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Professional cooks and chefs are known for their distinctive uniforms. Traditionally attired in white coat, hat, pants and apron, the chef may now appear in black, blue, pink or a rainbow of other colors. Individual establishments require different presentation and uniform standards based on safety, cleanliness and professionalism. More formal kitchens may adhere to classical standards, including the typical tall toque, while casual establishments may allow their cooks to wear shorts.
Chef uniforms are primarily designed for safety and functionality. The traditional double paneled chef jacket provides protection from excessive heat as the cook reaches over a hot stove or grill. Its long sleeves protect forearms from burns from flaming pans or hot handles. The coat's French knot buttons quickly come undone in the event of a grease spill or fire. Chef pants are loose fitting and designed to be removed quickly in the event of an accident. An apron provides an extra layer of protection against heat and spills. Shoes should always be nonslip or nonskid. Clogs are a traditional part of the chef uniform because they slip off quickly in the event of a hot liquid spill.
Wearing a proper chef's uniform ensures cleanliness in the food preparation environment. Chefs must wear hats or hairnets for sanitary reasons. Neckties that help to absorb sweat might also be part of the chef's uniform. Restaurants may provide workers with uniforms and a laundering service to ensure cleanliness. Chefs who cook in front of the public in open kitchens or in banquet settings may wear special uniforms only for those occasions to present an especially clean image to the customer. In addition to dress code, chefs must adhere to a level of personal hygiene and conformity based on an employer's specifications regarding hair cut and color, piercings, tattoos and jewelry, as well as facial hair and fingernail length.
Although chef uniforms are often loose fitting, reminiscent of pajamas, they are in fact a symbol of professionalism. Classically, any uniform represents an individual in a skilled trade. European traditions include hats of different heights or aprons of different colors representing the hierarchy in the "brigade" or leadership structure in the kitchen. Restaurants may have custom dyed or embroidered jackets to fit their corporate image, and head chefs may custom tailor uniforms.
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