The traditional chef’s hat is also called a toque blanche, which is traditionally worn with a white double-breasted jacket and checkered pants. The intention behind the design of the double-breasted jacket is that if the jacket were to become stained, it could quickly be reversed to look fresh and clean. This is a common chef’s uniform in the Western world.
The toque blanche is a chef’s hat that dates back to the 16th century. Sometimes, different heights in a chef’s hat, indicates differing ranks within a kitchen, with the tallest hat riding atop the head of the chief chef. The original toques had precisely 100 folds, which were said to represent the many different ways a chef knew how to cook an egg. Legend has it that even before seventh century A.D., Assyrian chefs wore crown-like hats in order to differentiate them from the other kitchen help. As the story goes, kings were being poisoned quite frequently by indignant chefs, so in order to placate them and make them feel special (and hopefully undoing their desire to kill the leader,) they were presented with this type of royal headwear.
Today, the chef hat remains a symbol of authority and knowledge. Few pieces of headwear are as recognizable as the traditional white hat that many of today’s chefs still wear, embracing tradition. While few chefs still wear the cloth version of the chef’s hat due to issues with hair circulation and keeping them clean, many chefs wear paper versions. Other chefs choose to wear nontraditional hats, such as baseball caps, or even no hat, whatsoever.
Some executive chefs reserve the traditional toques blanches for only those in charge, while others prefer to portray the clean look of a line of cooks all embracing the same symmetry in white, in the kitchen.