Working in the restaurant industry, we all recognize that uniforms are an integral part of our everyday life. Our chef whites can reflect the current style or pay homage to our profession. They can keep us safe from spills and flames, and keep us cool under pressure. With so many options out there it is important to find a uniform that works best for you, and fabric is a great place to start. Whether your priority is comfort, safety, durability or some combination of the three, a little fabric knowledge can go a long way.
One of the easiest things to use to compare fabrics is weight. Listed in ounces, this number signifies the weight of one square yard of fabric. In general, the heavier weight a fabric, the more durable and longer lasting it will be, because with every wash and dry cycle that a fabric goes through, a small portion of the fabrics integrity is lost (all that lint in your drier is actually tiny little pieces of your clothing).
Fabrics in the 4.0 to 5.5 oz range are considered lightweight. Usually this weight fabric is used for button-up shirts, like our Baker’s Shirt and some headwear, like our Convertible Chefband. Lightweight fabrics are not as common in chef jackets and pants because they don’t provide as much protection from the kitchen elements.
Mid-weight fabrics run from about 6.0 oz to 7.5 oz. This is a popular weight for both chef pants and jackets. It’s heavy enough to protect the wearer from kitchen hazards, but light enough to keep air flowing and keep you cool.
Fabrics that are 8.0 oz and up are put into the heavy weight category. Most chef apparel stays away from this as it tends to be too hot to wear in the kitchen, but it does make a very durable apron, as shown in our Cobbler Apron.
Unless it is stated directly, weave can be a tricky thing to figure out. The weave of a fabric is determine by the number of threads that run perpendicular to each other and how they are put together on the loom, when the fabric is being made. The most common types are plain and twill. You may have also heard of basket weave; like in our Monarch Jacket, herringbone weave; used in our Pinnacle Jacket, or Pique weave which is featured in our Ambassador Jacket.
Plain Weave: Plain weave gets its name for the simplicity of its composure. The horizontal and vertical threads criss-cross each other in a one-to-one ratio, creating a perfect grid pattern. You will see this type of fabric used most often in button-up dress shirts.
Twill Weave: Twill weaves have one slight difference that completely changes the finished fabric. Each single thread goes over and then under two (instead of one) of its perpendicular counterparts at a time. This creates diagonal ‘lines’ that run through the entire fabric. Twill fabrics are great for uniforms because they are much stronger than plain weaves – so they will hold up longer after many washings. They are also inherently stain and wrinkle resistant (to a point) because of the tighter surface area, allowing less to seep in. The majority of chef jackets, pants and aprons out there use twill weaves as their base fabric.
Knit: Things like t-shirts, socks and Yoga Fusion pants aren’t made from woven fabric (above) at all. They are actually made from fabric that is knit together from one continuous piece of thread. Knit fabric is essentially just a series of interlocking loops – which is why when you get a hole in that lucky sweater of yours, if you pull on the tread it will keep unraveling and the hole will just get bigger. But if you were to get a hole in your chef jacket, pulling on the loose thread will do nothing but snap that hanging thread off. Knit fabrics are very stretchy and don’t hold much shape on their own. With a knit, you get maximum comfort but minimum durability and protection (from heat and spills).
You can think of fabric content as like an ingredient list for the material. As the mix changes so does the fabric’s performance and feel. There are countless combinations, but below are the three key players in chef uniforms.
100% Cotton: It means just that, all of the fibers used in manufacturing the material started out as fluffy puffs of cotton. Where a crop is grown, how it is processed and finished all effect the end result.
The highest quality cottons; Pima, Egyptian, and fine fine are all known for their soft, supple, almost silky finish because the plant itself yields extra long silky fibers and those properties carry through to the finished product. As luxurious as this high quality cotton is, it is not as durable as its heartier cousin (often called “cotton twill”), so keep this in mind when buying 100% fine line cotton. It will look and feel fantastic, but it will not hold up as well under the rigors of a lifetime in a kitchen.
Many clothing manufactures today use the term “cotton twill” to describe 100% cotton twill fabric that is made with good quality fibers but is more durable than Fine Line. “Cotton twill” has a nice soft feel to it, but does not have the slight shine that fine line cotton is known for. Cotton has long been the first choice for chefs because in high heat situations it will not melt as 100% polyester can.
Reverse Blend: A reverse blend (sometimes called “Cotton Rich”) is a fabric that is composed of more cotton than polyester, such as the 60% cotton/40% polyester blend that we use in our Four-Star line of jackets and pants. Reverse blends are good options for someone who is looking for fabric with the feel of cotton but the durability of polyester. 60/40 blends also tend to be more stain- and wrinkle-resistant and more colorfast than 100% cotton, but still have some of the softness and breathability of cotton.
Poly/Cotton Blend: Most often, a poly/cotton blend refers to a fabric that is made up of 65% polyester fibers and 35% cotton fibers. Poly/Cotton blends are extremely durable and less expensive than 100% cotton, making them appealing to many segments of the uniform industry. It can stand up to vigorous industrial washing and still come out looking good. The heavy polyester content makes the fabric much more stain- and wrinkle-resistant than its cotton rich counterparts. This bend has come a long way in the last 10 years and it is much softer and more comfortable to wear than it used to be. Besides durability, one of the major benefits to a 65/35 blend is that we can offer garments in bold, bright colors without fear of them fading quickly because the poly/cotton combination is very colorfast. Check out our Three-Star Plastic Button Jacket line for some great options. Both reverse blends and poly/cotton blends are engineered to be safe in a high heat environment. The upside to any poly blend is that polyester has natural stain-repellant properties, so any liquid that may spill on you is more likely to roll off instead of being absorbed (as with a 100% cotton fabric).
There are countless ways to treat a fabric once it is woven (or knit) into being. Applications have been developed that can be sprayed onto the fabric (or dipped in) to help make the fabric more stain or wrinkle resistant (so that the stain or wrinkles don’t occur in the first place). There are also stain- and wrinkle-release treatments that will help a fabric come clean or let go of its wrinkles in the laundry. Some applications promote wicking, which helps to take the moisture from your skin and move it to the outside of the garment so that you can stay cool and dry. Other applications employ the use of silver to make them anti-microbial or anti-odor and help to kill the microbes that can linger around. With any application, you just need to remember that it will eventually become less effective; the more washings, the shorter the lifecycle. Just as color or printing fades and fibers wear out, so do fabric applications.