With all the new perspective that travel brings, it was modes of dress and societal uniforms that struck me the most on a recent trip to America’s Silicon Valley. Male tech executives there really do walk down the streets of Palo Alto in Patagonia fleeces and khaki trousers. These men, some of them so wealthy they could afford to wear anything their heart desired, have replaced traditional suits with a more casual uniform. We often instinctively resist uniforms enforced by others because they take away our individuality. While military uniforms empower, prisoners’ uniforms do the opposite. School uniforms, in theory, provide an even playing field for students from different economic backgrounds so they are not distinguished by the brands they can afford to wear. Yet youngsters have always found ways to subvert and modify the dress code in favour of self-expression. So why are there so many self-imposed uniforms in the world? A sense of belonging is a strong motivator. Uniforms or modes of dress have a long history in various cultures. In the Maasai tradition, the colours, size and design of the elaborate beadwork worn indicates an individual’s age and status. For hundreds of years, Scottish tartans have represented specific clans, though, sadly, few men sport kilts these days. Generic checks have since been adopted by cowboy, punk and grunge culture, among others, not to mention Burberry. And the Japanese street style of Lolita girls has been a theatrical way to rebel against strict societal norms within the comfort of a group. The truth is, we all consciously and subconsciously fall into our own “style tribes”, a term coined by anthropologist Ted Polhemus. It isn’t just the men of Silicon Valley. Although I didn’t have the chance to observe those rare unicorns, women in tech, I did see the “soccer moms”. They seem to have rotating uniforms of pristine yoga pants and expensive workout gear, designer jeans and cashmere jumpers, or whatever their latest fad is. Last summer, it was floral maxis, for example. Make-up is minimal, but hair is perfect. Like so many style tribes, what these women choose to wear is as much about belonging as it is about being practical: the uniform suits the lifestyle. This column is by no means a treatise against uniforms. Absolute uniformity is uncomfortably reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale , and red is not really my colour. However, finding one’s personal uniform makes sense. The fashion industry is responsible for about 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. According to Redress, a Hong Kong-based NGO that promotes sustainable fashion, about a truckload of textiles is dumped in a landfill or incinerated every second. A personal uniform would make it easier to buy better but less. It would make getting dressed in the morning a snap. It would eliminate or at least reduce the number of fashion failures, too, because you’d only buy coordinating cuts and colours you know look good on you. That needn’t mean dressing in cadaver beige all the time. In fact, expressing your individual style consistently could mean looking less like others and more like yourself.