Any experienced chef will tell you with absolute certainty that first and foremost, chef uniforms are about function. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your chef jackets! With the culinary industry’s explosion in popularity over the past decade, the foodie culture has brought us gadgets and uniforms like we’ve never seen before.
Like most professional industries requiring a uniform, culinary professionals encounter specific hazards daily, requiring proper attire to avoid serious injury. The chef uniform was originally designed to protect chefs and has evolved through the years to address the changing environment. Chef uniforms are typically made of a dense, yet breathable woven fabric, such as twill. This allows the wearer a bit of relief from the intense heat of a kitchen, while protecting them from grease splatter, hot spills, and gusts of steam. The material is usually also treated to be fire resistant. Chef jackets and pants are made to provide enough room for mobility without erring on the perilous side of loose hanging, which could get caught in machinery. This comfortability is essential, especially when you are facing a twelve-hour shift of grueling labor. The cuff length is also shorter that what you would expect in a dress shirt, to avoid low hanging sleeves getting caught or dipped in food.
Upon entering culinary school, one of the first topics, aside from safety, they’ll discuss is the attitude and professionalism of the culinary industry. There used to be a time, when chefs enjoyed the refuge of the kitchen and seldom had to hob nob with patrons directly. Popular networks and TV shows such as The Food Network have made those days a fond and distant memory. With increasing frequency, chefs are being asked to temporarily abandon the shelter of the kitchen and socialize with the people who enjoy their creations. The trouble is, taking a chef out of the kitchen is a lot like pulling a fish out of water. Having a professional uniform helps to reinforce the traditional image of expertise and respect chefs have maintained throughout history. A confidence booster if you will, for those who are uncomfortable anywhere north of the expo line. In a brigade system, uniforms also help newcomers quickly understand who’s who in the kitchen and sidesteps confusion in a chaotic environment.
Like any artist driven industry, chefs usually have a uniqueness to them that begs to be expressed. In an environment swathed by militant like rules and exact recipes, chefs long to express themselves beyond the art of their work. I remember a time when the only options for chef pants were black, checkered, or a weird chili print. Now you can find uniforms in every color, print, pattern, and sleeve length. The great news is functionality has not been sacrificed for fashion in most cases. Professional culinary companies continue to offer functional uniforms, they just do it with style now.