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Uniforms, more than just looking good

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Crew uniforms are an important part of the distinctive image of every yacht. I think most stews would agree that purchasing, allocating and finding space onboard for crew attire can be one of the most under-appreciated projects that a stew will carry out. In fact, sometimes it is a colossal pain in the rear. Being in charge of ordering and inventorying uniforms is frustrating, not to mention expensive and time-consuming.

Crew often grumble because they don’t like the uniform of the boat. Despite the fact that the boat almost always provides clothing free of charge, crew are generally not very appreciative. Uniforms often do not meet their fashion style and fit expectations. To the uninitiated it might seem like a good idea to run out to the mall and pick up the latest fashion trend that everyone will like.

However, as Kristen Stepp of Big Blue Yachtwear points out, this might not be the best option. Going this route often means spending more money on changing stock frequently, since you may not be able to get identical items from one season to the next.

One of the most common issues that the chief stew and the captain have to deal with is finding a style that flatters different body types, that the owner approves of, and that everyone agrees on.  The way you look to others makes a first impression and opinions are formed quickly.

Most people are self-conscious about the way they dress and look, and dressing in the yacht’s uniform is no exception. Just about everything looks good on a size 2, but wearing the uniform can be tough for those of us with more average figures. Not many styles are appropriate for every body size and type, and it can be really embarrassing to have to wear something that is too tight, too revealing, or too short.

Ultimately, the goal is to dress with respect for yourself and your community. (I’m a firm believer in Grandma’s golden rule: if you put your arms down straight and your fingertips are longer than your skirt hem, your skirt is too short.)

One giant step forward for mankind occurred when companies began making uniforms sized for the female figure. Former Stew Amanda Connor of Big Blue Yachtwear understands this frustration and has helped meet these needs by being one of the forerunners in providing more and better uniform options.

Even so, buying clothing “off the rack” does not work for everyone. According to Theresa Morales of Liquid Yachtwear, proper fit is the key factor in satisfaction with uniform choice. In true “bespoke” fashion, alterations are offered by uniform companies and must be done to provide a customized fit proportionate to one’s body measurements.

With all of the style options available, choosing the right mix of fabric and price can be challenging. Once a style has been chosen, knowing how fabrics will actually work out make a big difference in cost, time spent on laundry, and overall satisfaction. Longevity plus easy care cuts down on cost over time. The length of time uniforms will hold up and still maintain color and shape depends on fabric quality.

For instance, old-school poly-cotton blends are breathable, hold color longer, and are easier to care for, meaning less time in the laundry room. On the other hand, the newer high-performance fabrics are more expensive and often require considerably more time and care in the laundry room.

If you’re wondering what can be done to make the uniform ordering and care a more pleasant experience, here are some tips:

* Try to choose clothing that looks good, feels good, and is sensible to work in.

* Keep a record of specific style numbers and exact color names for re-ordering.

* Stay ahead of the game. Keep inventories current and place new orders well in advance to allow uniform companies time to process your order.

Kirsty MacDonald of Clyde Uniforms in the UK has passed along these helpful hints for laundry.

* Always treat stains before washing. Uniforms have to last a long time and look good.

* Keep the whites separate from the darks. This is especially important to keep shirts looking white longer.

* Always fasten clothing before washing to prevent snagging in the washing machine. Buttons, zippers, catches and buckles will catch on other fabric, loose threads, and each other. This in turn will loosen them and damage other fabrics in the wash.

* Wash clothes inside out. Make sure that wear and tear from the washing cycle is on the inside of your clothing. This also helps color last longer.

* Wash darker clothes and strong colors at lower temperatures. The hotter the water, the faster the color will fade.

* Avoid tumble dryers if you can. Being tossed around in hot air damages fibers, increases the likelihood of buttons and zips catching, and fades colors faster.

* Make sure clothing needs to be washed. Clothing worn next to the skin needs to be washed after wearing, but other items may not need after every wearing. You should get three to six wearings out of sweaters or trousers. Some people just keep washing their clothing to prevent having to put them away properly.

* Store clothes properly. Make sure they are dry before you put them away or they will smell and can get mildew. Hang clothes (but not sweaters) where possible to help keep their shape and avoid creases that over time will discolor and fade and fray.

Keeping the crew looking good in comfortable, practical uniforms is no small accomplishment, but it is an important part of every yacht’s program. It requires a lot of work on the part of stews to find styles that work for everyone on board, keep crew looking clean and fresh day after day, make sure crew have their uniforms pressed and looking good for guest services, keep inventories up to date, and just generally take care of the situation.

A little appreciation and consideration for the effort involved goes a long ways. When everyone on the team does their part to keep the program working, it is smooth sailing.

Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or amazon.com. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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