Can a Uniform be a Costume?


By Peter Hildebrandt

Most people might think they have a good idea of what constitutes a uniform being worn by someone hard at work in their midst. But as the world of business and entertainment continues to expand and blend, some things that seem to be an awful lot like a costume may be an everyday uniform for that employee. The line continues to blur, making for some interesting ideas about what represents a firm’s uniform as something others would identify clearly as a costume.

 A Reputation To Live Up To

The Chippendales celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2014. The show started in 1979. Michael Caprio, Chippendales national press agent, considers its situation to be one where the concept of a costume and that of a uniform start to merge. The Chippendales have been in both Las Vegas and Rio for some 14 years now.

“The show has evolved since the early days in the 1980s when you had individual stripper numbers,” explains Caprio. “We do go on each side of the coin, costume and uniform. We’re now in a $10 million theater custom built for us by Caesar’s Palace. It’s a full stage show now, choreographed – no dollar bills or tips in the G-straps. This is basically a full production show.”

In the show itself, the Chippendales performers always wear their custom trademark collars and bow ties. But they also wear the collars doing all their other associated work, appearances and events. “Granted it’s a bit of a different uniform, but I do consider it a uniform. Whenever they are out in public, they would be wearing the custom collar. At some events, they would wear the Chippendales custom tank top or a white tux shirt with an open bow tie,” Caprio says. “The bow tie we don’t consider our costume. This is the symbol and therefore very much our trademark uniform. When we send out a promo sheet to the boys, it has the bow tie on it. The bow tie is what they have to wear to go to work; it’s not what they have to wear to go on stage.”

The stage shows themselves are designed to contain every fantasy a woman can imagine; that’s where the costume aspect comes in, according to Caprio. They have a fireman number where the dancers show up in full fireman dress, an officer number where they are in dress whites, another with police uniforms, a vampire number and even a Michael Jackson routine with everyone clad in zoot suits.

“The show has evolved from one in the early years, when it was ladies only in the audience with men allowed in only after the show had ended, into one in which couples and anyone who wants to attend is welcome,” adds Caprio. “Last season on the television show ‘The Amazing Race,’ there actually was a ‘Team Chippendales’ in which the participants wore Chippendales brand clothing. The team came in second place.”

The name comes from the high-end furniture maker and brand name. Chippendale is the crème de la crème of home furnishing, and they wanted the same high standard applied to the ultimate man.

“We fight infringements of our trademark every year,” says Caprio. “The bow tie collars are one of our biggest sellers for Halloween. Imposter troupes steal our brand, material from our website and our costumes and put on shows billing themselves as the Chippendales. We spend a lot of time and money fighting that as the quality of the guys, the show and the product is not what we are; it damages our brand.

“We take that very seriously and have won every lawsuit right down to the point that we own the trademark and rights to the custom collars so no one can perform anywhere on stage wearing the cuffs and collars without infringing on our trademark. That is hard to police of course, but the social media today really helps us see where an event billed as Chippendales can be responded to as fake and not us. It also gives the legal team the ability to find these individuals – easier than it was five or six years ago before social media really took off.”

Surprisingly there is very little turnover at the Chippendales. The vetting process is rigorous. The main rule is called “six and six,” requiring a performer to be at least six feet tall and have six pack abs, in addition to being an excellent dancer. The shows are fully choreographed.

New Traditions Starting with the Ancient Kilt

The Tilted Kilt started up in 2003, modeled after the 800-year-old public house tradition in which everyone in the village would go to the pub to share news, talk politics and trade stories and jokes with the innkeeper. The feeling is lively, friendly and cozy; from there the concept evolved into more of a sports bar.

“We call it an Americanized twist on the old Celtic pub tradition, as we’re not Irish, Scottish or English, perhaps more a fusion of all three,” explains Debra Lynch, Tilted Kilt co-founder with her husband Ron Lynch. “We just wanted a place with great customer service, good food, cold beer, sports everywhere you look and a welcoming atmosphere making you feel like that’s your home pub.”

She describes the relaxed atmosphere further. “A traveler who is alone can also sit at something we call the ‘Captain’s Table’ where there will be people around you watching sports and the setting encourages normal human interaction; we also actually encourage our servers to sit down and get to know the customers as well as develop regulars.”

Servers wear a red kilt, and the male bartenders wear a black kilt and black boots. The colors, stitch and pattern of the tartan is now proprietary, registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans. “We are one of the few places to get the female costume worn at our restaurants trademarked,” adds Lynch. “Disney has a trademark on their costumes as does Hot Dog on a Stick as well as the Playboy Bunny. We were fortunate to get that trademark. The KiltGirl is also a registered costume.”

The locations tend to be in cities, particularly near sports venues. They have a minimum of 24 different beers on tap at each Tilted Kilt as well as micro-brews. Their menus feature tasty specialty items with lots of variety.

Franchisees have some leeway on what they do for their special nights at the restaurants. There are 90 locations now open, with five of those located in Canada and more opening internationally within the next six months as well.

“We consider our costumes PG-13. Some people have a preconceived notion and are not sure if they want to come in. But a lot of people are surprised when they come in. Once you are open in a community and patrons come in, see what the food is, we are well-received. But some of the preconceptions they imagined from other establishes they find were not correct for us. Our ambiance is high class and our tagline, ‘A Cold Beer Never Looked So Good’ is also a registered trademark.”

Lynch continues, “We look in our training for genuine young ladies; not flirting to get a bigger tip. They enjoy being there because they enjoy the people. We have young women who are there for four years, which is unheard of in our industry. They love wearing their costumes, have fun at work and make great money doing their job. What we look for in the casting of our young ladies are individuals who are intelligent and genuinely like and are interested in others.”

Creating Memories That Carry On

At Chuck E. Cheese’s, a company that started in 1977, the trademark mouse Chuck E. Cheese is clearly considered a costume. Those wearing the costume – though they are definitely working hard – take frequent breaks after about an hour so that they’re not in the costume for too long every day. An employee inside the costume is especially important during the company’s frequent parties.

The regular uniforms for everyone else consist of a polo shirt with the company logo as well as a name tag. Black or khaki trousers are worn with the shirts. Shows are taped and then played on video screens so a full cast with costumes is not needed.

“The Chuck E. character, or Walkaround as we refer to him, is vital to delivering the experience children and families expect in our stores. Chuck E. will always come out at least once an hour to lead dance moves, give away tickets and interact with the kids,” explains a Chuck E. Cheese’s company spokeswoman.

“During birthday parties, Chuck E. Cheese will always spend some quality time with the birthday Rock Star. That’s when the special memories are made. Every child deserves a picture with Chuck E. Cheese,” she says.

“If you haven’t been to Chuck E. Cheese’s in a while, you may notice a change in the appearance of Chuck E. In July 2012 we launched a redesigned, contemporized Chuck E. Cheese. He’s considerably slimmed down and features skinny jeans, red sneakers and a guitar, much more in line with his new rock-star image.” She says many store staff members elect to wear the costume in addition to regular shift duties.

“We do have one store in California with a Cast Member who loves the new costume so much that he has elected to make playing Chuck E. his entire role in the store. He’s been with us for more than three years, and the kids in that location love the enthusiasm and authenticity he brings. In fact, this young man is autistic and his family has told us that performing as Chuck E. allows him to overcome some of the social interaction challenges he faces when not in costume. It gives me goose bumps when I see a Cast Member put on the costume and become Chuck E. like he does. He loves making the kids smile, and we love seeing the parents smile because their children are happy – that’s when a costume is not just a uniform.”

Staff typically spend only 15-20 minutes at a time in the walkaround suit, but if they’re having a good time interacting with the children, they are welcome to stay in it longer. After that, they typically go back to other roles in the store monitoring the prize counter or assisting guests in the game room. Most employees choose to wear shorts and a t-shirt underneath the costumes to be more comfortable.

“As we strive to hire outgoing, customer service-oriented Cast Members, most store Cast Members have had the privilege of donning the Chuck E. costume at some point, by choice. We hire many individuals who are active in theater at school or were at some point in their lives. Those Cast Members gravitate toward wearing the costume,” she says.

“We are also exceptionally proud of the quality of our costumes. The same company, Cowan Costumes of Cleburne, Texas, has been creating our costumes for more than 25 years. Their attention to detail and overall quality is unparalleled – which is extremely important for our costumes, which see many hours of use. Cowan was able to take the digital image of our redesigned Chuck E. and give him the life and animation the kids expect after seeing him in our commercials. He looks just like the digital version, and we couldn’t have it any other way. It took six months to roll out the new costumes to every store.”

The uniforms themselves are supplied by CEC Entertainment, Inc. and come with the logo in a bold and colorful design.

The company originated in San Jose, Calif., in 1977 and now has more than 500 locations around the United States as well as some international locations including in the Middle East and Latin America. Everyone loves a cute mouse no matter where they live in the world.

It All Started With a Berry Stand

Back in 1920, a California boysenberry stand became a popular hangout and then over the decades grew to be a multi-themed world-famous park. For all that this theme park, now known as Knott’s Berry Farm, has going on within its borders, it needs a combination of uniforms and costumes. Whether an employee or performer is wearing a costume or a uniform really depends on whether or not they are on stage, working as a ride operator or working in a particular theme area.

Different areas have set themes for the costumes due to the nature of the location within the park. In some areas, employees may look like someone from the 1940s or ’50s with a long skirt or a bonnet. “When you are in an area, the costumes worn help out with ensuring the thoroughness of the themed area,” explains Leidy Arevalo, publicist for Knott’s Berry Farm.

On the other hand, all of the Peanuts characters are definitely considered a costume playing that character on stage. “For those backstage or in administration such as myself, I don’t have an actual uniform but wear business attire,” says Arevalo. “It varies depending upon the area, level of position and your job description.”

As a company, Cedar Fair Entertainment is licensed to use Peanuts characters in its theme parks. These include Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Franklin, Lucy, Sally and Woodstock.

Comedian, actor and writer Steve Martin got his start when he joined a comedy troupe that performed on the stage at Knott’s Berry Farm’s historic Bird Cage Theatre. The costumes evolved over the years, matching entertainment trends at the time.

The uniforms serve to keep the themes of the various areas of the park consistent, proving helpful to the employees as well. They have also started a new line of berry preserves available only at the theme park, one that is much closer to the original recipe from the early days of the park and the berry stand itself. Knott’s Berry Farm’s world-renowned preserves contain only four ingredients. The park employs more than 1,000 employees, but this amount varies from season to season.