Jeff Harris
My, how chefs have changed over the years. We dressed three mannequins to represent three different time periods. Styling by Julie Morrison for Mark Edward Inc.
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Chefs’ Wear Daily

Food Arts Staff - January/February 2014

Call it uniform non-uniformity. Dressing for success in restaurants, whether FOH or BOH, is subject to the same fashion winds that buffet the civvie world. Here’s a windy walk through the last 25 years of pro wear.

Watch "So What Are You Wearing" with Daniel Boulud, David Burke, José Andrés, Wylie Dufresne, and Alex Guarnaschelli.

Toques and tuxes were once de rigueur for chefs and waitstaff in the finest restaurants. Now you’re more likely to find T-shirts and tattoos. Over the years, formality has been replaced by casual: linen draped tables have given way to bare reclaimed wood; tableside service, with its attendant flare and flambé, was snuffed out by plated presentations; men flung off their ties, women donned pants, and now both sexes wear jeans and compare tattoos. Restaurant dress codes? What you talking about?

When Michael McCarty opened Michael’s in Santa Monica, California, in 1979, there was no way a waiter in a tuxedo fit into his vision of the modern California restaurant. Instead, he turned to a young designer named Ralph Lauren to outfit his staff in pink shirts and khaki pants. When Chefwear founder Rochelle Huppin started working as a pastry chef in the 1980s, there were no chef uniforms that fit women properly. So she filled a niche by designing a pair of black with white stripes cotton pants when she was working for Wolfgang Puck at Spago. She sold her original inventory out of the trunk of her car, and the rest is history. As open kitchens became the norm, it became increasingly important for the chefs to look cool as much as keep their cool. Baseball caps and intricately inked arms became commonplace. Chefs took to wearing aprons—sometimes colored, as in Thomas Keller’s signature blue one over their whites, sometimes striped, and sometimes self-designed.

These days, you just about know what you’re in for by assessing the get-up of the staff. Spot a hirsute, suspendered bartender: probably a DIY place in Williamsburg, New York, or Portlandia or maybe San Francisco. Spot a chef in a toque and starched whites and a waiter in a tux: probably a classic haute holdover from 25 years ago. Both looks and restaurants are good as far as we’re concerned.

Sources

My, how chefs have changed over the years. We dressed three mannequins to represent three different time periods in uniforms generously supplied by the listed manufacturers.

The Modern Chef: 562 Loose Taper Jeans by Levi’s, Levi.com. 125th Street by Mozo Shoes, MozoShoes.com. Fresh + Local T-shirt and 2-Pocket Bib Chef’s Cotton Canvas Apron in Jalapeño by Flavour Gallery, FlavourGallery.com.

The Female Chef: Max Geneva Women’s Black Slip Resistant Clog by SR MAX, SRMAX.com. Black Skull Cap by Cintas, Cintas.com. Ultimate Chef Pants in Black Chile Pepper and Piped Chef Jacket by Chefwear, Chefwear.com.

The Traditional Chef: Pleated Chef Hat, Knot Button Chef Coat, and Checkered Zip Front Chef Pants by Cintas, Cintas.com. Toul Neckerchief by Bragard, BragardUSA.com. WIL smooth leather clogs from the Walden Collection by Dansko, Dansko.com.

Photo by Jeff Harris. Styling by Julie Morrison for Mark Edward Inc.