Traffic wardens have changed their look and image since 1992 (left)
Immigration officers should wear uniforms with "softer colours" when deporting families, says a Home Office review. So what are the nuances of a work uniform?
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
Being forcibly thrown out of the UK as a child would be a deeply traumatic experience, whatever the crime of your parents.
But if the men responsible wore a uniform which was pastel, rather than navy, would that soften the blow?
The Border and Immigration Agency, in its Review of Family Removals, has suggested it might.
"Consideration should be given to providing standard-issued clothing in softer colours (currently issued in navy) for enforcement officers involved in family work to reduce the appearance of a 'uniform' and be less intimidating to children," it said.
Julien Macdonald's redesign made BA uniforms more understated
This notion makes more sense when taken out of that particular context. Colours have long been associated with mood, especially in interior design, and companies spend millions on the design of staff uniforms.
What people wear is hugely significant in projecting an impression of a company and inspiring staff, says Susanne Malim, managing director of Jermyn Street Design, responsible for 70,000 uniforms for firms such as World Duty Free and the Lawn Tennis Association.
"I equate deportation officers with traffic wardens, who have gone for a softer image now and look more like post office men or delivery men, particularly in Kensington and Chelsea, where they've gone from navy and black to a soft khaki colour and Italian blouson. They look more approachable."
But the Home Office should be careful with pastels, she warns.
"I can't imagine many deportation officers wearing pink, with the training they've had. A soft grey, a khaki, a sand colour, a washed out French navy or a steely blue would be nice. Perhaps smiley badges too."
Dark uniforms can be scary
Fabrics that breathe are more comfortable
Everything should be shaped
'Smart casual' is very tricky to pull off
Source: Jermyn St Design
Shape is important too, she says. "Extreme tailoring depicts authority and tacitly aggression. But soft lines and fabrics which move as you move is immediately more restful on the eye.
"It's something that happens unconsciously. This all has an effect on the perceiver. The first sight of a uniform is everything."
The British Airways uniform is spot-on, Ms Malim thinks - it's very British, elegant, perfectly tailored and understated, whereas the red Virgin colours have a different aim, which is to be noticed.
Some colours are a no-no, she says, such as mustard because it's unflattering on the skin. But ultimately style has to be married with function.
"So much depends on the job the wearer has and very often that's completely at odds with how the company's board would wish them to be dressed. So we have to manage the expectations between the two."
So designing World Duty Free uniforms, for example, was difficult because the staff could be sitting at a till all day but they had to look as good as the cosmetics staff nearby or airline cabin crew.
Fashion designer Benny Ong, worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, has in the past designed uniforms for British Airport Authorities and BT. More recently, he has remodelled the clothes of security staff at leading hotels around the world.
"Some of the major hotels realise that security has to be sensible and approachable and not run as an army. It's about being approachable and none of the 'heavy boots' approach and the look that says 'you behave'."
Ong likes to make security staff appear open
He removed the regimental hats from hotel security in Cambodia and replaced them with French berets. And he is currently in the process of remodelling the uniforms of security staff at a hotel in Beijing, ahead of the Olympic Games. In comes softer colours and looser shapes.
"The most calming colours are the pinks but while that might be fine for a modern pop star, it's not applicable to most guys so it would be a challenge for a designer."
The postie has changed since 1952
Karen Savage, who has designed for Virgin promotional staff, says one of the biggest changes has been seen in supermarkets.
"Women used to wear polyester dresses and then they went casual and cool and everyone is in fleeces.
"It's all about marketing. They're trying to bring in fashion and make a brand more desirable. And being more casual means they look more like us.
"The old values in uniforms were to differentiate, but now they want to be like the consumer, and knock down barriers between customers and staff."
A selection of your comments appears below.
Wearing a uniform with pride still holds good. When you see "uniformed" schoolchildren looking clean and smart it has a positive affect on their overall being - likewise adults. Very cost effective too. This struck home recently in Paris when visiting a Carrefour supermarket. All staff had a beautifully cut, eau-de-nil coloured "uniform" (aka outfit) trimmed with navy, in every item of clothing possible to suit all shapes and sizes. Everyone looked so chic, which set the scene for customers to spend, surely? Let's get the Great back into Britain - we can do it.
It should not be forgotten that some professions, such as the police, also need to demand some form of respect in addition to being approachable. Cocky louts are hardly going to take note of a policeman that looks like a janitor.
What a wonderful idea! I'm sure every family of deportees will be delighted with the new look. However, officers should be trained to soften the blow even further with a comment such as "Have a nice day" as they handcuff each victim to the plane seat.
Stephen Dodds, Tokyo, Japan
I have been told by my company that what I wear is very much of a school mistress & is "too professional". I work as a personal assistant for a large corporation & I believe being in that type of role gives a professional impression should my boss receive visitors. I believe it's the way you project yourself & what you are comfortable in. What is the harm with self-respect & giving a good impression for a company/my boss.
Lucy, West Sussex
oh dear when will it all end, why don't we dress our soldiers in pink so as not to scare the enemy, isn't it about time people lived in the real world and not this airy fairy Trisha Goddard daytime television world that some people seem to live in, for God's sake stop worrying about nothing and get on with your own lives, no one cares what colour there uniforms are, when immigration say NO THEY MEAN NO, IT DOESNT MATTER WHAT THEY WEAR, GET IT?
David Ridley, Shropshire
Surely, if someone is being deported, the UK doesn`t want them in the UK. Does it matter then what colour the deportation staff wear? The deportees last impression of staff wearing more dowdy or forbidding clothing might mean they might not try to get back illegally in the future.
Richard , Isle of Man
Common sense should be the first thought. White polo shirts look nice, but if your are fitting engines into cars (Toyota) it is filthy after the first day and whatever the adverts might say - you cannot wash engine oil out of clothing at ANY temperature. The next thought should be - can you tell who works here and who doesn't? Staff need to be identifiable before they can be approachable. I agree with the point about mustard - very few people can carry it off. Pink may be calming but I could never take any man seriously who wears it. My favourite uniform colour - air force blue. Smart, calm, clean-looking and not intimidating.
Sandy, Derby, UK
Hey, they could dress as child-friendly clowns and say "have a nice day" as they throw the refugees out! Has this country gone completely bonkers?
Dave Allton, Leicester, England
I currently work in a Young Offenders institution, where officers who work with juvenile offenders have to wear a 'softer uniform' consisting of a polo shirt, instead of the white shirt, tie and epilates the other officers wear. I'm not too sure if it has any effect but from what I hear, the majority of the officers would prefer the traditional uniform.
Dan , Lancaster, Lancashire.
I've noticed everyone's uniforms apparently getting darker over the past couple of decades, especially police ones. Trying to be as fair-minded as I can, I just can't help looking at the near-black police uniforms and thinking "almost SS". Also, with all the stuff on their belts these days, how would we notice when they added guns? Also, I dislike the tendency for private security guards, traffic wardens and the like to wear pseudo-police uniforms. If I need to find a police officer in a hurry, I want to be able to identify one quickly, without having to sort through various rentacops along the way.
Jeremy Broadribb, Horsham UK
One of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard, despite the current over-pc, nanny state way that things are going. Immigration Officials should look austere and militaristic. The job that they are doing represents a line of defence for protecting the UK's borders. Dressing them in a fast food outfit won't really do much to put off people whom are trying to get into the country illegally. If it makes the message that they are conveying seem more final, the more official they look the better. Prison Warden Uniforms? Riot Gear?
I have noticed that ordinarily easy going people become supercilious and bossy when squeezed into a strict uniform, hiding behind it maybe, so a fairly casual, but still uniform, outfit is probably likely to provide better public relations!
"The most calming colours are the pinks" - what utter twaddle! Pink is the most nauseating colour and certainly one to be avoided by anyone wishing to adopt a position of authority.
The Home Office have obviously run out of worthy causes to plow research money into, it really beggars belief that anyone would care what the immigration official was wearing when they were getting deported. "You'll live to regret this Mr official, I will take revenge when you least expect it, oh nice uniform though, it really sets off your eyes!" I give up!!
I read this with interest. I work freelance and have contact with children and adults on a one-to-one basis, all ages from five up. It's necessary to look very approachable and to put people at their ease - and yet one wants to look businesslike. Not hard-edged but not sloppy. Working from home it is important to avoid giving the impression that the kitchen table's your office - even if it is. In one sense it's easy because no-one's telling me what to wear. But it doesn't mean it's easy to get it right.
Maggie, South London
The police should take notice.
The change from a white shirt to a black one makes the uniform altogether more foreboding.
The whole look is now black or metal.
Closer to Terminator 2 police uniform than anything.
It makes you think twice before asking them for guidance.
Duncan Peet, Edinburgh
I'd rather the Immigration Service spent the money on training its staff to treat people like human beings, and to stop barring legitimate entry to the UK for increasingly spurious reasons fuelled by a tabloid agenda. If you've just been told that no, you won't be seeing your loved one for little other reason than that they don't like the look of you, or been kicked out because of THEIR administrative shortcomings, I doubt the colour of the uniform worn by the person bundling you onto the plane is going to matter a great deal.
Rich Edwards, Kidderminster
There is no doubt that less tailored styles and softer colours make the wearer 'less authoritative', but it also makes them look sloppy and inefficient. I am not impressed with what the staff of London Underground and the Post Office are wearing. In fact, when our 'postie' cycles up he would not look out of place cycling idly along a country road as if on holiday. Call me old fashioned, but a smart uniform requires good personal appearance and thus self discipline. London Underground staff with masses of hair sticking out at all angles from their caps make them look scruffy and unreliable - not the image an efficient transport system wishes to convey. The same goes for the scouts - gone are the days of 'spit and polish' and the pride when inspected on parade. The scouts today wear a bit of this and a bit of that, the result being a group of children that look more like refugees than an organised scout group. We go on about the chaos in society today and demand law and order. It is not the building of more prisons that will resolve this, but a return to the basics of self respect - and we could start with smartening ourselves up a bit!