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How One Art Director Became an Overnight Sensation for Wearing the Same Outfit Every Day

Matilda Kahl on the power of the work uniform

Kahl wears a simple black-and-white uniform to work every day. Photo courtesy of Matilda Kahl

Matilda Kahl, an art director at Saatchi & Saatchi, was launched into viral stardom this week. But it wasn't for her creative work, exactly—it was for the single outfit she wears to the office every day.

In her recent Harper's Bazaar article, which has racked up more than 64,000 shares in just one week, Kahl recalled the day she showed up to an important meeting feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and hating her outfit. It didn't help that the men in attendance appeared casual and confident, while she felt like a sweaty mess. At that moment, she decided to adopt what she calls a work uniform: a signature white blouse, black trousers, a black leather rosette, and a black blazer if it's cold out.

It's been three years, and she's never looked back. 

We caught up with the New York creative to learn more about her work uniform, the feedback she's received about her story, and why it's so empowering to wear the same thing every day. 

Adweek: What was your main motivation behind adopting a work uniform of a white blouse, black trousers and a black blazer?
Kahl: The main motivation was that I understood how much time and energy I'd save if I could just take out the clothing aspect of my working days. We have so many great creative challenges at Saatchi that I'd rather spend my time on that, not picking out a new outfit every morning.

Would you say the work uniform has changed your productivity at work?
Absolutely. It's not until you don't have to care about clothing anymore that you realize how much energy it actually took up before. Before I had a uniform, I reevaluated my outfit throughout the day, wondering if what I was wearing really did a good job of reflecting me as the creative I want to be. Now, when I have an outfit that I once picked out and that I'm happy with, I can lay all my good energy on my work instead. To only be judged on my creative ability at work and not how well I dress really is a real confidence boost.

What sort of reactions have you gotten since writing the piece for Harper's Bazaar?
The response has been overwhelming. I'm very surprised but very happy that people think this is an interesting topic. I could never have imagined it would take off the way it has. I've received tons of emails from people with questions, high fives and stories about their own uniforms. The overall tone has been positive, which I'm of course very happy about. The media has been interested in hearing if this is a feminist movement, and that is a good question. It certainly wasn't the intention when I started with the outfit. It was simply a choice I made for myself. But if it does spark some kind of movement, I hope it will inspire people, men and women, to opt out of obeying expectations they feel like they don't want to be a part of their lives anymore.

Earlier this week during an Adweek Chat, we asked about subtle ways male-dominated offices can make women feel unwelcome. How would you respond to that question, looking at the advertising industry?

I would start by asking the question the other way around. Instead of asking "What are some of the subtle ways a male-heavy office can make women feel unwelcome or unsupported?" I'm more interested in answering the question, "What are the ways we can make everyone at the office feel like they're accepted no matter their gender, skin color or sexual orientation?" My answer to that is simply: be curious. You have no idea where great ideas will come from. And there's a great chance you will understand the world better if you get to know people who are different from you.

Women seem to be constantly critiqued and criticized for how they look and what they wear, especially in a professional setting. What would you say to women who feel pressure to look a certain way? 
I would like to remind women (and men) who feel pressure about their appearance at work that this is something they don't have to take into the equation when it comes to how good they are at their job. Even if it feels that way many times. Remember that you are in charge of your life, and that you're simply awesome just as you are.

Has there ever been a time where you wanted to break from your go-to outfit?
Nope. I still feel like it does a good job for me so I see no reason for stopping wearing the uniform. But if I would wake up one day and feel like spending time picking out an outfit every morning, I'd have no problem with giving it up. The uniform is here for me, I'm not here for the uniform.

Would you recommend the work uniform to other women in this industry?
If you think it would be a good time saver and if you think you'd have an easier time focusing on your job, then sure. Why not? Go for it if you think it's something that would make your life easier. It certainly has for me. If you feel like ripping off the look of my personal uniform, I'd have no problem with that either. May the force be with you.

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