When you think about uniforms, it’s not usually design flair or the latest style details that automatically spring to mind. All too often, uniforms = boring uniformity. They’re what you wear because you have to, not because you choose to.
But all that is changing. Out there in the workplace, potential new recruits are selecting where they work because of what they wear to work. Uniforms are becoming a powerful part of brand development for savvy companies. They recognise the added value of commissioning exclusive designs that successfully promote their brand values– while at the same time giving their staff clothes they love to wear.
Who wouldn’t want to go to work in a uniform that takes its influence from high street fashion, and borrows style inspiration from top designers like Paul Smith or Ted Baker – designers whose skills lie in incorporating intricate details into high fashion, with captivating results. It’s those finer details – contrast piping, exposed zips, reflective tape – that are now changing the way we think about uniforms.
More and more companies are turning away from ordering bog standard stock ranges. Instead, they’re commissioning bespoke collections that incorporate details which are exclusive to their operation. These fine details not only help make their staff recognisable to customers, but also give them a sense of pride in wearing a uniform that makes them look good and, in some cases, helps them to do their job better.
And it’s the corporate wear specialists who are helping to drive this seismic shift in our attitudes to workwear, with their own in-house design, pattern cutting teams and experience of those fabrics which best stand the workplace test. They are now being commissioned by companies across a whole range of sectors – beauty and retail, train operators, airlines and airports, hotels and hospitals, tourism and leisure – to create dynamic uniforms that build brands and influence people.
A logo is often the start point
Often, it’s a company’s brand logo and corporate colours that are the start point for drilling down on detail. Next time you travel between St Pancras and Paris or Brussels, look out for the Eurostar staff wearing their chic new uniform and you will spot the ‘e’ of the Eurostar logo, subtly designed into scarves and ties. Our JSD design team recognised it as the iconic element of the Eurostar brand and also incorporated it into the cut and seaming of the tailored suits. And the ‘e’ is even there – embossed as a handcrafted stamp – on the leather strap of the jaunty hat, reminiscent of those ’50s airline stewardess styles.
The prize for the most historic ‘logo’ to be reproduced as a prestigious uniform detail must surely go to Hampton Court Palace. When this historic tourist attraction commissioned a new uniform collection in 2014, it asked for King Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose symbol (the first Royal logo?!) to be an integral part of the look. The in-house designer here at Jermyn Street Design rose to the challenge (no pun intended!), creating designs for a bespoke gilt button and embroidered crest, both based on the Tudor Rose. It was such a special feature that it had to be signed-off by HM The Queen, no less! Apparently tourists who visit this historic location have an expectation that the staff will wear outfits that are intrinsically English and reflect the heritage of the Palace – so it was vital that our design details reflected that. It’s all part of the visitor experience – which is why they’re now lining up to have their photographs taken with palace staff!
Which colours work best for your staff?
For companies that have built their brand around colour, it’s a done deal what shade their staff will be wearing. Go into any Gucci Boutique or fashion store internationally and you’ll see the sales staff wearing chic, minimal separates designed exclusively by the prestige Italian fashion house. They’re all dressed in the Gucci brand colour – black – for maximum impact.
But that attention to detail also extends to fit and function in the workplace. So when Gucci Beauty launched internationally in 2014, and needed stylish uniforms for the in-store beauty consultants, the existing Gucci uniform designs were recalibrated by a bespoke uniform specialist. We had the knowledge to hone in on the detail and achieve a corporate wear fit, specifying high performance fabrics that were fit for purpose in a beauty counter environment. And while you may think that ‘black is black’, it seems that matching the signature Gucci black across five entirely different fabrics really was a nail biting process.
But where they don’t have a brand palette, employers are turning to the specialists for advice on which colours are most flattering and make their staff most approachable – and those that are harder to wear. A recent study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters identified that men wearing red are seen as more aggressive, angry and dominant than those dressed in blue or grey. The research suggested that the British ‘redcoats’ may have been at an advantage at the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon’s troops wore blue uniforms! Bringing it right up to date, the scientists recommend that red ties should be avoided in an interview context! They also point out that they only tested the effect of men wearing red, adding: ‘how a woman in red might be perceived is a topic for future research’. Or then, again, why wait for the research: just post your comments!
Accessories can transform a uniform
Just as a bag or hat can transform a designer outfit, so accessories are now de rigueur for bespoke uniform design. Pure silk scarves and patterned ties are often the key style detail, where a uniform needs to exude opulence and style.
Prints can be personalised to reflect the company’s brand or – especially in the case of a hotel or tourist attraction – an iconic interior or architectural detail. Printed linings that pick-up on brand detailing – think Ted Baker – are used increasingly to lift corporate wear into the higher realms of fashion. But uniforms need to work across a very broad size range and stand the test of time, and so the specialists know they must side-step prints that are too dramatic –because they will be unflattering and date.
The best print designs are small scale and work with subtle colour palettes. The bespoke accessories worn by staff at St James’ Court Taj hotel in London prove that point. The hotel asked JSD to create a heritage-look and our design team visited the Victorian masterpiece, to discover historic architectural details. We identified the iconic scallop shell – the emblem of St James of Compostela – still on the hotel gates, and integrated a geometric shell design into the silk scarf and tie, in soft shades of opulent gold, teal and grey.
It’s no wonder that in today’s competitive workplace the best uniforms are playing a significant role in attracting the best people. And no wonder that top companies are opting to invest more capital spend, time and energy, as they seek out the specialists who can help them perfect every last detail.