Throughout history, women around the world have ensured there is food on the table. Yet in the professional sector, men have dominated the top jobs – until recently, when women have also begun rising through the ranks of commercial kitchens.
Clothing manufacturers, however, haven’t fully caught on to this trend. I’ve been wearing chef jackets, also known chef whites or chef coats, for the past 18 years – that’s a lifetime to some. And, in this time, I have held a grudge against one thing in particular; unisex apparel.
Any woman who has worked in ‘one style fits all’ chef jackets knows they are not the most flattering, nor the most comfortable. And don’t even get me started on the pants! How many times have we all heard someone refer to them as a potato sack, or joke, “you could pitch a tent in this thing!”
Unisex jackets all come with the standard traits: the shoulder seam is somewhere between the elbow and the shoulder; the length of the jacket is almost to the knee (and I’m a tall girl); and the width would allow another person to be buttoned in.
Ladies of all figures haven’t had a lot of choice, however. We could buy off-the-rack and have them amended. With apprentice wages though, having jackets tailored was, and is, really a dream for many women.
Once buying online was an option – we could at least look beyond those culinary stores in close driving distance. But this is also expensive, with some chef jackets costing $100-$200 online. And, of course, they come with the question, “will they fit?”. For years, my only option was to put badly-fitting jackets ‘on the shelf’ until I could get enough money to have them corrected – sometimes it was six years later, and getting them altered was always considered a treat.
I remember joining this industry and looking at all the top chefs – yes, they were men – who looked so good in their crisp and sharp uniforms. I can tell you, I didn’t feel the same way.
Eventually, I decided to stop complaining and do something about the standard of apparel for professional female chefs.
I had connections. For the past few years I had collaborated with an Australian company to make aprons and tea towels for my business, Chocolate Artisan. This company also took care of embroidery (my company logo and so on) on my ‘amended’ jackets. Less than a year ago, this company approached me with the question, ‘do you think there is a need for womens chef jackets?’ This was my chance to get down off my soapbox and put my dreams into reality.
So began the journey of cutting, stitching, testing, wearing, washing, ironing, re-pinning, embroidering, tags, photographing, editing, marketing and selling. Now, I have a product and an eBay store through which to sell it (jp_chefjackets).
It’s been a cathartic experience to offer the public, worldwide, an opportunity I never had; a quality Australian product design by women, made by women, for women. It gives a feminine touch to a male dominated industry and, in doing so, makes work more comfortable and safe for women doing long hours in commercial kitchens.