What is the history behind modern-day work uniforms and how did they come about?
There is no doubt about the fact that a thoughtfully-designed corporate uniform benefits any business. From medical care facilities to hospitality brands to restaurants, the positive effects that the right work uniform has on a brand have long been established. What few of us know, however, is how the practice of wearing work uniforms actually started – and who started it.
So, we did a little digging into the history of uniforms.
The History of Uniforms: In-Depth
In the medieval era, the first forms of uniforms would be badges, which were the easiest and clearest way to denote belonging to a particular group or house and were often used in the royal houses of the era, given the limitations and expenses of garment production. With the advent of fabric and garment technology, textile mass production became possible, thus giving rise to the use of liveries, the special non-military clothing worn by messengers and servants, tailored to bear the insignia and/or the colors of the house that they belong in.
Aside from livery, the earliest recorded history on work uniforms indicate that the postmen are among the first designated with occupation-specific apparel. In 1700s Britain, the General Post Office secretary ordered that all the postmen wear a visible brass ticket on their regular clothing. Sixty years later, Britain’s Mail Coach Guards were assigned a scarlet coat with blue lapels, the red being a way to confuse would-be robbers – a massive problem for the postal service at the time – with military personnel who also wore red coats.
After the fall of the aristocracy following the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars, and the establishment of new governments and leaderships, state officers and other governmental workers were assigned military-inspired uniforms that were designed to deliver a message to the people: that they are run by an organized administrative government as opposed to the elitist, excessive monarchies that preceded them.
From the workers’ end, certain types of clothing began to reflect specific occupations, borne out of pragmatic reasons. For instance, the rise of the Industrial Revolution marked a colossal shift in occupational choices and sparked a mass exodus from the farms of the countryside to industrial workplaces. This period marked the prominence in the use of denims as industrial workwear – designed to withstand harsh environments and provide multi-functional uses – for miners and other manual laborers.
Meanwhile, in the healthcare industry, the nursing profession has experienced several breakthroughs, transitioning from the voluntary work carried out by nuns into an actual profession. These transformations are clearly marked in the changes of their uniforms – beginning with the ultra-modest and lengthy tunic dresses and hefty aprons of the Florence Nightingale era and ending with the uniforms that we now know today.
The advent of the 20th century was also marked by a new economic boom that precipitated the mass production of new fabrics, including ones that were designed for specific use in certain workplaces. For example, waterproof oilskin fabrics became associated with its primary users – sailors and fishermen – and thus created the look we now associate with those professions.
Modern fashion, the rise of democracy in the Western hemisphere, and mass production have all bolstered a new era in corporate wear: workwear that reflects and communicates the company’s philosophy.
The Work Uniform Today
Technological advances as well as the incorporation of customer perception into the design have both brought more variety when it comes to work uniforms. What has remained consistent, however, is the importance of quality.
Business owners, employees, and customers alike can all agree that a well-made work uniform is the mark of true attention to detail, craftsmanship, and meticulousness that can only come from companies that care about their brand.