Imagine a soldier. Any soldier. How do you know it is a soldier and not just any random person? Usually, the answer is – because of the way they are dressed. When we think of soldiers, for example, we tend to picture men and women in uniforms.

The same thing is true for policemen, firemen or any other profession that involves wearing uniforms.

Not all uniforms are worn by such authoritative figures. Still, that doesn’t make their appearance any less recognisable. Can you think of any other callings that require uniforms?

How about chefs and the kitchen staff?

When we imagine a chef, we cannot help ourselves but think about their recognisable white hats and jackets. Truth be told, today, the chef’s uniform doesn’t have to be white. You can find it in many colors and even styles. Alsco alone offers beautiful chef and kitchen staff uniforms in both white and in colour.

Was it always like that? Did chefs always have the luxury of wearing colourful uniforms in the kitchen? Actually, no. The traditional chef’s uniform is always white. Let’s learn more about why and how this came to be.

The History of the Chef Uniform

While there are many other colours available, white is still very often a colour of choice of many chefs. Why do chefs wear white? Let’s take a look back at history.

The chef’s jacket that we know today became common in the late 19th century. The jacket was wide-flapped and double-layered.

The idea was that if the jacket became soiled, all that a chef had to do is to reverse it and he has a clean jacket again, provided that he has not reversed it before. That means that a chef can use a jacket for twice as long. It also offers more protection from the heat.

The first one to develop such a uniform for a chef was Marie-Antoine Careme, who was also believed to be the first celebrity chef. He introduced the double-layered jackets, introduced already existing torques and insisted on the chef uniforms to be white.

But Why White?

Obviously, wearing white in the kitchen can be a problem. It shows stains a lot easier and, when cooking, stains can be unavoidable. But the white jackets are completely practical.

  • White can be bleached – Though white would show stains more easily than other colours, it also means that the jacket can be bleached. That cannot be done with jackets of different colours because the bleach would ruin the colour of the jacket. Today, however, you can just rent the kitchen uniforms and have them washed and ironed for you.
  • White means clean – Yes, you cannot hide stains on a white uniform. But that is the whole point! You shouldn’t! It is a way of assuring the customers that the food they eat was prepared in the cleanest and therefore the safest way possible.
  • White, also, does not absorb heat, so it offers some protection from the intense heat of cooking. Let’s not forget the double layer of the jacket that helps this, as well.

So, chefs wear white because it looks neater and because it is a lot more practical. Now, let’s take a closer look at that uniform. What does the chef uniform consist of? It is more than just a jacket and the recognisable hat. There are the chef apron, the neckerchief, pants and even shoes.
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Chef Apron
Hundreds of different aprons are at your disposal. Explore the fabrics and colours.
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Chef Pants
Effective and comfortable pants with elastic waist fit anybody. Combine with chef jackets.
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Chef Hat
With the back elastic piece, this is an excellent uniform piece for a modern chef.
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The Hat: Toque Blanche

The hat is the most distinctive part of a chef’s attire in the kitchen. The white hat, known as the toque blanche, is what sets a chef apart. These hats have a curious history.

It is said that the hats were adopted from the headgear of the priests of the Orthodox Church. At some point in history, the chefs, just like all other artisans were prosecuted, so they found the refuge in the Orthodox monasteries. The adopted and adjusted the hats worn by the Orthodox priests.

Initially, the hats were grey until they were changed to white by Marie-Antoine Carême, together with the rest of the chef’s outfit.

It was Carême’s idea to make differences in the height of the hats. The experienced chefs got to wear the tallest headgear, while young cooks got ones that were more like caps.

However, the height is not the only status symbol of the chef hat. You need to count the pleats, as well. The more pleats, the more experience the chef has. That number can range from signifying the number of recipes that chef created to the number of ways they can prepare a certain dish.

The Pants: Why Checkered?

We have the hats and the jackets covered, now how about the pants that chefs usually wear?

Pants with black and white checkered patterns or black pants are the traditional outfit of chefs, though that is changing now. The checkered patterns on the pants helped with hiding the stains. That is the simple explanation for the design of the pants and it really was effective when it comes to hiding stains and dirt.

While the pants of the supporting chefs are checkered, the main chef of the kitchen will usually wear plain black pants while working. This is another of the discrete status symbols in the kitchen kingdom.

The Apron and the Side Towels

Though not really part of the chef’s attire, the apron and the side towels are things that chefs always use in the kitchen. Chefs use aprons that are folded on top and then are tied at the front. It should cover the knees and it gives added protection.

The side towel is usually looped to the strings of the apron and it is allowed to hang by the side of the thigh of a chef. The side towels are not meant for drying hands or for wiping surfaces. They are meant for holding on to pots and pans. The towel should not even get wet.

In other words, keep your side towel away from your the kitchen surfaces and only use them to handle hot dishes. If you need to wipe surfaces in your kitchen, make sure you use colour coded food and glass wipes. Grab a tea-towel to wipe your hands if you must, but keep them off your apron and your side towel.
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Food & Glass Wipes
Necessary kitchen items. Highly-absorbent food & glass wipes. HACCP colour coded.
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Tea Towels
Various styles of tea towels and oven mitts. Highly durable and efficient. 12 variations available
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Durable and elegant aprons for every waist. Stylish and sturdy. Will survive any kitchen.
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Neckerchief or Necktie

The tour de cou better known as the necktie or neckerchief that is worn by the chef is also an important feature of their outfit. These days, it is just worn mostly for aesthetic purposes and to make a chef’s outfit look better, but like the rest of the of the chef’s uniform it has a more practical origin.

The tour de cou was originally meant to mop up the sweat on the neck and the brow of the chef as he was going about with his duties. These days, the kitchens have better ventilation so chefs don’t really end up sweating that much that they would need something around their neck to soak it all up.

Here is a handy tutorial about how to tie this neckerchief.

The Shoes

Often overlooked as part of the chef’s gear are the shoes. As in any busy work setting where there are a lot of physical activities going on, the kitchen can be a place of accidents. There are a lot of things there that can fall, like knives, pots and pans.

Hot oil, water and food could get accidentally poured and because of that, a chef should wear shoes that can provide the right kind of protection.

A chef’s shoes should provide protection from falling objects and from slipping. That is why some chefs wear steel toed shoes to offer some sort of protection. They should also be non-slip because the kitchen floor can sometimes be slippery and dangerous because of material that gets poured on it.

In the old days, the shoes were the best protection from slipping and tripping in the kitchen. Today, you have different floor mats that can make the kitchen a safer place.
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Wet Area Mats
Separate the spills and your shoes and prevent slipping. Oil, water and solvent resistant.
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Anti-Fatigue Mats
Improve your staff efficiency by reducing health issues caused by prolonged standing.
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Personalized Mats
Use the floor area to boost your brand image. Place your logo or any other message on a mat.
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Firstly, they can absorb the water and prevent the floor from being slippery. Secondly, they can provide a softer surface for the kitchen staff that usually spends hours standing. That prolonged standing can be taxing for their health. So, good shoes and good mats should work together.

The Clothes Help Make the Chef

You now know a few things about the clothes that chefs wear. From their toque to their jacket, all of those things help chefs perform their duties in the kitchen. When you take their history into consideration, you understand that this uniform is not without its status symbolism and preserved meaning.

Each article has a very practical reason behind it and even the colour they use serves a purpose. The uniform chefs wear in the kitchen is just as functional as any other profession’s.

The next time you see a chef wearing his kitchen uniform, you would be able to appreciate the history and the reason behind it all.

With comfort and style on offer, Alsco chef coats are the perfect workwear for your cooking staff. Laundered and returned to you on schedule, saving you capital costs, this tax-deductible expense makes perfect economic sense too.

Get your free quote about our chef coats that come with unmatched quality, service and price.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Images by Expert Infantry