What Is The History Of The Work Uniform?


Work uniforms are important to convey an air of unity and professionalism. Businesses also need their employees to wear uniforms so they can easily be recognized for help and support. In a healthcare facility, for instance, nurses and doctors wear scrubs so the patients and their families know that their cases are being handled by qualified professionals.

More than identification and evoking feelings of trust, occupational uniforms can serve as protection against potential work hazards. Workers with different risk-prone jobs wear personal protective equipment at work, and these vary whether you’re a window cleaner, roofer, automotive mechanic, or machine operator.

Have you ever wondered how history shaped the need for work uniforms and how they’ve evolved over the centuries?

Middle Ages (5th-15th Centuries)

Considering the complexities and costs involved in mass-producing fabrics and garments, badges were the first attempt at establishing work uniforms. The concept of wearing occupational uniforms was closely tied to the identification of specific job roles, or the worker’s affiliation with a certain employer or a royal house.

In the Middle Ages, the lords and the army were two major employers. There’s a third group of badge wearers, however—the traders who belonged to specific guilds. These badges worked in the same way as they do today: to denote high-quality products and services, as well as trust.

Badges then became a form of identification of status, affiliation, or occupation. Not so much different from the reasons why employers these days are compelled to ask companies such as Keswi to make office garments for them.

Modern Period (15th-18th Centuries)

As people learned how to produce fabrics and textiles en masse, the use of liveries, which are non-military clothing typically bearing the emblem or colors of the house they worked for—also increased exponentially. They’re typically worn by servants in the European courts around the early stage of the modern period.

Aside from reflecting the insignia and colors, liveries also bore the signs of rank and distinction, as well as the financial capacity of the servant’s master.

During the 16th century, messengers also wore liveries for ease of recognition. Apart from wearing their regular coats, these ancient postal workers wore a badge on their chest or cap bearing the coat of arms of the city or noble court they belong in. And, around 1700, it was said that the British postmen joined the ranks of workers required to wear work-specific symbols when the post office secretary declared that all of the department workers should wear a conspicuous brass ticket on their apparel.

The semblance of first-ever occupational uniforms may be attributed to Britain’s mail coach guards, who, around 1760, were required to don a red coat with blue lapels, strongly resembling military personnel, with the blue lapels separating the two workers.

Soon, other European countries followed suit. Around 1785 in modern-day Germany, Prussian ruler Frederick II approved his general postmaster von Werder’s advice to require the use of uniforms for all postal servants, and on a daily basis.

Fifteen years later, around 1800, occupational uniforms became a must for state employees in the majority of European nations. Work uniforms also had a political symbolism to them. Newly-established states wanted to get rid of their Aristocratic and Church-centered past, and wearing uniforms seemed to give the impression that the state was now being run by competent and fair administrations.

In most areas, government officers had to wear uniforms with embroideries in silver and gold threads. Some states were okay with colors and designs. However, in modern-day Germany, uniforms had to come in a deep blue shade.

19th Century Occupational Apparel

During this period, the issue of wearing uniforms was no longer deeply hinged on recognition and reflection of ranks. Occupational apparel in the 19th century evolved to something that made specific types of employees more confident in carrying out their jobs.

For instance, the continuing rise of the Industrial Revolution pushed workers to choose denim as their first choice of workwear, being that this fabric can withstand harsh working environments and can be used by miners and other labor-intensive workers.

In Britain, however, most coalmen and manual laborers wore heavy boots, corduroy pants, and cotton neckerchief to absorb heavy sweat. Their marine counterparts typically wore denim flared trousers, knitted jumpers, blue peacoats, and, perhaps, the piece of clothing that symbolized seafarers for ages, striped undershirts.

The nursing profession, which actually started as a practice carried out voluntarily by nurses in previous years, now became a full-time career. Hence, this period saw a shift in their uniforms, from tunic-style dresses and aprons to modern-day uniforms.

20th To 21st Century Work Wear

Work clothes became fashionable at the turn of the century, only to be negatively impacted by the Great Depression, which ran from 1929 to 1939. As the industries started recovering in the aftermath of the economic slump, office apparel became modest and uninteresting.

Office wear picked up again after World War II, and workwear become as flashy as the era that dominated the fashion industry in the 50s and 60s.

Work uniforms incorporated bold colors, exaggerated collar sizes, and starched business suits. The trend would continue in the 80s. In the 90s, employees saw the grunge period being integrated into the work uniforms. Fashion and individuality were the main influencers of work uniforms in this era. Pretty soon, even gender-based workwear may disappear.

The Modern Work Uniform

Modern work uniforms are typically driven by the need for brands to expand. As a company opens its doors to customers overseas, they want to give assurance that the clients will receive the same top-notch products and services that the company is known for. Hence, employees connected to the brand should wear the company-required apparel.

These days, however, occupational uniforms have become more flexible in terms of colors, designs, and materials. Fabrics made from advanced manufacturing technologies are being used by some companies to provide comfort.

No matter the color or size, an office uniform should convey the company’s philosophy, and reflect the quality that accompanies every fabric or thread. Well-made company apparel translates to good craftsmanship and keen attention to detail, among other positive qualities.


Final Thoughts

The evolution of occupational uniforms has been driven by various technologies in fabric production and the type of work an individual has. Fashion, individual tastes, comfort, and work safety are also key considerations.

Above all, a high-quality uniform should be your company’s priority. It not only reflects upon the staff or wearer, but it also demonstrates the values of a brand, as perceived by the public.



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