Why Chefwear Is The New Workwear
You might not think it at first but the restaurant industry and the fashion industry have a hell of a lot in common. Both take something that’s ostensibly essential (clothing, food) and turn it into a luxury product – an inessential comfort that’s capable of making you feel really, really good about yourself.
As well as being two things that provide me with immense pleasure – and two things which eat away at my bank account at the rate that Pacman eats pellets – another facet that the fashion and food world have in common is that they’re both dominated by trends. Buffeted by the constant fluctuation of “what’s hot” and “what’s not”, chefs and fashion designers have always had to adjust the products they make by capitalising on trends like heroin chic or haute cuisine. Trends that they have, in part, helped to create and manufacture from the top-down.
In recent years, however, we’ve seen that an increasing number of trends have started coming from the bottom-up. The influx of influencers and the ever-increasing importance of social media has flipped the power dynamic between creator and consumer; professional chefs and fashion designers have, as a result, had to become reactive rather than creative. No longer the ones in charge of telling consumers what to eat or how to dress, they’re now at the mercy of whatever viral trend is happening on TikTok or Instagram. Teens with iPhones and side-partings are the new Anna Wintours of the fashion world and the same can be said for the ring-light toting food influencers that decide what cheesy monstrosity is going to be the most hyped item on your menu. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing – it’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and the way you have to make sure to grab a quick snap of that molten chocolate cookie cross-section when it does. Food and fashion trends are now, whether we like it or not, dictated by those who consume it rather than those who make it.
Thankfully, amidst that filter-heavy mayhem and democratisation of what constitutes taste, brands like Service Works exist to provide some much-needed balance to the force. Looking to cater directly to the hard-working restaurant workers and people making your food behind the scenes, Service Works specialises in making fashionable and comfortable chef garments.
Born in 2020 out of owner Tom Chudley’s love for elasticated waists and good food, the brand has come on in leaps and bounds recently thanks – in no small part – to social media. They’ve collabed with shit-hot restaurants in London and have become something of the trouser du jour for anyone with a trendy up-and-coming small plates pop-up. Service Works exists exactly at the centre of a Venn diagram of interests between food and fashion hypebeasts.
“Service Works was born out of a long love affair between myself and my work uniform,“ Tom tells MOB Kitchen, “I grew up working in kitchens and have found myself wearing them consistently for the last 10 years without really noticing. I'd seen fashion brands doing corny takes on chef pants but not really hitting the mark, or high-fashion brands playing on it, but no one seemed to be interested in making a trouser to suit everyone and serve its real purpose. During my time working in kitchens, I basically had the choice of a mass-produced, disposable trouser provided by work or, if I was lucky enough, I could wear my own hard wearing pants which were usually too hot and cost more than they should for the beating they needed to take! I wanted to create something that sat in-between the two and enabled me to work directly with the chefs I admire.”
Service Works' trade trousers are made from a light, kitchen-friendly polycotton and are exactly what you should be wearing if you work in a busy restaurant. Manufactured using classic workwear construction with durable fabrics, they provide a stylish and comfortable alternative to unsustainable and disposable chef trousers. They’re good for the environment and the ‘gram.
As well as that kitchen-friendly clobber, Service Works also produce a range of hoodies, T-shirts, trousers, and hats that you can wear even when you’re not being beaten by the heat of a salamander. Like Carhartt and Dickie’s, Service Works’ functional appeal stems from how it’s not a brand that overtly panders to trends. “I'm not anti-fashion, says Tom, “I just don't really pay attention to what's going on in that world and feel it doesn't play a huge part in what I do.” It is, of course, that fashion-agnostic ethos that makes Service Works so fashionable.
The Service Works classics range – which is what you should be nabbing if you don’t actually work the pass but want to look like you do – shares all the same features as a traditional pair of chef trousers but is constructed using a heavier, more durable weighted fabric. They’re pretty goddamn bulletproof and just as fitting for daily use down the skate park as they are in front of a hot stove. That grip tape durability was something Tom intended from the get-go, and something it becomes obvious that he’s put a lot of thought into when I ask about the Rodney Mullen-meets-Marco Pierre White crossover that exists between the skate scene and the restaurant industry.
“A lot of the sensibilities are shared and the two often attract a certain personality type, “ admits Tom, “from a mental point of view, they're both fast-paced, creative outlets where you get quick results. If you're in the middle of service or bombing a hill, you're kind of a passenger and the pace is intense – every split second counts. They're both pretty high-risk, high-reward and if you drop the ball, things go bad in a big way, but when you pull it off it's the best feeling ever.”
On a purely creative level, there are a seemingly endless number of interpretations and no definitive “right” or “wrong” approach when it comes to skateboarding and cooking. “Anyone from any background can bring their own version to either and succeed in a niche they've created for themselves,” says Tom. “I also think, from a social point of view, they share a very respect-driven hierarchy. Sadly, this often goes to the extremes and is not a healthy way to run things – talented people leave both worlds when it turns rotten. When implemented in the right way, though, the core of it is to respect and look out for each other.”
Hard work is still necessary to succeed but the increasingly open nature of food media, and the mainstream sex appeal that being a chef now offers, has definitely been a boon to Service Works’ appeal. It seems like everyone with an iPhone and an Instagram account wants to open up a street food pop-up and charge punters £11 for a katsu burger nowadays and Service Works has become something of a secret handshake for those that hold that desire. It’s a brand that, in Tom’s own words, has been “designed for chefs but adapted for all”. A trouser that doesn’t care where you’re from or where you’re going.
That “for all” outlook is even reflected in how the clothes are made. All of Service Works’s goods are currently made with the brand’s manufacturing partners in Pakistan. Tom works hard to support talented people within the garment industry over there and is keen to place a focus on providing staff welfare and health benefits in a country where many seamstresses and pattern cutters are not entitled to them.
London-made garments are also coming soon. “We've been working on getting the London-made pants right for a few months now, “ says Tom, “it's not something we want to rush and it's an offering I'm hoping to keep in stock all year round. I can't wait to be able to offer them up, they've been in my mind since day one of Service Works! We're currently sampling the final versions and expect them to arrive in late summer.”
If you want to support an independent business run by passionate individuals then a pair of Service Works trousers should definitely be on your wish list. Especially if you’ve got dreams of working in a restaurant. “There's nothing that makes me happier than seeing Service Works being worn in kitchens,” says Tom. And I hope we can all agree that, at a time where restaurants are more in need of staff than ever before, that’s a very worthy aim indeed.