Uniforms: Approach from the left
Modern uniforms have evolved in recent years and are now undoubtedly better suited to the jobs that people perform in terms of practicality and comfort. For example, long gone are the days of starched, sturdy uniforms designed to portray a specific image and in has come a much more practical attitude with even police uniforms now designed to better assist officers in their day-to-day duties.
In the Victorian era, uniforms were designed to send a clear message, for example one of authority, with little thought spared for the practical needs of the job and how comfortable staff felt wearing them. In addition, some employers specified that staff had to purchase uniforms themselves, which limited the design focus, in order to make them as affordable as possible. Although staff are still sometimes required to purchase items such as shirts or sweaters, the cost of required garments is now largely shouldered by the employer which has meant a focus on comfort and practicality has become more widespread.
The rate at which this change has happened differs depending on the specific industry, but something that remains consistent for all is that company logos and imagery are generally embroidered or positioned on the left breast. You’d be surprised to discover that there are a variety of practical and historical reasons for this and a selection are provided below:
1) The origins of this placement can be traced back to Roman times when slaves were physically branded on the left breast to signal who their owners were. The direction we read in is left to right so, as the last part of the body in view, this kind of ‘branding’ would certainly leave a lasting impression.
2) Another origin can be found in the military, where soldiers traditionally wear their medals on the left breast. The reasoning behind this is to give optimal visual impact when greeting someone with a handshake, something which has influenced the moment when we create that all-important first impression – as the majority of us are right handed. Placing imagery on the left allows people to see this in proportion to the rest of an outfit.
3) Continuing the military theme, throughout history people would hold their shield in their left arm during battle to protect the heart. The shield was decorated with a specific coat of arms, and the symbolic ‘shield’ has now moved to the left breast on a shirt.
Although the creative process continues to progress, it’s interesting to take a moment to consider traditions which have influenced elements that are still incorporated into modern workwear and uniform design, and stand the test of time in the face of massive social and economic change.
Nick Acaster is marketing director at Alexandra Workwear
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