The Evolution of Chef Jackets: From Traditional to Contemporary Styles
If you have ever wondered why chefs wear fancy white jackets in the kitchen, the answer spans an interesting combination of history, fashion, and functionality. And, while they protect chefs from spills, splashes, and stains, they certainly do make for a stylish look when you are served by a professional chef in a crisp white jacket.
The history of the chef's jacket
A chef jacket, also known as a chef's coat or chef whites goes as far back as 1822. This was the year that the world's first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, sketched a design of a long sleeve, double breasted jacket, and a tall chef’s hat. The color white was chosen for freshness and to signify cleanliness. His famous sketch showed two chefs dressed in white chef hats, double breasted coats with two layers of buttons, and aprons.
This unique double breasted jacket had another special feature - if it became soiled during the cooking session, it could easily be taken off, reversed, and worn again.
Over the years, chef’s attire evolved and in 1878, the Angelica Uniform Group started mass-producing this design as part of its hospitality and food service apparel offerings. It soon became a standard for professional chefs in kitchens around the globe. Now, a lot of different brands exist, that create cutting-edge uniform for professional chefs or manufacturers that create a separate line to cater to chefs & cooks.
Chef uniform jackets are worn by executive chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, and pastry chefs. A chef wearing this classic chef’s uniform symbolizes professionalism and expertise in the culinary arts.
Chefs jackets are unisex
As with any other uniform, chef jackets were created without much attention to sex differences. Nowadays, there are ubiquitous model lines that cater to both female and male chefs, as well as multiple fitted female options available.
Those who are fans of Master Chef know that both men and women contestants are equally thrilled when they get to wear their first chef’s jacket. Despite of unisex style, this apparel defines professionalism across genders, where men and women work as equals in the culinary world.
Also Read - The History of the Chef's Uniform
What is the traditional style of chef jackets?
The traditional style of a uniform jacket is defined by a double-breasted coat with long sleeves that protect the arms against heat and spills in the kitchen. The coat has a high collar that protects the neck. A traditional uniform jacket is typically made of heavy cotton or canvas, which offers excellent insulation against the heat of commercial kitchens. This fabric should also be durable, so it can withstand frequent washing without fading, shrinking, or stretching.
Adding to the traditional chef uniform are tall hats with pleats, known as Toque Blanche or a chef’s toque. The number of pleats in the tall hats was said to represent the skill of the chef, with one pleat for each method that he could cook an egg. Practically, the high design allows for airflow, and the wide brim catches sweat and helps keeping hair in place, neither of which you want in your food.
Want to know more about chef hats? Check out our article about different chef hats!
Traditional double breasted jackets are often adapted to represent cultural differences. French chefs add black buttons and black piping, while an Italian chef jacket may feature a red or green collar and cuffs.
Additional customisation of chef jackets includes embroidery. All chefs embroid their names on the chef jackets, pretty frequently one can see name of the restaurant and title of the chef next to his or her name.
Branding on a uniform is vital in modern business. Embroidered logos are stitched directly onto the fabric, and images can also be screen-printed using industrial inks. Branding adds unique interesting details to chefs jackets. Branding is ideal for restaurants, catering companies, personal chef’s, roadside inns, or large events. Branded chef coats are a must for teams competing in competitions where a cohesive look of similar attire is required.
The classic chef jacket is usually paired with checkered pants, patterned pants, or pants in a solid color. To add a more imposing feature, many chefs enjoy wearing bib aprons, or an apron that reaches down to their feet, adding to their debonair appearance when serving food.
What are the contemporary styles of chef jackets?
Contemporary chef uniforms have been adapted with a focus on comfort, performance, fashion-forward styling, and ethical considerations.
Many modern chefs choose styles that are sleeker, streamlined, have slimmer cuts, and are less bulky than the traditional chef’s uniform that their predecessors wore.
New style jackets can offer short sleeves for chefs working in very hot climates. They also offer a choice of a single button-down front, replacing the classic double breasted style that created a heavier jacket. Some stylish modern jackets mimic the double-breasted cross-over style, but only feature one set of buttons for a trendy look. Breast pockets can be added for holding pens and other small essentials. Hidden pockets incorporated into modern chefs wear are ideal for holding a mobile phone that the chef doesn’t want to fall into the soup!
While traditional jackets were mostly crafted from heavy canvas, contemporary fabrics are more lightweight for comfort and ease of wearing. 100% combed cottons are breathable and durable. Polyester and cotton blends are also popular for easy cleanup and resistance to stains.
Taking a step away from traditional buttons, contemporary jackets can be fitted with zippers for fast and easy opening and closing. Zippers also provide a more secure closure than buttons, which can come undone during a busy shift in the kitchen. Velcro fastenings are also becoming a popular choice for contemporary chefs jackets. Made with a hook-and-loop design, they provide a secure closure. Velcro closures can be opened and closed easily with one hand and can also be adjusted to provide the chef with a more customized fit.
Splash of color
Contemporary jackets come in a choice of colors. Black or denim is a popular choice to hide stains on a double breasted design. Chefs who prefer white with a contemporary look, can choose jackets with colored trims on the collar, pockets, and seams.
Rising popularity of Happi coats
Japanese chefs have taken the chef jacket to new levels with a loose-fitting design known as a Happi Coat. They are often shorter than traditional jackets and feature short sleeves or wider long sleeves for ease of movement. Happi coats are often black in color and are embellished with ornate embroidered decorations, stripes, or geometric shapes that add a vibrant atmosphere to a restaurant or hospitality venue.
What materials are used in contemporary chef jackets?
In recent years, there has been a trend toward using fabrics that are more comfortable, lightweight, and durable. Breathable fabrics are a great choice for chef coats, considering that the environment is usually hot and sweaty. Moisture-wicking fabrics can absorb sweat and ventilation panels also help with airflow and cooling.
Spills are a part of life in the kitchen and stain-resistant fabrics are becoming a must. Polyester fabrics can be treated with a water-repellent finish that prevents hot liquids from seeping into the jacket and causing stains.
Comfort is paramount considering that chefs work very long hours. Cotton and polyester blends are soft and easy on the skin. They don’t rub or chafe and can withstand repeated washing. Nylon and Spandex materials are known for stretchability and are also lightweight for chefs constantly on the move.
For companies that aspire to environmental responsibility, pure cotton is an eco-friendly choice. Cotton is ethically produced, sustainable, and biodegradable, making it a great option in place of synthetic materials.
Also Read - What Are the Different Types of Chef Hats?
What factors should be considered when choosing a chef jacket?
Here are some factors to consider when choosing a chef uniform:
The material should be lightweight, comfortable, and durable. It must not shrink or stretch with repeated washing. Cotton, polyester, and blends of both are popular choices for a chef uniform.
A classic uniform has a double breasted design with long or short sleeves. Chef's may adapt the design to suit their brand or personal preferences.
The fit should be comfortable, breathable, and easy to wear, aiding mobility in the kitchen.
Modern features like wicking fabrics, pockets, and reinforced buttons add to the longevity, comfort, and practicality of the uniform.
5. Brand reputation
Don’t skimp on cost and quality. Reputable companies may charge more, but their uniforms will be high-quality, long-lasting, durable, comfortable, and functional.
The evolution of chefs jackets has been influenced by practical considerations such as comfort, safety, style, and hygiene. Cultural trends have also played a part in creating new designs. From the classic double breasted canvas model, to lightweight cottons with zips and Velcro fastenings, modern chefs have a wide choice of styles.