Can I tell you something? I’m not sure how I feel about this whole uniform thing.
I’ve had more than my share of oddball jobs in my life—raspberry picker, front-desk jockey, proofreader—but aside from a little blue square nametag during my tenure at The Gap in college (“Would you like socks to match?”—yes, it was the heyday of the sock-pushing madness), I’ve never had to wear a uniform.
Well, that’s not exactly true, I suppose. Gym class in high school had a uniform—one that people doomed to some lower level of hell are now wearing, I promise you. Blue and gold are not good colors on anyone, especially teenage girls who experimented a bit too much over the summer with Sun-In (orange hair, anyone?). Blue polyester jogging shorts with white trim, a double-sided, poorly ventilated t-shirt with a big swath across the front to print your name in black smelly magic marker. Knee-high tube socks. (Think about that look for a moment.) The whole getup—unisex, of course—would make Kate Moss look like she’d spent a few extra days grazing at the free buffet. I will spare you the details of the circa-1960s wool (WTF?) swimwear. There is still therapy needed for that getup. God, the eighties were cruel years.
Now, of course, not all uniforms are bad. My dad, a retired police officer, wore a very authoritarian uniform for the entirety of my childhood, and now that he goes to work in a suit jacket and tie, I can’t quite picture it. For decades, it was blue pants, blue shirt, clip-on tie (classy, yes, but you don’t want a perp dragging you to the ground by your neckwear), big romper-stomper boots, shiny badge. I’m sure the sense of authority had more to do with the big Velcro’d on belt full of guns and billyclub and handcuffs, but still, you can’t doubt the appeal of a Man in Blue.
And, of course, any young woman (or gay man) who has ever lived in New York City can tell you the swoony appeal of Fleet Week. Suddenly, out of nowhere—like little spit-shined, dress-white rays of sunshine in a black, gritty, urban-dark sea of grouchy hipster city boys—the streets are full of clean-shaven men (and women, of course) set loose on a defenseless island. Many a young lass has been swept off her feet by the “yes ma’am, no ma’am” charm of a sailor on leave. Try that crap with a savvy New York girl without the uniform and you’d probably get a drink tossed in your face, or at the very least earn some scornful, mocking derision. In truth, most of those outfits aren’t even all that flattering—what grown man wants to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy in a little hat and jaunty tie?—but then, it really doesn’t matter, does it?
Don’t even get me started on the whole fireman thing. A uniform—and you can save me from a burning building? Yes, please. (Sorry, honey.)
So, last week, after the avalanche of knives arrived via UPS, I received the box I was both anticipating and dreading: The Uniform.
In addition to The List provided by the school enumerating all the swank knives and manly tools we needed to buy, there was The Other List, courtesy of ChefWorks. It had been maybe a decade since I had rifled through the ChefWorks catalog (in the—gasp!—pre-internet shopping days), selecting uniform components for front-of-house staff on whatever restaurant we were concepting at the time. (For anyone whom I may have sentenced with a really shitty uniform, I belatedly apologize, since I clearly had no idea what I was doing, other than matching colors to the interior.) The Other List contained the following:
- Chef jacket, white (Okay, standard enough.)
- Black/white checked pants, chef style or baggy (Checked pants? This sounds like trouble.)
- Cool-Vent beanie, black (A beanie, really? Ugh.)
- Long four-way apron (Right on. No trouble there.)
- French blue banded-color shirt (For when we learn table service. Boring, but whatever.)
- Black bistro apron (Finally, something black! My natural habitat.)
UPS guy arrived (look, another uniform!) and brought this. After the fun toys last week, it was like opening that present under the Christmas tree that you knew was full of nothing but socks and underwear. Sigh. This was not going to be good.
For those of you reading who don’t know me, a little backstory. I’m a big girl—in heels, I’m way over six feet tall, and I’m always in heels. And no wafer thin model type either, mind you. Hearty northern european farm stock, I always say. (To wit, I was walking through Pioneer Square here in Seattle yesterday, and an admiring man stopped as I passed and broke into song: “She’s a brick house…” I am indeed mighty mighty, thank you very much.) I love, love, love clothes, but let’s just say that the fashion industry does not design things for women built like me.
Apparently, neither does ChefWorks.
First out of the box, the four-way apron. Nothing to see here, move along.
Next up, the vented beanie. While an improvement over the big paper toque of yore, let me just say, unequivocally, that this is highly unflattering. I usually have a great head for hats, but they need a brim. This one is very, very bad. In fact, I look a little like this:
Moving on, the dreaded chef pants. Now, I have a confession to make. ChefWorks does sell “women’s” clothing, but apparently not in the student program. And, of course, if you want a pair of pants actually cut to fit a body that has hips, they will cost you three times as much. But lucky for me, they come in the same hideous black and white check as the pants on The Other List. So I snuck over to the other side and ordered the unofficial women’s version. Vanity will be stopped by no mere list, I tell you. Just for fun, I order a pair of men’s chef pants too, for comparison’s sake– in case they actually fit, I could save some money (I am unemployed, you know). Foolish, foolish girl. Let’s just say this about those men’s pants:
I will bow down and kiss the feet of the fashion gods–the women’s pants actually fit! And they don’t look so bad, though maybe that’s just the blowback from Hammer Time. They are resolutely not part of the official uniform, but I will sneak them in, and no one will be the wiser. Shhhhhh. If you tell on me, I will cut you with one of my many knives.
Next, French-blue banded color shirt. Meh. Let me tell you, no self-respecting Frenchman would be caught dead wearing this color. And it is HUGE. Like when you had to bring one of your dad’s old shirts to art class in grade school to wear as a smock. I start to suspect something is very wrong with the sizing chart…
On to, black bistro apron. Oddly enough, this looks just fine, maybe even a little swank. Probably because it’s black, which is my fashion safety zone. Though it’s nearly to my ankles—what do shorter students do? Tie it under their armpits like a sundress?
And last, the chef coat. Holy crap! I really never thought I’d wear one of these. The Top Chef theme music starts to play in my head as I rip open the plastic.
Left side, school logo:
Right side—hey, that’s me!
I unbutton the eight million knotted cotton buttons down the front and hold it up. Uh oh.
Size chart FAIL. I apparently bought a chef coat for a Macy’s parade balloon. Or Mario Batali. Seriously, I could belt this and wear it as a dress. I can’t find my hands in here. If it came with tension poles, I could use it as emergency shelter. And there is no time to order a new one before Tuesday. I will walk into my first day of culinary school with a coat down to my knees.
Call the Fashion Police. This is not gonna be pretty.
At least they’ll be in a proper uniform.