If you stood on a street corner in the business district in New York or Boston two decades ago, you may have felt like you were drowning in a sea of dark, stuffy suits.
For years, the suit was the uniform of the working man and a marker of one’s professional status. In fact, the business suit evolved out of the military uniform. Much like a uniform, a suit would streamline a man’s morning, removing time and decision-making from the process of getting dressed. A good suit was classic, polished, and generic enough to make your coworkers forget that you literally wore the same thing the day before.
But not anymore. For 20 years, the men’s work uniform has been going through a transformation primarily because the workplace has been getting more casual, and many industries encourage workers to prioritize comfort over formality. This shift also means that men can be more creative about what they choose to wear day after day.
Perhaps not surprisingly, designers and fashion executives are particularly keen on using their daily work outfit as a way to promote self-expression. Several male designers I spoke to for this story have found a way to create a new kind of uniform, one that ensures that dressing in the morning is easy and straightforward, but that is also fun and creative. Here’s how they do it.
Tim Brown, cofounder and co-CEO, Allbirds
Allbirds sneakers don’t have logos anywhere on the shoes. That is entirely by design. Tim Brown, Allbirds’s cofounder, was largely responsible for the shoe’s design. And his daily uniform embodies his aesthetic sensibilities. “In many ways, the way I dress is a reflection of Allbirds ethos of a ‘no logo’ design simplicity,” he says. “[It is] focused on high quality, natural materials, and the details of cut and fit.”
Brown’s aversion to logos is rooted in his background as a professional soccer player. Before launching Allbirds, Brown was a professional athlete who rose to the highest levels of his sport, taking his country, New Zealand, to the World Cup in 2010. For nearly a decade, he had absolute freedom to wear what he wanted when he was off duty, but when he was on the field, he was usually in a uniform covered in the logos of his sponsors. All of this gave him an appreciation of minimal design, free of logos.
Since 2015 when he cofounded Allbirds and began working in an office for the first time, Brown has worn the same basic uniform, which blends comfort with minimalism. His foundational pieces include a pair of fitted jeans, soft T-shirt layers under a “wool round neck jumper,” as he describes it, along with a pair of Allbirds, of course. He always comes back to the same color palette of navy blue, white, gray, and a little black, which makes it easy for him to mix and match pieces.
“The whole ‘uniform’ is built for comfort and movement, since I ride my bike to work most days,” he says. “I use my clothes to express myself: I believe that ideas and innovation are born out of constraints, I think of my uniform less as restrictive and more as guardrails within which I experiment.”
Brown says that the key to having a uniform is not getting bored with it. “A uniform can be connoted positively in the sense it is about efficiency, consistency, and reliability, but if you’re not careful it can quickly become a symbol of the routine and mundane,” he says. “I love going to work, so I broadly fear the latter.”
He’s dealt with this, in part, by playing with his accessories to add a little texture and fun to his outfits. He’ll spice thing up with a watch, a wool blazer or bomber jacket, and his work bag. He currently carries a tan Porter-Yoshida helmet bag from Japan, which he uses every day. “I am constantly curious about new brands and updates on classic items so I update it regularly,” he says. “When you’re focused on the details, there is always a new cut, material, or classic design update to experiment with, and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the evolving way clothes are made, what they’re made out of, and the brands that make them. I think you can make a ‘uniform’ approach to dressing for work work only when you are constantly evolving and playing with the details.”
Scott Patt, chief creative officer, Cole Haan
Scott Patt has spent his entire career designing shoes. He started with sneakers at Nike and Converse but now creates a wide range of shoes silhouettes at Cole Haan that are all embedded with technology that makes them as comfortable and walkable as possible. Given his enduring passion for shoes, it’s perhaps no surprise that he begins his work uniform with his footwear. “If there’s any method to my look, [it’s that] I’m a shoes-first dresser,” Patt explains.
Since Patt works in a creative industry, his workplace is generally relaxed. But as chief creative officer, he’s often pulled into meetings with people across the spectrum of the fashion industry, from a sketch session with designers to board meetings. As a result, he needs an outfit that blends in nicely in all of these contexts. “I wear some iteration of my uniform pretty much every day because my days are back to back with a crazy diverse range of responsibilities,” he says. “I like my uniform to be modern, minimal, and somewhat familiar, and can’t read stuffy. My uniform is about feeling myself in whatever I wear.”
His uniform consists of several items he comes back to every single day. He almost always wears a Rag & Bone button-down shirt. “As a bigger guy, the cut is designed to move really well,” he says. He pairs it with with a laser-cut sports coat from Eleventy. “They’re unconstructed, look incredible, and move unlike any blazer I’ve ever owned,” he says. Then, Patt modifies his level of formality depending on what he has going on that day—or his mood. Here’s where the shoes come in: He’ll pick sneakers if he’s in a casual mood or dress shoes if he’s going for something smarter, then pair them with either AG jeans or Eleventy cotton twill drawstring trousers. “They’re crazy comfortable and dress up or down really well,” he says.
Josh Luber, cofounder, StockX
Josh Luber founded his streetwear auction site, StockX, partly because he’s deeply immersed in streetwear culture: He loved collecting rare pieces, but struggled to get his hands on rare, coveted items—and when he did, he often wondered if he overpaid. StockX solved many of these problems by providing both buyers and sellers information about how much similar items sold for in the past.
For Luber, a uniform isn’t about keeping things simple or minimal. In fact, he has a very large collection of streetwear that he turns to everyday. On an average day, you’ll find him in Kith sweatpants, Bape T-shirts, hoodies from Off-White x Kith Earth or Ambush, MLB jerseys, and sneakers. Currently his favorite pairs are Nike Air Tech Challenge II from the U.S. Open, Nike React Element 87 Undercover Volt, and Jordan 1s. And always—always—his Detroit Tigers hat.
He loves the stories and histories behind different brands and products. “A majority of these brands are deeply aligned with streetwear culture and have been around since the ’90s. I’ve been following and wearing these brands for years, so it only makes sense to have them in my rotation.”
Instead, he has a consistent look—sneakers, hoodies, sweatpants, baseball caps—so every day is just a matter of picking items from each category. Almost everything in his closet adheres to the same general aesthetic, so it doesn’t take much time to put together a look. If he wants to wear a particular pair of sneakers one day, it doesn’t take much thought to put the rest of the look together. “A hoodie and a baseball cap is as close to a uniform as it gets for me,” he says. “Right now I have about 100 hoodies in my closet ranging from Supreme, KITH, Palace, AMBUSH, and Bape.”
Even on days when he needs to look a little sharper, he tends to keep things fairly casual. He occasionally wears a jacket instead of a hoodie for instance. “But a Detroit Tigers hat, or on occasion, a Phillies cap as a nod to my hometown, is an always-on accessory,” he adds.
Aaron Hennings, cofounder and chief brand officer, Stance Socks
Even if you haven’t heard of Aaron Hennings, you may be familiar with his work. He’s the cofounder of Stance Socks, a decade-old brand that makes fashionable socks that have been seen on celebrities, like Rihanna, Billie Eilish, and Allen Iverson. The socks now have such cult status that they sometimes show up in rap lyrics. In 2013, Jay-Z dropped a line about the brand in his song FUTW: “This ain’t gray suits and white tube socks/This is black leather pants and a pair of stance.”
Hennings is known for his fashion-forward look, which is heavily inflected by the punk and skater scenes. His average outfit includes a lot of dark colors. “Lots of black even in the summer,” he says. “I like a little touch of punk influence for some attitude.”
The average observer might assume that he spends ages every morning perfecting his look. But Hennings tells me there’s actually a simplicity and method to his look. “I don’t have a giant wardrobe, but use a few base pieces and remix them in all different ways, so they’re not a single outfit,” he says. He has an arsenal of basics that include well-fitting chinos, plain T-shirts, denim jackets, and sneakers. But he tends to buy these pieces in varied colors. Almost any of the pieces can work together—even without that much thought—and will yield dramatically different looks. “My uniform is less about a single look but rather a personality,” he says.
He favors Vissla’s stretch pants. “I have them in all colors,” he says. “They fit well, stretch, and work whether I’m at the office, out with my wife, or at the skatepark with my sons.” He loves classic silhouettes for his sneakers. He goes for Chuck Taylor’s All-Star lows in black, Adidas Gazelles in burgundy, and his favorites, Vans (although he says they must have Ultra Cush soles). “I can pretty much find a pair of Vans, especially Sk8 Highs that feel right with anything I’m wearing,” he says. When he needs to step up his look, he might swap his chinos for All Saints cropped trousers and his T-shirt for a printed woven shirt, sometimes with an aloha pattern.
Ultimately, Hennings goal is to make dressing quick but still push the envelope in terms of fashion, which helps him with his daily work as a designer. “My basic theory is to keep it interesting, and wear the stuff that helps me feel creative,” he says. “It’s really best not to look contrived. I prefer to add a few surprises by mixing the high with low and pairing street-inspired stuff with a touch of the beach.”