Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2001

Uniforms can work for employees and employers

March 25, 2001

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— New day, same dress such is life for workers who wear uniforms.

But that doesn't mean fashion is relegated to the back of the closet.

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology is putting stylish uniforms front and center in a new exhibition organized by the school's graduate students.

"People think of uniforms as old-time blue collar, dull and ugly, but a lot of people more than you think wear uniforms. I can't think of any industry that doesn't wear uniforms except us," says Albina DeMeio, an adjunct professor in the museum studies program.

Stylish and cool are appropriate descriptors for the uniforms at Ian Schraeger-owned hotels.

"At the Paramount (in Manhattan), employees wear navy suits with white shirts because that's the way I walk around," says Schraeger. "At the Hudson (also in Manhattan), the men wear fashionable dark gray suits and the women wear spaghetti-strap dresses, like the guests would wear."

Uniforms are, first and foremost, clothes, not billboards, according to Stan Herman, whose designs are on the backs of Amtrak and Jet Blue employees. They also should be clothes that workers are proud to wear.

"A good uniform makes for a better corporation. It makes people more relatable between different jobs," says Herman, who also is the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Employees appreciate being given clean and spiffy clothing at the employer's expense, he adds.

Hotelier Schraeger says he uses fashionable uniforms to create a bond between the guest, the hotel and its employees. The design of the uniform is as important as any other element of the overall hotel design, he says, especially when the hotel is striving for a hip feel.

In the early 1980s, Schraeger worked with designers like Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani to develop the workers' outfits. Now that designer-label uniforms are trendy, Schraeger is using an in-house design team with the help of a stylist to stay ahead of the curve.

Uniforms have a long history in the United States, says Melinda Webber, an FIT student and co-curator of "Work in Uniform: Dressed for Detail," which runs through April 17

Nurses began wearing their occupation-specific outfits in the 19th century and waitresses have been wearing head-to-toe outfits since at least 1900.

It was around the turn of the 20th century when Angelica, still in business as a uniform manufacturer, began offering a long black dress with a white collar and white cuffs, and an accompanying long, A-line bib apron, Webber says. The Kansas-based Harvey Eating Houses were among the first restaurants to adopt the look.

"Nobody gives a second thought to how people see uniforms, maybe because they're so familiar," says Webber. "It's an identification that everyone sees but doesn't always register."

But the seemingly subtle differences between uniforms say a lot.

The difference between a police officer and a security guard could be a single patch, and the length of the white medical coat separates an experienced doctor from a student.

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