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The chef's coat is a double-breasted white jacket typically made of two layers of thick cotton. It is fairly common in finer restaurants to see all kitchen staff wearing a similar uniform: the chef's coat, black and white checked pants, and a chef hat.
The double layering of the chef's coat helps provides resistance to heat. Buttons may either be made of plastic or cotton. The reason behind the cotton buttons is quite simple. They tend to withstand the frequent washings of the coat better than plastic buttons.
Since cooking is a messy business, the double-breasted style of the chef's coat serves an important purpose. It makes the garment reversible so that stains are not visible. The fabric choice of cotton is also quite easily explained. This fabric makes the chef's coat more breathable and thus more comfortable. As well, the white color can be bleached to wash out difficult stains and to keep the chef's coat looking perfectly white.
The chef's coat tradition dates back to the mid-19th century. Marie-Antoine Careme, a popular French chef is credited with developing the current chef’s uniform. The tall hats had already been introduced, but Careme wanted to create a specific uniform to honor the chef. White was chosen for the chef's coat since it is symbolic of cleanliness, something desirable in all kitchens.
Later, the French Master Chef, George Auguste Escoffier would also encourage his kitchen staff to wear suits outside of work so as to preserve the dignity of the chef. Escoffier would bring the traditional chef's coat to London managing the restaurants at first the Savoy Hotel and then at the Carlton Hotel.
In more eclectic restaurants chefs may exert their personal style by wearing a decorated chef's coat. Some chef’s coats now have food inspired prints, like decorative chili peppers. In more traditional restaurants, however, especially traditional French restaurants, the white chef’s coat still reigns supreme and is considered part of a dignified uniform, as well as a practical garment for the chef.
The cotton buttons are mainly used by chefs because if hot liquids are spilled on the coat, it is easier to rip off the coat with cotton buttons than unbuttoning regular buttons.