if you can’t stand the heat, take off your trousers

Chef and writer Gizzie Erskine talks us through the ever changing face of the chef’s pant.

by Gizze Erskine
03 November 2017, 5:21pm

It ain't been easy, but in general, today's working women are able to choose not only their career, but the clothing in which they work. Ugh, I wish I was saying that with a sense of irony, but it has only been fairly recently that even school uniforms have questioned that some girls might be more comfortable wearing trousers -- let alone having them evolve with the growing female figure inside them.

It seems shameful that it's only been in the last few years that we've questioned this: conventional femininity, uniformed androgyny, function over fashion, fitting in over standing out. Like career choice, uniform codes have not always been this open. The evolution of workwear has stemmed from the drab beginnings of strict work attire long before shoulder pads were acceptable with an espresso in the boardroom. Working women of the 1920s and 30s were typically young and expected to leave employment on getting married. In order to ease the transition from working women into house wife, the uniforms -- comprising of neat dresses and separates -- reflected contemporary fashions of the time. It's impossible not to notice that constrictions within women's options and roles in society were echoed in the physically constricting nature of their clothing. Post-war, there was a shift in attitude, a burgeoning freedom of movement for both the individual and women in general. Clothing of the late 20th century developed to reflect the growing presence of women in the workplace. The 1980s saw the birth of the 'power suit' as women adopted more masculine silhouettes, epitomised by shoulder pads, sharp tailoring and strong attitudes.

Today, like the rest of our lives, we have an abundance of choice: shorts or skirts, dresses or trousers, long or short sleeves, printed or plain, heels or flats. Even women who work in kitchens now have trousers designed specifically for them in an array of colours and styles to allow them self expression behind the grill.

"Even though we may no longer view the suit as conventional workwear, if your style is consistent and clear it can still be considered uniform," states Professor Frances Corner, head of London College of Fashion. "The important part is making sure it represents you as an individual, both professionally and personally."

"I can't even begin to tell you how hot kitchens get. Imagine being inside a pizza oven and you're somewhere towards the right territory."

This statement reflects how far workwear has come in the past centuries: from a compulsory uniform code to becoming another form of self expression. Even in industries where uniforms are compulsory, niche brands are popping up to meet the demands of the more fashion conscious women at the forefront of those industries.

Personally I hadn't worn the most up to date elasticated waist banded style chef's trousers since I was last working in restaurants 15 years ago. They hurt, those waistbands! I've always found traditional whites to be restricting too. And hot -- I can't even begin to tell you how hot kitchens get. Imagine being inside a pizza oven and you're somewhere towards the right territory. Putting on my uniform wasn't like putting on war paint, I didn't feel any more ready for battle as I would rustling up a Sunday roast at home, because It never felt cohesive with the job at hand. Eventually though, I started to do pop-up restaurants, and doing my own thing in the kitchen meant I could do my own thing with my style too. I started wearing high waisted jeans and tucking in my t shirt. I swapped clumpy clogs for Dr Martens. And while this wasn't entirely a vision of my own self expression, it felt more functional.

Does wearing my own style make me a rebel? Who knows. But I know I'm not the only one.

Pairing up with Michelin starred chefs for collaborations and at fundraisers, I've been told I'm being disrespectful to the industry, or that I'm not "a real chef". Someone told me I looked like I should be working in a pizzeria -- despite the fact that at the end of the day, we are all doing the same job: cooking.

"Does wearing my own style make me a rebel? Who knows. But I know I'm not the only one."

My eureka moment came, like so many do, cruising Instagram. Maxine Thompson was a chef making chefs trousers for girls like me. She had found the solution to every problem I'd had -- with the same style trouser I'd been wedging myself into. Maxine's interests ran outside of food: music, fashion and makeup influence her, and she is happy to stand out in an industry that doesn't really recognise these things. I pretty much rugby tackled her into a friendship and together we conjured up high-waisted, super fitted, sexy-but-practical leopard print chef's trousers.

I'm happy to say that it's not just women who are after a pair, either. Times are changing. My closest male chef pal Neil Rankin doesn't wear chef's whites either. "They're too hot," he says, "and formal. And they're a bugger to wash. And chefs never wear the right size, and they are beyond shocking at ironing. So they just look terrible." But there might be an ulterior motive for his chefs wearing aprons over whites. "When we take them off we can blend in with everyday people and hit the pub quicker without having to change."

Gizzi Erskine x PolkaPants are available exclusively online at PolkaPants.

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Gizzi Erskine