Uniforms through History

These days, most industries - from the world of retail, to hospitality and airlines - require their staff to wear uniforms. Uniforms bring practicality as well as identification to a brand. They inspire trust from employees and give them a sense of belonging.
But where did it all originate from, and what did the world's first uniforms look like?


It would seem that it all started in the 16th century with badges. Messengers would wear badges on their travelling coats to identify themselves with their role and the nobility they served. Badges would legitimise the sender of letters, for example. Uniforms, even in the form of badges alone, already demonstrated elevation and trust, and helped to prove the quality of a merchant's goods.


Later on, throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, servants would wear items of clothing emblazoned with the colours and symbols of the family or country they served. They pioneered the logo-branded outfits that we see workers wearing today. However, this type of uniform was created for practicality, with little room for aesthetics. 


Until the late 19th century, doctors wore formal black uniforms, in direct association with death, since most people seeing doctors at the time didn't meet a happy ending. Towards the 20th century, they started wearing the typical white lab coat to display signs of cleanliness & purity. And later, casual scrubs were adopted to portray a less intimidating, more relatable demeanour to patients.


Chefs' hats were first spotted in the 1900s. The chef’s uniform shows how colour can symbolise status while maintaining function. The choice of white isn’t an obvious one, but it is good at deflecting heat, and some chefs believe that white is actually the best colour for blocking the appearance of stains.


Also in the 1900s, the suit became prominent as work wear, immediately promoting professionalism and class. During the 20s it was all about showing off your wealth, demonstrated through elaborate & heavily embellished suits. The fact that gangsters wore suits in the 50s also implies the power of the suit. Nowadays, the business suit is still a favourite for women and men the world over.


The military is also reliant on uniforms as a symbol and utility device. Individual uniform colours are easily recognisable, and the well-known khaki fatigues are renowned for their camouflage in the field of duty.


In the 1940s, flight attendants had to be qualified nurses, so their uniform looked like the older nurse uniforms at the time. Later on, the flight attendant uniform became a focus of designers such as Christian Lacroix, Christian Dior & Ralph Lauren, who each created uniforms for Air France or TWA respectively. Airlines have always held the appearance of their employees in high regard, creating an expectation for passengers on the level of service to be provided during their journey.

What we now think of as a stereotypical work uniform (brand colours, logo, name tag etc) came about with the rise of newer industries such as retail and tourism. Around the same time, chain cinemas began to open, where employees still wear branded uniform to build brand loyalty in customers. 

Through the uniforms of the past we can understand what’s behind the variety of uniforms which surround us today. These industries and many more have understood the importance of a uniform which comes down to one thing: unity.


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