Wardrobe Simplification

Those of you in the Introduction to Recommender Systems MOOC may have noticed that I am always in a blue button-up shirt. You may or may not be asking ‘does he have any other shirts?’

I do. I primarily wear the blue shirt in the studio because the video producers have advised us against wearing white (the lights reflect off of white shirts to create a disturbingly angelic glow).

If you're around GroupLens, or the CS department, you may have noticed that I am (almost) always in a white button-up shirt. You may have asked ‘does he have any other shirts?’, unless you are also in the MOOC, in which case you know I at least have a blue shirt.

Several months (or perhaps a year) ago, Jennifer and I embarked on a plan to standardize my wardrobe. We see minimalism as a useful tool for living the kind of life we want, and a number of minimalist writers we have read have a standard outfit. Also, deciding what to wear in the morning is a pretty low priority with respect to the rest of what I have to do, resulting in wasted decisional energy.1

After a bit of experimentation, we settled on white button-up shirts and blue jeans, with a black-and-silver accessory theme (apart from my gold wedding band). In the last couple of months, we've finished acquiring enough shirts & jeans that I can actually wear this outfit on a daily basis. With the last pair of white shirts we bought, I think we've finally found ones I like, so my outfit is now standardized down to the brands and cuts.

There are several reasons I like a standardized wardrobe, and this wardrobe in particular:

  1. Don't have to decide what to wear. I can get up, put on clean clothes, and be ready for the day.
  2. Don't have to decide what to buy.
  3. Completely appropriate for my occupation, and my intended next occupation in many contexts. There are probably some schools where it wouldn't fly, but it should be fine for teaching in most computer science departments.
  4. I can dress it up easily if needed: swap out the jeans for a pair of grey slacks, tuck in the shirt, add a tie. The same base concept supports a range of dress levels.
  5. Takes less space in my dresser than 15 different t-shirts and a selection of polos.
  6. Travel prep is easy. I just need to count, not plan out what shirts and pants I want to have.
  7. Lots of people like the hat.

  1. I have no idea how much validity this concept has in the current state of decision psychology. It makes intuitive sense, and there does seem to be some research supporting a link between willpower and decision-making, suggesting that making decisions and exercising will deplete some psychological ‘resource’ (to use a crude analogy), decreasing our ability to make subsequent decisions or exert willpower. I don't know if it's well-accepted, debunked, or considered a fascinating but preliminary hypothesis among decision researchers; I would love for someone more well-versed in the relevant literature to enlighten or correct me. But in any case, the ~2 minutes spent deciding what to wear is still wasted time.