Everything is a Uniform!
Recently, Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) graduate program in museum studies curated an exhibit on what people wear to work– “Work in Uniform: Dressed for Detail.” A historical look at uniforms, the exhibit explored who wears them and why, what uniforms used to look like compared to what they look like now, and how they have shaped and continue to define workplaces and workers.
What the exhibit revealed was the pervasiveness of the uniform service industry. At $9 billion and growing, it’s big business. This is an industry that has been outfitting people in uniforms for more than 100 years and understands intimately just how pervasive uniforms are. Comprised of hundreds of companies, the industry provides and services uniforms and other textiles (floor mats, linen, etc.) to millions of businesses across all industries and service sectors.
The FIT students learned that the definition of a uniform goes beyond the old stereotype. Yesterday’s uniforms were easy to define and, often by their design, identified the wearer’s occupation. Policemen, waiters, nurses, and garage mechanics uniforms are examples. Even today, these are still the first images that come to mind when people think about uniformed workers.
Yet as the FIT exhibit made clear, today’s uniforms don’t necessarily fit the stereotype. Neither does today’s uniform wearer. Uniforms are now worn by nearly every type of professional; from office and sales professionals to manufacturing workers, delivery personnel, and home/business repairpersons. In addition to the traditional and functional, uniforms now include more casual garments—cotton and denim shirts, polos, khakis, dress slacks, and shorts—as well as blazers, button-down shirts, and aprons. If you wear it to work and it identifies you or your employer—it is a uniform, no matter how unlike a traditional uniform it might look.
Many of the examples in the FIT exhibit called attention to the ways in which uniforms reflect customers’ expectations of the wearer. A wearer of the military styled American Airlines captains’ uniform noted, “…If passengers ever saw me wear anything else—a flower print tie or a snakeskin vest—they’d freak out.” This anecdotal evidence was quantified by a Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA) study conducted by JD Powers & Associates. The study explored the characteristics customers attribute to uniform wearers and demonstrated that customers prefer to do business with employees who wear identifying and professional work apparel—uniforms.
More at www.uniforminfo.com.