Uniforms in Jobs: A Short History of Workwear

uniformsAdvertisement from the 1940s for men's workwear.

Introduction –

Since ancient times, specific clothing has been used to designate classes of society or differentiate workers from priests and landowners. The evolution of such trends, over the course of centuries, reflects in uniforms, so much so that work uniforms have become a staple in our society. They allow us to understand who is officially working for a specific business. However, work uniforms are nothing new. In fact, they have a long history that many people are unfamiliar with.

17th Century Europe

The first major records of workwear were documented back in the 17th century. Uniforms were handed out to servants who worked at various European courts. Their uniform was comprised of a specific color, form, and had specific decorations that showcased their master’s coat of arms or initials. The early versions of workwear assisted people in identifying what servants belonged to which courts.

Military Induction

After the striking acceptance of uniforms in courts, the military decided to utilize them. Very popular in many countries throughout Europe, military commanders would require soldiers to wear work uniforms while on the job. These were commonly referred to in the day as liveries. The varying array of uniforms served and important function of distinguishing between the different ranks of the soldiers.

18th Century Professions

While many of the professional groups out there had unique items like a badge that identified them for most people, that wasn’t enough. In the early 18th century, these professional groups decided to utilize work uniforms to help differentiate themselves from others around them. Some popular professional groups that instituted the use of work uniforms include postmen, miners, and livery servants. Just as the military had done a century earlier, the ranks of each profession were given different uniforms. This way, people could distinguish between higher-level bosses and lower-level workers. Many of these work uniforms were only put on during major festivals and were not utilized on a day to day basis.

19th Century State Employees

When the 19th century reigned in, many leaders were pushing for everyday uniforms. Their state employees were given specially designed uniforms to wear while performing their daily tasks. The concept behind this was to not only distinguish workers in specific fields but also for various other reasons. First, all employees would have respectable clothes to wear regardless of finances. Second, they wouldn’t have to waste money on extravagant clothes to participate in state festivals.


Work uniforms have come a long way over the centuries. From getting their start as a showcase of a European master’s wealth to becoming a way to distinguish different professions, they’ve developed into an essential need in the workforce. While the reasons for wearing these uniforms have changed over the years, it’s very likely that they’ll be sticking around for many more centuries.

The post was written by Brooke Chaplan. She is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan

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