Imagine a company’s senior management sitting down to discuss the design for new uniforms. The company hasn’t had a new uniform in years, and management wants whatever they decide on to be both eye-catching and usable for the foreseeable future. Where they go with their color choices could end up being particularly important.
Uniform colors might be adopted in some cases for purely aesthetic reasons. In other cases, colors might be chosen in concert with a company’s branding. Yet there are situations in which uniform color goes beyond mere aesthetics. There are times when it’s a matter of security and visibility.
Until recently, Navy personnel assigned to the brig have worn their utility uniforms. These are their normal work uniforms worn during normal, daily activities. Navy officials recently decided to change that due to heightened concerns about security and identification. As a result, new uniforms are being issued to brig detainees.
The uniforms come in only two colors. Dark brown uniforms are issued to those detainees still awaiting trial while tan uniforms are reserved for post-trial detainees. The uniforms are also exceptionally plain. They are void of any markings – including rank – other than a simple, white name tag on the right breast. There are no patches, medals, or other added identifiers of any kind.
Navy officials say the change was necessary due to ongoing confusion. When detainees are wearing their normal utility uniforms, it can be difficult to distinguish them from non-detainees. This creates a security problem. In addition, service uniforms made it impossible for brig personnel to easily identify those prisoners awaiting trial from those who’s day in court has already come and gone.
It’s easy to see the benefits of color-coded uniforms in a brig setting. But according to Utah-based Alsco, the same principle also applies in the private sector. They say there are plenty of companies that choose different colors of uniforms in order to distinguish between different types of employees.
An auto repair shop is a good example. All the mechanics might wear navy blue or gray uniforms while service writers and managers where white dress shirts with gray slacks. In such a setting, it’s very easy for customers to distinguish between mechanics and office workers.
You might have a restaurant that clothed servers in one color, bartenders in another, and kitchen workers in yet a third color. All the colors may be complementary within the restaurant’s overall color scheme, but each one is slightly different in order to identify staff members. This sort of arrangement is especially helpful in busier restaurants with large staffs and frequent turnover.
Alsco says there are other occasions when color choices are all about visibility. High visibility uniforms are required in some industries, like road construction for example, simply because workers need to be seen if they want to be safe.
You might have a construction company that issues bright orange shirts and vests to all workers in the field. Meanwhile, the mechanics responsible for keeping the company’s vehicles in tip-top shape wear dark blue mechanic’s uniforms. Truck drivers wear whatever they want but must always don a bright yellow vest when working outside their vehicles.
Color choices for some companies are about nothing more than creating an aesthetically pleasing uniform for projecting a certain brand image. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. But for other companies, color choices are not necessarily about what looks good. Uniform color plays a key role in identifying workers, maintaining security, and maximizing visibility.
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