly functional for day-to-day use. One of the items in this bag is a change of clothing. Guess what my clothing change consists of? You guessed it: a uniform.

This means I don’t have to take a unique set of clothing out of the rotation and cut down on my clothing choices. It also means that I’m not putting clothing in the pack that I don’t really like – it’s just a copy of my uniform. This set of clothing has saved my butt a couple of times.

4. NO SUCH THING AS FAVORITE CLOTHES

This is probably the reason that actually pushed me into executing this concept: with a uniform there is no such thing as “favorite” pants. Let me give you a little background on that. First, I absolutely hate shopping for clothing. I’ll shop all day for flashlights, knives, guns, holsters, ammo, backpacks, or pretty much any other piece of outdoor gear that strikes my fancy. But clothing? No, thank you.

So, I did what a lot of people probably do; I waited until I desperately needed new clothing and I bought a bunch, usually in a hurry, usually for too much money. This usually resulted in clothing that fit (mostly), but that’s about all. After I had purchased all that clothing, I would naturally gravitate to one or two pairs of jeans and a few shirts that I preferred over others. These would get worn out first because I wore them more, and as a result, washed them more. The stuff that I didn’t really like…well, it stayed newer, longer which didn’t help me because I didn’t like them in the first place.

One morning while getting ready for work I got to thinking about the question, “will anyone notice that I wore this yesterday?” What is the point of that question? Ultimately, it is so we can create the fragile social illusion that we own unlimited clothing. It’s a very shallow demonstration of wealth that we’ve all just come to accept as standard practice. To a lesser degree it’s also about demonstrating cleanliness to an absurd degree; if you work in an office environment it makes absolutely zero sense to wear clothes for one day, then and come home and throw them in the hamper.

But most people do throw them in the hamper, the dry cleaning pile, or re-hang them to wear another day in the future, once some ambiguous, unspecified amount of time has passed such that we can wear them again, safe from the potential ridicule of wearing the same items of clothing on days that are spaced too closely together. I decided that I didn’t want to play the game anymore. Now I get to wear my ‘favorite’ clothes every day. I don’t have to suck it up on the day I wear the jeans that are a little to tight, or the pants with the thin pocket liners, or the jeans with my wallet sticking out the back pocket.

5. EASY ONLINE ORDERING

As the basis of my uniform I chose a shirt and pants that I can purchase online. Because I already have eight or nine sets of these shirts and pants, I know exactly how they fit and can order them online (Amazon makes this really easy). This is a bigger deal than it seems like and gives me a couple of pretty cool abilities.

First, I can stock up on clothing for the future. If I have a surplus of cash I can very easily order a couple extra pairs of pants that I know will be used in the future. Second, this lets me take advantage of deals; though the Amazon price for my pants and shirts is pretty stable, I can occasionally save a few dollars per pair. This also gives me a solution for those unexpected scenarios…

Recently I had to travel out of town for work on very short notice. Upon landing I realized that in my rush to pack, I had neglected to throw any of my uniform shirts into my suitcase. Since this was a 2-week trip something had to be done. Fortunately I had one in my backpack (see the section on kit standardization) to get me through the first day or two. I was able to jump on Amazon as soon as I got to my hotel and order a few more to cover me for the rest of the trip. Sure, I already have some. . . but so what? These go into the closet and will be worked into the rotation and worn.

6. MISCELLANEOUS REASONS

There are several other, miscellaneous reasons you might consider creating your own uniform.

All-day comfort: OK…I admit that I’m a little weird about this. A lot of guys are interested in getting home and changing out of whatever they wore all day and into gym shorts or sweat pants. That’s just not me; nothing could be more uncomfortable to me than baggy shorts or sweat pants.

Plenty of spare buttons: If you have twelve of the same shirt, guess what? That’s right – you don’t have to worry about losing that set of two or three extra buttons, because every other shirt you has as the same buttons

Finally, you never have to think about what to wear. Even though I make fun of the Steve Jobs example, I do like this one. There’s no more waking up in the morning and wondering, “I wonder if anyone would notice if I wore these jeans again today?” or “what am I going to wear today?” or “I wish I’d done laundry last night!” You just take a uniform off the rack and go.

Designing an Individual Uniform

I doubt you are, but if you’re thinking about putting a uniform together there are some considerations you should think through.

Versatility, Versatility, Versatility

Even though you know you’ll never hit 100%, versatility is your first and foremost consideration. The opposite of versatility is specialization, and that’s where you probably are now – with certain clothing you wear for certain tasks or occasions. I want my uniform to cover the broadest possible spectrum of your life.

Depending on the level of specialization of dress required for your job and your personal comfort level, the percentage of scenarios that can be covered by a single uniform will vary. For example, if you have to wear a suit and tie to work, but do not want to wear a suit and tie all the time (who does?) you’ll probably only be able to cover 50-60% of your time at most with any single set of clothing.

If, however, you have flexibility and your office’s “business casual” trends more casual than business (like mine) you might be able to get away with covering closer to 90% of your time with a common uniform. If your uniform is exceptionally versatile (again, like mine) you can probably wear it 95-99% of the time.

On the other hand, you’ll also probably have a hard time with a uniform that is comprised of very specialized elements. One important aspect of versatility is knowing what clothing is and isn’t out-of-place in your locale. I don’t want to look drastically different than everyone else. Zip-off, SPF-30, permethrin-treated, fast-drying  backpacking pants are super neat. . . but they’re also kind of limited in the range of scenarios in which they look appropriate.

There are always outlier scenarios that will force you out of your uniform. Mine is incredibly versatile. I have dressed it up for a wedding with a simple change of shoes and throwing a nice sweater over the button down shirt. I dress it down almost daily for work in the yard and other run-of-the-mill stuff.

I can only dress it “up” so far, though. I’ve had to attend two former teammates’ funerals last year. One was very traditional and required wearing a suit – there was no way I could make my uniform work in that situation. Likewise, I probably wouldn’t go to a job interview or certain other events in my uniform. Occasionally you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone. The goal is to keep you covered 80-90% of the time, not 100%.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Again, I doubt if most (any) of you are planning to build a uniform. But I have some more advice if you are.

First, choose replaceable items. Choose a durable product line that is unlikely to be discontinued. This can be difficult to predict, but if a product has been around for a long time, it will probably be around for a long time to come. Next, choose timeless items that aren’t going out of style. As much as I dislike denim (it’s heavy, inflexible, slow to dry) the classic pair of straight-leg blue jeans is hard to beat for timelessness.

As far as cost is concerned, I recommend buying quality, but also buying something that you can reasonably afford to replace. A $600 pair of Italian shoes may last you a very long time, but if you can’t afford to replace them when the time comes, they aren’t a good choice. On the other hand, don’t cheap out and buy garbage. Buy quality, but purchase something that is going to be sustainable for you in the long term. I also really like choosing items that I can order online.

Closing Thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning, this post is probably a bit unusual in the EDC space. I’ve seen a lot of articles about guns and knives and flashlights (and written a bunch myself) but I’ve yet to read one on EDC clothing. Again, I think this is a massively overlooked space.

Stay tuned – I have at least three further articles planned in my EDC series!