One Look, One Year: A Year of Style Discipline

In 2012, I decided to try an interesting, albeit somewhat extreme, experiment: to wear the same thing every day, all year.

Like many people, I make New Year’s resolutions. But rather than make a list containing many things I’d like to change or accomplish, I usually come up with just one and it’s generally along the lines of, “This is going to be The Year of X.” It keeps it simple and straightforward and definitely increases the chances that I will follow through. In 2012, I decided to try an interesting, albeit somewhat extreme, experiment: to wear the same thing every day, all year long. Yes, 2012 became The Year of Wearing One Thing.

One Look, One Year - He Spoke Style

This Look: Navy chinos by J.Crew, Black gingham shirt by Express, Brown suede penny loafers by To Boot New York, Brown leather plaque belt by J.Crew, watch with brown leather strap by Timex.

The Backstory

I always become a pretty voracious reader during the fall and early winter months. I’m not usually much of a reader during the rest of the year, but something about chilly weather makes me want to curl up with a good book. And in December of 2011, I found myself reading the just-published biography of Steve Jobs. Among the many quirks Jobs had and/or developed during his lifetime was his uniform: black Issey Miyake turtleneck, washed Levi’s denim jeans, and New Balance sneakers. It became a style as singular as that of the products he helped create at Apple.

But the rationale was what really intrigued me. By not having to select what he was going to wear on a daily basis, Jobs basically took one decision out of his very busy life and freed his mind up just that much more. Granted, I am not as busy as Steve Jobs, but I was extremely attracted to the idea of simplifying. What more could I accomplish (or what new things might I accomplish) if I removed a daily style decision from my life? I wanted to know.

One Look, One Year - He Spoke Style

This Look: Navy chinos by J.Crew, Black gingham shirt by Express, Washed denim jacket by Levi’s, Brown corduroy pocket square by The Tie Bar, Brown desert boots by Clarks, Brown leather plaque belt by J.Crew, watch with brown leather strap by Timex.

Criteria

Choosing my outfit required a little bit of thought as it had to meet certain standards for both my personal and professional life. Actually, the professional life part of the equation played the biggest role in the decisions I made. For my job, I am sometimes required to wear what has been termed Smart Casual. (No word on what Dumb Casual might be…) Smart Casual basically means No Sneakers, No Jeans, and a Collared Shirt. Other than that, everything else is fair game.

I opted for something extremely versatile that walked the line between dressed up and casual without leaning too far in either direction: a black gingham shirt with navy chinos. That was my foundation. From there I chose a few accessories—brown belt, brown loafers, and a watch with a brown leather strap—to complete the look. Simple. Stylish. And I definitely felt like I had all my bases covered no matter what the situation.

One Look, One Year - He Spoke Style

This Look: Navy shorts by Gap, Black gingham shirt by Express, White boat shoes by Sperry Top-Sider, sunglasses by Persol, Brown leather plaque belt by J.Crew, watch by Timex, striped NATO G10 watch strap by J.Crew.

Challenges and Compromises

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, 2012 wasn’t exactly The Year of Wearing the Same Exact Thing. There were challenges that arose that prevented me from a completely pure Jobs-ian realization of the initial idea. First among them was environmental.

Baltimore gets really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter. It dawned on me that walking out the door in January without a coat or in July wearing long pants definitely wasn’t practical (or healthy, for that matter). I compromised by creating four separate looks—one for each season—but all based on the same gingham shirt/navy chinos foundation. Different shoes, different accessories, but still the same basic look. I also created one with a blazer and tie that would be suitable for more formal occasions.

Did I have to do laundry more often? Yes, I did. Especially in the summer. One way I tried to combat that was to wear a V-neck undershirt, thinking that having an extra layer between my armpit and my shirt could help increase my button down’s wearability by at least another day or two. It generally worked. And don’t even ask: I changed my underwear every day.

One Look, One Year - He Spoke Style

This Look: Navy chinos by J.Crew, Black gingham shirt by Express, Grey tweed blazer by Brooks Brothers (part of suit), cotton pocket square and burgundy wool knit tie by The Tie Bar, Black leather belt by Perry Ellis, Black penny loafers by Bass Weejuns, watch with black leather strap by Timex, vintage silver tie bar.

The Takeaway

The most interesting thing about wearing the same thing every day for an entire year was this: nobody noticed! Yes, that’s right. I’ll say it again: NOBODY. NOTICED. Maybe some people did notice and were trying to be polite by not mentioning it, but I don’t think so.

The most telling interaction I had was with a close friend and colleague. For my job, I travel with a large group of people for roughly 35 days at a time. These folks see me up close and personal on a daily basis. About 30 days into one of our trips, I asked my closest buddy if he had noticed that I’d been wearing the same exact thing for the entire trip. He said he had not. Neither had his roommate and we, the three of us, typically hang out together every single night. Huh.

One Look, One Year - He Spoke Style

This Look: Navy chinos by J.Crew, Black gingham shirt by Express, boots by Timberland Earthkeepers, Navy wool upland jacket by Woolrich John Rich & Bros., black and grey herringbone ivy cap by Cappello, houndstooth scarf by Scotch & Soda, watch with brown leather strap by Timex.

Beyond the somewhat fascinating realization that people seemed largely oblivious to the fact that my outfit or look never changed, the real takeaway for me was what this journey taught me about versatility. Style-wise, I was able to do a lot with very little. That was refreshing and empowering.

In many ways, The Year of Wearing One Thing paved the way for He Spoke Style. Though I’m obviously focusing on a larger range of menswear than one shirt and one pair of pants, it’s still all about defining what is essential and experimenting with the possibilities. Yes, I admit that my year of style discipline was definitely extreme. Go big or go home! But I would definitely not have the same perspective on style had I not done it. Which is to say, it was totally worth it.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

He Spoke Style

Photography by Rob McIver Photo.

Chime In

  • Mick

    Bit of a fail but you kept it stylish on limited pieces. If I were your friend Id surely have noticed as style is one of my obsessions. I’ve sadly hurt feelings because of my bluntness but again you kept it together nicely with so few pieces

    • http://baltimorestyleguy.com Baltimore Style Guy

      Thanks for the comment, Mick. And thanks for keeping it classy. No hurt feelings. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and this is definitely an open forum.

  • Yaakob

    I think this was a pretty cool experiment, but maybe you could have brought multiples of everything maybe 7 of the important things like shirts. would have saved you a lot of quarters

    • http://baltimorestyleguy.com Baltimore Style Guy

      Haha! Yes, it did occur to me that having more than one of each item would have helped in the laundry department. Thankfully, I have a washing machine at home so I didn’t have to keep forking over quarters at a laundromat.

  • http://blog.veritasimage.com Alice

    So glad I ran into this post. I love that you stress the power and versatility that’s possible from a just a handful of smart essentials. Thanks for sharing your experiment—and findings—with us. Enjoyed it!

    • http://hespokestyle.com Brian

      Thanks so much, Alice. I really appreciate that. And thanks for reading.

  • Eric

    I just found out about your blog and the content on here is awesome. Anyways, I like all the looks you pulled off and I appreciate the experiment being that many people obviously can’t afford to have a “new” wardrobe every single day. Like Mick said, I would notice if I was a personal friend however as any regular person people recycle what they have. Great post!

    • http://hespokestyle.com Brian Sacawa

      Thanks so much, Eric. Appreciate the comment and thanks for reading.

  • http://www.themodestman.com Brock

    How am I just seeing this? This is amazing! Awesome post, but awesome site in general. Sending you an email…

    -Brock

  • Seth Nelson

    I loved this post! What a fun experiment. And a great way to learn or practice that key value: versatility. I’m due for a wardrobe evaluation, and will likely be discarding my least versatile items.

    • http://hespokestyle.com Brian Sacawa

      Great! It was an interesting exercise. I don’t think I could do it again, but I did learn a lot from it.

  • Nate Davis

    Really interesting–although in fairness to your unobservant coworkers, if you always accessorized the way you did in the sample photos above, I could see how they might’ve missed it. Stylistically, perhaps the lesson is that with a variety of outerwear and shoes, you don’t need a huge amount of pants and shirts to dress well. And as someone whose closet could use some further purging, I take to heart the other lesson that simplifying the wardrobe can free up brain space for other things.