Style Stories

The summer uniform explained

What do you think, is a uniform really as good as they say?
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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I’ve been wearing the same outfit every day for the past three weeks. I think this happens every summer: I land on a template I didn’t expect to, am charmed by it, and then I stay with it until real-life resumes and the slow days of high summer’s quiet become a techno beat into fall.

I mentioned it to a friend recently who made me realize that the same thing actually happens in the dead of winter too, but there’s something intimate and endearing about its uniform-ation in the summer that is not true about its winter ringer. In the winter, going the way of a uniform feels more like giving up (see: this opening entry) than it does consciously landing on a good template, which, actually, now that I write it, probably has more to do with where my head goes when I’m in the respective seasons than anything else.

But the process of how the outfit becomes a uniform is behaviorally the same to the extent that it’s a mostly haphazard process: I put it on for any reason I would have to leave my home that isn’t specifically a Meeting or a Plan and then I just keep coming back to it. It’s practical, it’s functional, it’s reliable, it’s made up entirely of clothes I love wearing on their own — which doesn’t always work when you put them together, but it does here, I think, because this particular genre of uniform never says anything that I’m not willing to say first — like it’s a completely neutral outfit comprised of sturdy basics. It doesn’t evoke highs or lows, emotional intensity or overwhelming opinion. At its core, it is steady and bland and stable. Consistent. Nothing like me!

Anyway, the list for this week’s Letter of Rec is a bit diff: it breaks down the individual components of the uniform with a list of alternative recs for each item. But first, the de facto uniform:

Leset tank, The Row belt, Raey shorts, Havaianas flip flops

The reason it works is twofold:

On one hand, the individual elements are strikingly unremarkable. They are probably versions of basics you already own (a good thing!), but the combination of these items, with their proportions (exposed on top, more concealed below) and nuanced contrasts (rubber shoes, leather belt with shiny hardware) set against each other is actually pretty intentional. I’ll get into it in the recs:

The tank

I rotate between three — the one pictured here is from Leset; I wear it through the winter when I’m at either home or someone else’s house with wool pants and suede shoes; I’m not sure how this black version got on Amazon, but here it is. There is a great alternative that is not pointelle from Gap Body (this one is not it, but it is averygood option for petite people) — both do the job. The difference is that the former is pointelle and the cotton is less bonded so it doesn’t suck you in whereas the Gap Body version keeps your shit together with much more support.

a. The other rec I have is this very lightweight cashmere tank top from Ven-store.

It turns out the solution for what to wear when you want to be in a tank top but also feel dressy is precisely a cashmere tank for the simple but specific reason that it’s fine and it’s not cotton. Great with denim cut-offs for a contrast, also nice with silk pants like these. Probably good with a big fancy skirt for something black tie too. For $90, here is one with a higher neckline from Theory.

The shorts

These are Raey; I bought them 4 summers ago from Matches — you can still find a similar fit (just a little shorter) in grey, black or darker blue. But to nail this particular outfit recipe, these are the ones I’d recommend — the wash is light enough to function as a baseline, casual neutral and the length is right for the top’s skimpiness. The wash on these is even better.

a. If you prefer a closed hem, I really like these from Banana Republic for $32. Broadly speaking, I recommend fraying for this recipe — they’re a more laidback expression of summer and offer a good contrast to dressy tops (see: last week’s sequined tank) or accessories (like crystal/metal jewelry and leather/embellished/satin belts).

The belt

This seemingly inconspicuous, even minute detail is actually the key to the whole thing for the reason that it is such a crisp add to an extremely casual outfit.

The pictured belt’s The Row (it’s too expensive — I don’t think I’d have purchased it if I didn’t have store credit from where I got it but for what it’s worth, if you believe in the investment, I am so happy I have it, and have been wearing the shit out of it. I feel pretty great in it — like it’s dependable and sleek and so crisp that it’s crunchy. And it has really expanded my purview on what’s good to wear with brown). You should get this one from Emme Parsons. It’s actually Becky Malinsky’s recommendation per a page she recently edited for WSJ’s Off Duty section, and it’s the best option for something that looks rich, feels like a splurge (because it does cost real money), but isn’t like, four-weeks-of-groceries-for-a-family-of-four expensive. This is a doubleheader recommendation because it’s a belt and a reminder for you to sign up for her newly launched newsletter if you haven’t already!

The flip-flops

I am going to dedicate a full forthcoming newsletter to wearing rubber flip-flops because these are the most enthusiastic high summer suggestion I have for you. They’re like Birkenstocks for people who don’t really wear Birkenstocks in that they’re an extremely comfortable and casual option for summer footwear to wear as literally as with a tank and jean shorts, or as cOnCePtUaLLy as with a taffeta waistcoat and matching pants. My recommendation is the tried and true Havaiana in the classic style — plain white if you wear more dark colors, Brazil flag navy or olive green if you tend towards lighter hues, or absolutely, positively these if you’re mostly going to be wearing a permutation of this exact outfit.

The accessories

Neck bare for sure, but something in ears — vintage studs? Tiny hoops? (These are the best ones.) And a low-key high-key wrist combo:

The tennis bracelet is from Daphine, but I think it works because of the casualness/weirdness of thr evil eye bracelet (here’s an Etsy comp for $17); it’s just so…literal, you know? Meanwhile, a good signet ring is important to have — this is the one I have been wearing for about 6 years. It’s a flying pig! Inscribed inside is, “anything is possible.”

And on that note, thanks for being here. You give me purpose! Have a great weekend,