The traditional chef’s uniform (or chef’s whites) includes a toque blanche (“white hat”), white double-breasted jacket, pants in a black-and-white houndstooth pattern, and apron. It is a common occupational uniform in the Western world. In the middle ages, doctors were only available for the rich, hence, chefs had a high public standing similar to doctors, which may be a reason for wearing white. The chef buttons also have a meaning; while qualified chefs wear black buttons, students wear white buttons. Kitchen brigades used to be massive, although today, chefs must be occupied in various areas of the kitchen, thus, being in charge for only one section is hardly possible anymore.
The toque is a chef’s hat that dates back to the 16th century. Different heights may indicate rank within a kitchen, and they are designed to prevent hair from falling into the food when cooking. The number of folds can also signify a chef’s expertise, with each pleat representing a technique that has been mastered.
In more traditional restaurants, especially traditional French restaurants, the white chef’s coat is standard and considered part of a traditional uniform and as a practical chef’s garment. Most serious chefs wear white coats to signify the importance and high regard of their profession. The thick cotton cloth protects from the heat of stoves and ovens and protects from splattering of boiling liquids. The double breasted jacket is used to add protection to the wearer’s chest and stomach area from burns from splashing liquids. This can also be reversed to hide stains. Knotted cloth buttons were used to survive frequent washing and contact with hot items. White is intended to signify cleanliness and is generally worn by highly visible head chefs. Increasingly, other colours such as black are becoming popular as well.
Chefs’ clothing remains a standard in the food industry. The tradition of wearing this type of clothing dates back to the mid-19th century. Marie-Antoine Carême, a popular French chef, is credited with developing the current chef’s uniform. The toques were already used, but he sought a uniform to honour the chef. White was chosen for the chef’s coat to signify cleanliness. Later, the French master chef, Georges Auguste Escoffier, brought the traditional chef’s coat to London, managing the restaurants at the Savoy Hotel and then at the Carlton Hotel.