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Chef Uniforms: Fashion or Function?

Everyone recognizes the classic uniform of the professional chef: the tall or puffy hat, the double-breasted jacket and the checkered pants. Ever wonder about the history of the uniform? Are these styles chosen simply because they represent a tradition, because of fashion trends or is there a practical reason for the uniform pieces?

Sure, there have been some adaptations to the classic look over the years. A more modern chef may wear a tight beanie cap rather than the tall starched hat, for example. Even so, like most other chefs uniforms, they almost certainly will stick to the double-breasted collarless jacket.

Many aspects of the uniform are just tradition. Chefs dress that way because chefs have been dressing that way for decades, and that’s the look we associate with a professional.

Houndstooth Pants

Let’s start with the unusual choice in pants that chefs go for. The small checks or “houndstooth” pattern may not be the most stylish, but there is a practical reason for this fabric choice. It’s a bit of a dizzying look, and that’s the point. The small checks are great for hiding the spots and stains that inevitably end up on a chef’s pants while they are cooking.

The White Jacket
Though many people are gradually adding new colors to the chef’s jacket, the simple style has still remained the most popular uniform design. It’s crisp and professional, but has some practical reasoning to it too. The white color is the standard because it shows cleanliness and purity, something you want to emphasis when you are working in a kitchen preparing food. Unfortunately, it can be tough to keep it clean so many pros will wear an apron over the jacket for a little extra protection.

The double-breasted style was originally intended to be reversible, also to help hide messes and stains as the day progressed. Not sure if too many chefs will flip their jackets inside-out these day but that was the original intent.

Traditional styles also have knotted cloth buttons, so they are less likely to break when they come in contact with hot dishes or pots. They also last longer considering all the washing that these jackets go through.

The Hat
There really isn’t much practical reason for the chef’s hat though any hat would help keep hair out of the way during cooking. Typically, there are 2 styles of hats in the traditional uniform: the tall starched cylinder and the shorter style with the puff at the top. In either case, the pleats were supposed to represent the number of skills the chef had. Specifically, it would be 100 pleats, each for one way to cook an egg. Taller hats meant higher status in the kitchen, with the tallest one going to the main head chef.

As mentioned above, some modern chefs have ditched the tall awkward hats in favor of a smaller head-hugging style. It still gives a crowning touch to the uniform while still helping to keep the hair in place.

You see, it’s not just about culinary fashion. There are plenty of practical reasons why chef’s dress the way they do.

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