The Origin of Chef's Whites

By: I. Franklin


The chef's uniform, or 'chef's whites', is synonymous with the profession and has a long history going back through the ages. Traditionally, white was by far the predominant colour and, though fashions and styles have influenced this through time, white still does play a major role.

The largely accepted reason for a chef's attire being white is quite an obvious one – to portray cleanliness and hygiene in the kitchen. However, the design goes far beyond colour alone, ensuring that a full outfit delivers great functionality and protection.

In the public arena, chef's whites are made up of only the jacket and hat. The traditional 'Toque' hat is a much-used symbol throughout the catering industry though, in reality, these are rarely warn except for dress occasions. Moreover, a chef's clothing is also likely to comprise an apron and sturdy footwear.

The Toque hat is said to date back to the 16th Century, where it was a form of protection from the filth that accumulated on kitchen ceilings. Heavily starched sheets, wrapped around a cylinder filled with rags, are said to have been worn, which contributed to the shape known today.

Other stories exist as to how the shape was determined, while further stories abound as to how the pleats were introduced, including being indicative of the chef's prowess. Today, the chef's crowning glory is most likely to be a skull cap, which works to soak up sweat from the brow, prevent hairs slipping into the food and simply look smart.

A chef's jacket is the other instantly recognisable feature of a chef's whites and the style of this has hardly changed over the years. As far back as can practically be remembered, it has had a double-breasted design, allowing for one panel to overlap another in the case of bad staining.

Where modern changes have influenced their design is in the materials and the construction used. Heavy, double-layer cottons are preferred, which provides great protection for the chef against heat and spillages. Non-flammable too, they are safe for use around burners, torches and other naked flames.

Developments in the technology, demonstrated well by top manufacturers such as Tibard, include cooling systems. These help take moisture away from the body and increase airflow, making it much more bearable to work in a hot and humid environment than ever before. Today, black chef's jackets are popular, as are short-sleeved variants.

A full chef's whites uniform should also include a good pair of trousers made from heavy duty cotton like the jacket, as they too offer great protection and functionality. It is in the trousers where the white aspect has really moved away, with most common types now being black or checker-board. However, all different colours and gingham in blues, reds and greens are also popular.

The other important aspect of chef's whites is the apron, which is perhaps the most important item of clothing, providing great protection from the heat and mess of any kitchen. Worn long or short to protect the legs, they tend to come in black, white and checker-board. Any outfit should also be finished off with a good non-slip pair of shoes.

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Ian has worked in the catering industry since leaving catering college and earning his chef’s whites over ten years ago. He currently writes for Alliance Online www.allianceonline.co.uk

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