clock menu more-arrow no yes

An interview with a guy who wears the same thing every day

Could “uniform dressing” actually be about joy?

Justus Kersey’s closet.
Justus Kersey

Justus Kersey, who is 32 and from Eugene, Oregon, dresses like every dude in the Pacific Northwest: A slim-not-skinny stretch of Levi’s 511 denim and a gray cotton crewneck, with an occasional pair of athletic shorts or a two-tone jacket depending on the weather.

It is the de facto aesthetic for a whole genre of stubbly athleisure men, but Kersey takes it to the extremes. Swing open his closet, and you’ll see that he’s paired down everything in the wardrobe to those exact, undeviating ingredients; shirt, jeans, shoes, black socks, black underwear, on an infinite loop until the end of time. Just like how you’ll never see Marge Simpson in anything but her pearls and strapless lime-green dress, Kersey never appears in public without his uniform.

Justus Kersey and a friend.
Justus Kersey

On February 18, Kersey posted a photo of his spartan, rigidly organized closet on the r/pics subreddit, with the announcement that he has been wearing the same outfit for about two years now. People were either enthralled or terrified, which made his austere style guide briefly viral for a couple of days. Some of the speculation assumed that Kersey was a weirdo reprobate who streamlined his attire in order to avoid as much human contact as possible. (“This is the behavior of a serial killer.” “Sounds like your a real boring guy.”) But that’s not the case at all, really. Kersey runs a doggy daycare business with his brother. In other words, he’s dressing for the job he wants.

This philosophy of strict clothing regimens isn’t all that rare. Some of the most powerful men in the world cut a resolute silhouette: Steve Jobs in his turtleneck and sneakers, Zuckerberg in those mealy gray shirts, and we’re just now getting used to an Obama in anything other than that trademark dark teal suit. Personally, it’s always come off as a distinctly dad-ish attempt to remove as many fashion questions from your life as possible, but have a conversation with Kersey, and you’ll find that the reasons for his wardrobe purge are rooted in joy.

Why wear everything, when you can wear one thing that you really like? It may be radical, but it’s not wrong. We spoke about what first motivated him to take the uniform approach to style, the natural calming power of wearing something you love every day, and the occasional fringe formal cases he runs into where the jeans and shirt combo won’t cut it.

What was the impetus by narrowing your wardrobe down to the same outfit? How did that idea arrive to you?

Initially I had heard of other people going to the “uniform way,” or the “one outfit,” but ultimately, separate from that, I was going about a normal day, throwing on some clothes after laundry. I kinda realized that I had one go-to outfit. Like, once you do laundry, it’s that pair of jeans, it’s that shirt, and every single outfit after that was one I kind of liked less.

A lot of it has to do with comfort, some jeans don’t have any stretch, some are a lot more jazzy than others, and sometimes you’re not in the mood to wear a neon green shirt. So to go down to one outfit, it would allow myself to, without thinking, put on the outfit I’m most comfortable in, and most confident in, and eliminate the chore of picking an outfit.

From there I went to a few stores to try and find that magic pair of pants. I landed on a solid pair, and I found out pretty quickly that if you’re going down this journey you need to find someplace to buy online, because most stores might only have one or two pairs in your size. I found a shirt that mimicked my most favorite shirt, and bought a bunch of them online. I took all the clothes I used to have and put them in trash bags and put them in my closet for a few weeks to make sure I was truly committed. It didn’t take very long for me to be like, ‘Man, this is awesome.’ The clothes got donated, and that was a couple years ago.

What was the eureka moment for you in the trial period? When were you like, “You know what, this is the right path for me.”

It was like a hyped-up version of having fresh laundry every day. It had no diminishing returns. By the time I was two weeks in, I had 14 different moments of elation. Like, “Man, I’m throwing on this outfit I love.” It was awesome.

What was the conversation like with your wife when you decided to go down this rabbit hole. Did she ever think you were crazy, or was she always supportive?

Oh yeah, there was clear-as-day skepticism. “I don’t know how I feel about that.” But about half of my wardrobe she just absolutely hated, so the idea that I wasn’t going to wear this one particular shirt, or ratty shorts [appealed to her]. She helped guide the process to me finding that perfect outfit, where she’s like, “Yeah, I’ll stand next to you in that.” Since that trial period, though, it hasn’t been an issue.

Is part of this lifestyle about the removal of fashion as a concept from your day-to-day life? Do you relish that at all?

Yeah, it was a part of becoming a minimalist, where I did purge all of my souvenirs, and yearbooks, and little things that I was kinda holding onto over the years. I wanted to move into a sense where I didn’t have a lot of belongings, and could move with a backpack. That was a big contributing factor to the whole experience.

The outfit itself is the Levi’s 511s, a gray shirt, and occasionally the shorts, right?

Yeah, but a key part, that’s almost as rewarding, is having all matching black socks, and all matching underwear. Eliminating the whole cycle where you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait till that pair of underwear is clean.’ That’s a key part of the system.

Is it the same pair of shoes, too?

Yeah, so I’m currently on the third pair of shoes. They’re identical. I bought two, I went through one, and that’s when I knew that was my pair of shoes. Just within the last week, I pulled down my third pair. I need to go get another spare actually, for when these go out.

Justus Kersey in his light coat.
Justus Kersey

It’s funny, when I first saw your post I thought the idea was kind of weird. But hearing you talk about it, it’s a pretty sound argument that you’re making. Do you get that reaction when you lay out your case to people? Do they understand where you’re coming from?

Oh absolutely. I think your experience is a common experience. When I begin to lay into this, that I wear the same thing all the time, step one is, “That’s weird.” But it doesn’t take much time for people to be like, “Actually that makes sense.” And that’s it. That’s the common flow of how people react to it.

And you mentioned in your post that most people don’t even notice that you’re wearing the same outfit, right? That’s something you usually need to bring up for it to be a conversation.

Yeah, out of everything I said, that’s the one that was challenged the most. People saying, “Oh they’re just being nice, they’re not saying anything to be nice.” I just don’t know man. People were posting threads of a news anchor in Australia who wore the same outfit for a whole year to protest gender inequality, and nobody said a thing.

That’s been more my experience. I’d say, “Hey, I wear the same outfit,” and people say, “Oh I didn’t even notice.” I just don’t think that it’s something people pick up on super easily. If you handle yourself, if you’re clean, and you’re fun to interact with, that’s what people are going to take away. Not, “Oh, I think he was wearing that same shirt last time.”

You mentioned earlier about how you’re into the idea of having a uniform of sorts. What is it specifically about that concept do you appreciate?

A lot of people pick out their outfit the night before for the next day. I think they do that because they don’t have to expend the energy and make the choice in the morning. When I think about going back to wearing a normal outfit, it feels like a chore like doing the dishes or something. Also the fashion industry as a whole — and I don’t want to get super tree-huggy — but it’s a significant contributor to pollution and waste. That wasn’t the reason I made the choice to do it, but I was happy to find that out.

You do have a couple white button-downs in case you have to go to a wedding or something that requires a collared shirt. Do you keep anything else on hand for some fringe cases? Do you have a winter coat or anything like that?

I mean, I have a pair swim trunks. I do keep my snowboarding onesie in my snowboarding bag. So if I need to be out in sub-freezing temperatures, I am going to throw on my snow gear. I’m not going to fight the conditions in my jeans and gray shirt. But there are very, very few occasions where I need something other than what I always wear.

Do you have a rough count of the inventory?

Yeah, I keep a minimum. I keep about six shirts, and three pairs of jeans. I have like 20 pairs of socks and 10 pairs of underwear. A little bit overkill there.

The way you talk about this whole one-outfit thing, it does seem like it’s almost a wellness or self-care thing for you. Do I have the right read there? Is this a positive for your mental health?

I would say so. Besides the convenience and the efficiency of it, the consistency of being able to wake up and have that level of comfort and confidence every day as a ground zero. I can absolutely recall those days at the end of the laundry cycle where you throw on something where you’re like, “God darn it, why do I still own this?” It’s an absolute contributor to a positive image, which translates down to a positive mental health.

Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.