The Search for the Perfect Personal Uniform

Ran Walker
4 min readJun 22, 2020

My quest for a personal uniform began many years ago when I first began reading about Buddhism. The idea was simple: if you don’t have to worry about your hair (I wear mine shaved bald) or your clothes, you could redirect your thoughts toward other things of arguably greater importance. I would later see this translated into the personal uniform that Steve Jobs wore — and later Mark Zuckerberg. Honestly, some people have taken the idea of having a personal uniform as being something other than a move toward simplicity, instead using it as a “look at me” statement that screams “what I do is so important, I don’t have time pick out clothes.” Well, I’m not a CEO of a tech firm in Silicon Valley, so I’m far more interested in the simplicity than the branding, although I imagine it would be a little difficult to separate the two at a certain point.

I kind of fumbled into the shirt that I wear. I bought a cotton classic oxford button-up on sale from Polo Ralph Lauren years ago. I liked the shirt so much that I picked up a few others. As each year passed, I picked up another shirt or two, until I finally took inventory and realized that I had bought twelve of them. Now, they’re all of different colors and patterns, but the feel and cut of the shirts are all identical. When I first started teaching at my current university, I would just grab a shirt out of the closet and wear it. Over a decade passed of me doing this, and I came to understand that this shirt was now a part of my uniform. The funny thing is that my students never acknowledged that I wore the same style of shirt each class.

Pant-wise, I have mainly worn chinos of only a handful of colors. On these, I have been less brand aware, although recently I have been shifting more toward a chino jogger made by Levi’s Denizen line at Target that has the benefit of needing no belt and having fairly deep pockets. Plus the elastic of the bottom allows for the last part of my uniform to pop a bit more.

Shoes. I must admit that when it comes to shoes, comfort is my primary objective. I am not a very formal person, especially since I stopped actively practicing law years ago. I traded in my cap-toed Oxfords for sneakers and semi-sneakers (the Cole Haan sneaker/dress hybrids). Now, though, I have shifted to one model of sneaker (of which I have several different colorways): the Jordan 1 low. I know there are plenty of people who would argue that it is not the most comfortable sneaker in the world, but I don’t look at it as being a sneaker; I see it as a casual shoe, which means I compare the comfort to that of other casual shoes, not some high performance shoe designed for the basketball court.

Although this is not a part of my indoor uniform, I do wear a ton of “dad hats,” which are basically unstructured, adjustable cotton baseball caps that fit your head directly. I have over fifty of these, and when I vacation, I pick up one of these as my souvenir of choice.

So while I have a set shirt, a set pair of pants, and a set pair of shoes (not to mention the baseball caps), I can only call this a personal uniform in the broader sense. People who have really gone minimalist with this have one color for each of the aforementioned items, which means they are not wearing variations on the same uniform; they are actually wearing the exact same uniform everyday. I haven’t reached that point yet, but it seems like the next step in the evolutionary process.

The irony of it all, though, is that my thinking about my personal uniform this much has taken me 180 degrees away from the original intention of it all: not having to think about my clothing at all. Maybe that’s the catch 22, though: you have to think about it before you can stop thinking about it.

So if you ever see me out on the street or at a book event, just know that I tried to keep it as simple as possible.