Wear in the world

13 December 2004
Wear in the world

Workwear for the hospitality industry has a pretty tall order to fulfil. Not only must it be stylish to convey the right message to customers, and comfortable for the employee to wear, but it must also be able to withstand the rigours of an active working environment.

Essentially, it comes down to the fabric from which the garments are made. "The fabric used in the manufacture of uniforms has a major impact on all aspects of the garment - the look, the feel, the life, and how the garment needs to be cared for," says Debbie Leon, founder and director of Fashionizer.

Denny's says modern suit fabrics are becoming lighter and more comfortable to wear thanks to finer weaving and increased use of man-made fibres blended with wool
Natural-fibre fabrics such as cotton and wool, or those containing a high proportion of natural fibres, tend to be more expensive than man-made fibres. "The advantages of natural fibres are that the fabric has body and moulds itself into a variety of styles," says Leon. "And because they adapt to body temperatures, natural fibres keep the body warm in winter and cooler in summer. They also release dirt and odours when cleaned." But there are drawbacks. Natural fibres can have a lower abrasion resistance and therefore do not have the life expectancy of those mixed with man-made fibres such as polyester, the presence of which makes fabric stronger. And while wool tends not to crease badly - and any creases will fall out if the garments are hung up - cotton can crease badly and requires careful ironing. "Cotton is a natural product and feels good against the skin, it breathes well and wears nicely," says Sally Russum, of supplier Russums. "There are different grades of cotton, and cheaper ones can be hard to iron and can crease. It also fades over time and can shrink slightly when originally washed." Traditionally, 100% cotton has been used in chefs' jackets because the conditions in the kitchen require uniforms to be cool and absorbent. "But a cotton/polyester blend is preferable in many garments as the polyester provides easy-care properties - hard-wearing, machine-washable, and minimal ironing required, yet cotton still provides the comfort factor," says Heiko Rees, managing director of Simon Jersey. Paul Goodfellow, managing director of Continental Chef Supplies, knows from experience that cotton plays a significant part in chefs' jackets. "When I worked in kitchens I would wear a white cotton T-shirt under my jacket to absorb sweat. This is still done widely throughout Europe, although British chefs tend to prefer a jacket that encompasses the cotton effect into the jacket as a one-piece," he says. Consequently, his company supplies the De Berkel Maitre chefs' jacket made of a 50:50 cotton and polycotton mix with the cotton woven on the inside of the garment. And he claims the jackets will typically stand 80-100 industrial washes compared with standard cotton jackets across the industry that are made with 100% cotton which he says typically stand up to 60-80 washes at home, or 30-40 in an industrial washer. There have been other advances in fabric technology aimed at increasing the comfort of chefs. Coolmax is a fabric that was originally designed for the sports industry but is now being used for chefs' jackets. "A Coolmax back panel allows improved airflow through the fabric and helps wick away moisture to keep the wearer cool and dry," says Russum. Another development has seen jackets from Johnsons Stalbridge Linen Services with a Permagard finish on the fabric designed to control and prevent growth of a wide range of bacteria, fungi, algae and yeasts that cause food poisoning. Outside the kitchen, Simon Jersey's Rees says front-of-house uniforms are increasingly using fabrics in polyester/wool or polyester/wool/Lycra combinations for machine-washable, crease-resistant garments with the Lycra content giving flexibility and shape retention and being a prime example of the advances in fabric technology that have played a key part in shaping the uniforms worn in the industry today. Fashionizer's Leon says Lycra enables fabric to have more stretch and is very comfortable to wear. She continues: "It has also impacted on the styling of uniforms as you can make a garment more fitted with the knowledge that the fabric will give when worn and therefore won't be tight." For Nick Jubert, a director of Denny's, Lycra has a key part to play in wool-mix suits where even the jacket is washable. "Generally the more washable fabrics have a larger percentage of man-made fibre and also an element of either mechanical stretch or added Lycra to keep their shape and good looks," he says. "Modern suit fabrics are becoming lighter due to finer weaving, and increased use of man-made fibres blended with wool means they're extremely comfortable to wear." Corporate clothing company De Baer supplies machine-washable jackets and says the Lycra and polyester content makes for easier care. "Front-of-house staff need to be suited and booted, and uniforms need to be hard-wearing - to cope with wear and tear from sitting down and going out to meet guests in the rain - and smart," says founder Jacqueline de Baer. The company was commissioned to update the uniforms for Thistle Hotels to reflect a more modern look. "The previous uniforms were a palette of bright colours but the new look is more understated," says de Baer. "The new colour is charcoal and gives a classic, minimalist look
At the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park the new uniforms for the restaurant and bar staff had to reflect the modern style and colour palette of the interiors while incorporating the Oriental origins of the hotel. Fabrics used by Fashionizer included silks and translucent fabrics in a subtle range of gold and brown. It was agreed with the client that the life expectancy of these garments would not be the same as wool or wool-mix garments, but a life of nine to 12 months on the high-profile jackets for four hostesses was acceptable, as the impact of greeting guests in this outfit was worth investing in shorter-life garments. Things to consider
Simon Jersey says a cotton/ polyester blend is preferable in many garments as the polyester provides easy-care properties, yet cotton provides the comfort factor
- While style is a major factor, comfort and practicality should be prime considerations when making the choice. - It's very important to understand how the fabric will perform in the working environment. If the area is warm, the fabric should be lightweight and breathable to allow air to circulate the body and escape. In cooler conditions, a heavier-weight cloth will trap a layer of warm air around the body to keep the wearer warm. - Smart and comfortable uniforms can help to build team confidence and give a strong sense of corporate identity. - A garment designed purely to create an impressive first appearance will weaken after several washes. - With frequent staff turnover, the ability to purchase a replacement uniform at short notice is vital. - Colourfastness is an important consideration. A 100% cotton jacket in navy, while very comfortable, will have a durability problem in that the colour will run, whereas a 100% polyester navy jacket has no problem with colourfastness, but won't provide the comfort. Many choose a blend of both. Contacts Continental Chef Supplies 0808 100 1777 [www.chefs.net](http://www.chefs.net) De Baer 020 7840 3000 [www.debaer.co.uk](http://www.debaer.co.uk) Denny's 01372 377904 [www.dennys.co.uk](http://www.dennys.co.uk) Fashionizer 020 8995 0088 [www.fashionizer.com](http://www.fashionizer.com) Johnsons Stalbridge Linen Services 01747 851585 [www.stalbridge-linen.com](http://www.stalbridge-linen.com) Russums 01709 372345 [www.russums.co.uk](http://www.russums.co.uk) Simon Jersey 0870 111 8800 [www.simonjersey.com
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