Take a peek inside any commercial kitchen around the country and you’ll most likely see at least somebody wearing something that resembles a traditional chef’s uniform. This includes a white jacket, toque, and checkered pants. This traditional uniform dates back to the mid-19th century and is a symbol of professionalism and pride within the culinary community.
Many features of a traditional chef coat were born out of necessity of the job. Today’s kitchens are filled with chef coats in a variety of colors, but traditionally they are white, and it is only recently that chefs have experimented more with color. White represents cleanliness, and the double breasted design allows the wearer to easily reverse the coat to hide any stains they may get on them while cooking. This double layer of fabric along with the heavy weight material used also provides protection from the heat of the kitchen. You’ll also find that many chef coats also have small pockets on the sleeve. This is a more modern addition and is used to hold tools of the trade including pens and thermometers.
Chef pants are traditionally black and white checkered or striped. This aids in hiding food stains that the chef may acquire while cooking. Chef pants have extended beyond the traditional black/white combination to include a range of colors and patterns (including the very trendy black baggy chef pant), but the goal is always the same: appear as clean as possible!
Chef hats also have a significant place in culinary history and are essential to the complete chef’s uniforms. Chef hats (or toques) have been said to have been worn as early as the 16th century. Traditionally, chef hats were high and pleated, with over 100 pleats. It is widely believed that this number represented the number of ways a professional chef should be able to prepare an egg. Over time, hats have changed as well. Many modern chefs prefer to wear shorter options, selecting either a skull cap or more modest chef toque.
Although the chef uniform has changed throughout history to reflect modern needs and styles, it still retains many of its original features and traditions.