When you think of a the term “personal uniform” it may conjure up visions of Steve Jobs’ turtleneck and medium wash jeans or Tom Wolfe’s white suit since 1962. But the concept should no longer be solely the prerogative of eccentrics and cartoonish villains; the personal uniform can and should be embraced by all people, including big men.

A personal uniform is simply a set of clothes that work for you, for daily wear, and helps define your style as distinctly yours. A personal uniform saves time during your morning routine, but still manages to make you look put-together and like you give a damn.

This is especially important for big men, who often have trouble finding clothes that fit well, are budget-conscious, and look good put together as an outfit. Big men battle stereotypes like laziness and bad hygiene; having a personal uniform that looks neat, fits well, and is comfortable is a great way to show that big men are stylish and confident.

There’s just something about balloon guy…

The Personal Uniform Formula

A personal uniform is a set of clothes (top, bottom, outerwear, and shooes/boots) that work for you in most settings. When developed with care it should simplify the process of getting dressed every day. Each article of your uniform should work together with all other items in an outfit. Your personal uniform should only consists of items that are a balance of personal budget, fit, quality and comfort. There are three main factors that go into developing your person uniform:

  • Past
  • Profession
  • Personality

Your past is where you come from, how you grew into a person. Your profession is, naturally, your job. And your personality is the most important factor: who you are inside as a unique individual.

As a plus-sized person, there are some special considerations to take into account. So let’s break it down like a fraction.

Past: Your Personal History

Were you born and raised in Waco, Texas? Are you a nonbinary individual from Toronto? Were you raised on punk rock by a polyamorous village of elders in Central America? Are you Italian from Milan or Italian from Jersey? Your roots – and whether you choose to embrace or reject them – will help inform your personal style.

You may have some style/fashion axioms that have stuck with you and become personal rules. These rules may have been picked up through exposure to TV or movies. Some of these rules may have arisen during an adolescent event; the confidently spoken words of a tailor when you’re being fitted for a tuxedo for prom; an older sibling telling you not to wear a particular thing in a certain way; a parent taking you to buy your first quality [insert item here]; a member of your preferred gender telling you that you look good in [that shirt/color/literally anything]. Wherever it came from, the rule stuck in your brain because it contained a truthiness that has been confirmed through further life experience.

To Put It Another Way

Your past does not need a direct connection to your style, but can be how you think of yourself in relation to your origin; how much ranching cred does one need to wear a cowboy hat or cowboy boots? How many mosh pits do you need to survive to wear a studded cuff or a battle vest? Does one need to go to Yale to wear a Yale college sweatshirt? Does one need to have a last name ending in -opoulos and operate a boat to wear a Greek fisherman’s hat? Only you know the right answer.

Profession: Dress For the Job You Want Have

Some jobs require a uniform or protective gear and that’s not what we’re talking about here; we’re talking about a job where there are no real guidelines beyond “office attire”. The practicalities of your job are something to consider. Does everyone in your office wear a suit or chinos and a button up shirt? Do people wear jeans or shorts? Sandals or dress boots? Derbies or Crocs? Each workplace has a concrete dress code (no midriffs, no open-toed sandals… I worked at a startup where the rule was “no ties” because the owner hated the corporate drone look). But there’s also a more subtle dress code that should be considered, if only for budgetary constraints of trying to maintain separate man-at-work and man-at-play personal uniforms.

If you are considering wearing a leather biker jacket to your conservative investment banking job, consider how much you want to be nicknamed “Biker Jim” for the rest of your career and possibly passed over for projects because you give off a “wild-card” vibe. This is not an argument for conformity, but rather an argument for tempering your personal uniform with restraint. Throw the biker jacket on when you go to the bar; leave it at home when surrounded by Brooks Brothers sack suits and Edward Green loafers.

Personality: The Overruling Factor

Then again… maybe you know what you’re doing. Personality is the one-ring to rule them all; it binds the whole thing together and is only influenced by past and profession. Your personality is the most important part of your uniform, as it is the very thing that makes it personal.

If you adore business culture and appreciate the staid styling of traditional menswear, then go for it. Embrace an impeccably cut and tailored suit, right down to the tie pin, the monogrammed shirt, the silver collar stays, and the buttery oxfords.

If you love the styles of yesteryear, adopt those as your look. The past —not necessarily your past — is rife with styles from which to riff; the greaser/sock hop styles of the 50s; the patterned sport coats and slim cut pants of the 60s; the bright and flared clothes of the 70’s, and the outrun Miami Vice fantasy palette of the 80s. Or, as I’ve noticed lately, dabble in the 90s era styles that have come barreling out of the past like a hazy fever-dream from the former CEO of Clothestime.

Do you love being the “big guy”? Then buy clothes that emphasize your broad shoulders and cut a shape like an inverted triangle.

If your personality is that of a creative type, then there are no rules for you; in fact the rule you should follow is to consistently break the rules. No leather jacket is too fringy, no pair of spectacles too wildly colored, and no pants color is too bright. If you lean toward the eclectic, then make that your mark. Your personal uniform is your memory in the minds of others, so make it memorable.

How to Develop Your Personal Uniform

1. Start from the bottom up.

Shoes are the literal and figurative foundation of an outfit. They dictate the vibe that rest of the ensemble should abide by; sandals mean shorts and short sleeves, leather oxfords mean slacks or dark denim, and so on. As big men, they are also part of the personal uniform least likely to change with size fluctuations. For this reason, when it comes to shoes, buy quality.

Choose a few pairs of footwear that can be rotated throughout the week but all have a similar suitability for the rest of the uniform.

2. Develop an outfit that suits your body.

Fit is king, as we’ve said before. Tops and bottoms should work together to give you a comfortable fit that doesn’t make you feel the need to readjust your clothes (pull your shirt hem down, pull your pants up, etc.) every few minutes. If you feel comfortable, you’ll look comfortable and confident.

Additionally, when you look in the mirror, you should like your shape overall; clothing should be flattering, whether that means it smooths out certain parts of your shape or emphasizes your assets, is up to you. What’s important is that it’s a feeling that you physically and visually can live with on a daily basis.

3. Find colors that work for you.

Try on a shirt and look at your face. Does it work or does it make you look washed-out? Is it give you zombie undertones? Does it make you ruddy-cheeked like you just ran a 5K or does it make you look like a Tim Burton character? There are subtleties in the interplay between clothing color and complexion that aren’t always apparent to even experienced eyes, so don’t be afraid to ask for help; I routinely ask my partner “is this red too orangey for me?” or “does this brown shirt too closely match my skin tone and make me look like a tall poop?”. If alone and in doubt, take a picture in natural light with your phone and look at it.

Quick Color Tips for All

  • Black garments should not generally be mixed with browns. Grays and browns are typically fine (think gray slacks and brown leather shoes).
  • Don’t use several shades of the same color in one outfit unless you have very different textures. Light blue cotton shirt and blue denim jeans are fine; other colors can significantly increase the difficulty level of pulling off the outfit and are best avoided.
  • Dark blue is a reliable backsplash for many other colors. Dark denim looks good on most people and can be accented with a pop of color. Think gold, pink or green.
  • Find contrast between your tops and bottoms. Light shirt? Goes with dark pants. Dark shirt? Pull out the khaki chinos. Dark shirt and dark pants? Meh, probably fine. Light shirt and light pants? You look like an early 2000s GAP commercial, so put on a dark jacket. Contrast creates interest.

Color Tips Especially for Big Men

  • Do not subscribe to the whole “black is slimming, always wear black” rules when it comes to size. People around you are aware of your size and most of them enjoy you for being you; don’t shy away from colors that you like and work for you.
  • Beware busy patterns. A big man wearing a pattern is a LOT of that pattern. Whether an aloha shirt covered with birds, or a busy loud plaid, some patterns can simply be too much to visually balance on our large frames. Break up the pattern with outerwear or by wearing it as a layer between other clothing items.
  • Comfort is really key. Being big sometimes means being uncomfortable in a world that caters to straight-sized people. So make your uniform your personal comfort zone. That doesn’t mean sweats or head-to-toe velvet, but rethink a scratchy sweater and avoid clothes that don’t breathe.

4. Buy multiples of each item (important especially for big men).

A personal uniform is no reason not to keep up with laundry. So when you find something that works in your uniform (comfortable jeans or the perfect length shirt), buy several. This is especially true for plus-sizes as it’s often difficult to find things above the 2XL size label in standard stores.

5. Don’t get too caught up in the uniform aspect.

It should go without saying that a slavish adherence to wearing the exact same thing every day borders on the cartoonish. The form factor and structure of the personal uniform is key but change up the colors and textures. For example, the following three outfits follow the uniform structure of: white low-top leather sneakers, chinos, button-up shirt, trucker jacket.

  • A: Nike Killshot sneakers, khaki chinos, white button-up shirt, dark blue denim trucker jacket.
  • B: Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, olive chinos, light blue oxford button-up shirt, khaki trucker jacket.
  • C: Onitsuka Tiger GSM, light gray chinos, white button-up shirt, black denim jacket

6. Accessorize.

Don’t forget the little touches that pulls everything together: hat, tie pin, tie bar, watch, bracelet, ring, wallet chain, key chain, earring, sunglasses. So pick a few with which to experiment and avoid wearing too many at once.

7. Don’t combine levels of formality that aren’t directly adjacent.

This is a bit of an advanced concept in that it can be broken to great effect. As a general guideline, avoid combininig multiple levels of formality in a single outfit; it typically shows an ignorance of formality instead of the edginess that you may be going for. Here are a few examples.

  • A tie with a t-shirt.
  • A wool suit with sandals.
  • A fedora with a polo shirt.
  • A tuxedo with a baseball cap.
  • A top hat and tank top.
  • Overalls and patent leather shoes.

8. Try something new.

The beauty of a personal uniform is that it provides a great foundation that looks good and can built upon. Your style won’t stay the same for your entire life as you take influence from friends, family members, movies, and magazines; your personal uniform should similarly evolve.

As you grow older and unlock new decades of experience, branch out: grow more conservative or get real weird with it. As my old music teacher used to say, “you’re either growing or dying, if you’re static then you’re already dead”.

How To Explore New Looks

  • Experiment with a new color in a tried and true fit of jeans.
  • Add a western cut plaid shirt instead of a workshirt.
  • Try a flat cap instead of a baseball cap.

9. Let some things go.

Not every item you buy will meld into your personal uniform easily and some will fail miserably on all accounts. Maybe it didn’t look right after a run through the wash cycle; it bunches where it shouldn’t or maybe you reached for the stars and fell short. Know when to let it go and find a forever home; eBay is your friend or, if you need it gone sooner than a cycle auction, donate and don’t look back.

Simplify Your Life With A Personal Uniform

When you start your journey into the world of menswear, the wide range of choices can be daunting. Choice paralysis is real and can make a joyful exercise in self expression feel like a daily slugfest with the mirror. A personal uniform can provide a structure to your style that helps simplify your life and provides a foundation for more artful expression. So put together a personal uniform over the next few weeks and you’ll see what the buzz is about.

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