A chef’s uniform is the easiest way to distinguish yourself when there are lots of cooks in the kitchen. The traditional chef’s uniform common today, a tall hat, white chef’s coat, and black pants, was standardized in the 19th century by French chef, Marie-Antoine Carême. These, combined with a sturdy apron and comfortable pair of shoes, should be included in every chef’s wardrobe.
The most recognizable component of a chef’s uniform is the hat, called a “toque”. Their origin traces back to 16th century France when chefs feared punishment for being too artistic. Chefs would hide in monasteries and wore gray versions of monastic headwear so they could blend in with the order. Carême made them white to represent cleanliness and added pleats to reflect the 100 ways a chef can prepare eggs. The look evolved and now the higher your hat equivalent to a higher status in the kitchen. It’s also handy for keeping your hair out of soup and protecting your head from heat.
”The chef’s coat is double-breasted, usually white (again to suggest cleanliness), and made of thick cotton to protect against heat and splattering liquids from the oven and stove,” said My Chef Coats. They are durable to withstand frequent washing and can be buttoned two ways to hide stains – just in case you find yourself mingling with restaurant patrons.
The apron is an added layer of protection against spills, splatters, and stains. It’s also a spot to wipe your hands in a pinch since health departments frown upon chefs licking their fingers. A bib apron may be better for highly visible chefs who wish to keep their coat as clean as possible. For less visible cooks, a waist apron is probably sufficient.
A thick, elastic-waist pair of chef’s pants protect your legs in the same way the coat protects your torso. They are traditionally black or black and white houndstooth to mask stains.
No outfit is complete without shoes and a chef’s uniform is no exception. A good pair of chef’s shoes will provide plenty of support for feet, knees, hips, and back as you stand at work for up to 12 hours. They will also be waterproof, thick enough to protect your toes against spills and sharp or heavy objects that might land on your feet. They should also keep you from landing on your backside should you step on a slippery floor.
Having a few reliable versions of each of these wardrobe staples will ensure that you are professionally outfitted from head to toe, ready to be a chef in practice and in style.