At Sheraton and Other Hotels, retail-inspired looks redefining Uniform Industry

By Jackie Rosselli of

Uniform Industry NewsUniform. Always the same, unchanging, unvarying. Consistent in appearance, having an unvaried texture, color or design. Being the same as another or others.
Pick up any American dictionary, and you’ll probably find these or similar definitions. For years, too, these were the terms used to describe the uniform marketplace. It was considered by many, whether industry insider or casual observer, to be a business of the ordinary, the prosaic.

No more. Thanks to the convergence of technology, culture and a savvy consumer, today’s uniforms are anything but ordinary. Indeed, today’s designs, and the creative minds behind them, are reshaping the industry landscape, redefining what constitutes a uniform program.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the hotel apparel industry. Hotels nationwide are more image conscious that ever before, desiring styling options and looks that stretch the boundaries of uniform programs, creating challenges for those who design them. “The only thing nowadays that makes it a uniform is that more than one person is wearing it,” says Jeff Marino, designer and trend-watcher for Cintas. “Clients and endusers alike have become more sophisticated, and hotels have had to step up.”

Even the word “uniform” is rarely used in hotel circles. The new Sheraton program, for example, is defined by five distinct “lifestyles,” rather than the dreaded “u“ word. “The term is definitely a negative,” says Katerina Helebrantova, lead designer for Cintas on the Sheraton program. “Our clients repeatedly stress that their program not look like a uniform program.”

What are they looking for? Retail-inspired clothing influenced by mainstream designers. The desire for a fashionable, contemporary approach to uniforming isn’t new — endusers have been clamoring for this for some time. What is different is that in many instances, the demands are being heard from all types of properties, from the low-end to the boutique to the five-star hotel. “The cookie-cutter approach that was so prevalent at low-end properties is disappearing, with many of these working to improve their image,” notes Helebrantova.

There are a number of reasons for this. Thanks to industry improvements and advancements in fabrication, more fashion-forward choices are readily available, making it easier than ever to look good. “And good design isn’t exclusive to high end customers anymore — stylish, fashionable, programs are available at many price points,” Helebrantova adds.

There’s also a new level of sophistication fueled, in part, by the internet and other technologies that have contributed to a flattening of the world. “The nation is more exposed to good design and good taste than ever before,” says Helebrantova.

The Sheraton program is a good example of what’s going on at the nation’s finer hotels. Launched in April, 2005, the programs boasts an unheard of 700 garment selections, 13 custom patterns and 25 exclusive design items developed especially for a specific Sheraton lifestyle. “The number of options and choices available in this program sets it apart from previous ones,” says Helebrantova.

Retail influences abound in the program and work to reinforce the Sheraton brand. The Metropolitan Lifestyle speaks to Sheraton’s distinguished legacy of urban, upscale hotels. Energetic, yet refined, it emphasizes the formality of a top-tier property set within the whirlwind pace of city life. It’s crisp polished look features smart navy suiting offset with exclusive blue patterned shirting fabrics and an array of custom, classic ties.

The Lakeshore Lifestyle sets the tone with a casual and welcoming environment. The collection accentuates ease and comfort with its versatile and relaxed styles. Signature pieces include navy blazers as well as check, striped or solid shirts and blouses. In keeping with its laid-back theme, neckwear is optional on the weekends.

Sheraton’s Coastal Lifestyle can be either formal and casual, depending on the location. The collection consists of navy blazers teamed with signature striped shirts with white or khaki cotton blend pants and slacks. The option of camel dress pants slacks and skirts offer a more upscale look. The nautical inspirations are seen in the neckwear, ribbon belts rugby shirts, pea coats and yellow rain slickers.

The Tropical Lifestyle uniform collection features neutral colored tropical weight suiting and exclusively designed multi striped shirts. Relaxed warm weather attire provides guests with a first impression of the perfect grand island resort or oceanfront retreat.

The Riverside Lifestyle relies on a neutral color palette that feels sophisticated for both urban and suburban properties. Complimenting both warm and cool climates, these Sheraton properties receive an array of exclusive patterned and solid shirt options teamed with a variety of handsome neckwear and camel suiting.

Hotel Uniform Industry NewsBranding is the starting point in creating an image at upscale hotels, according to Helebrantova. “While blending in with the interior is still important, it is less important than creating a look that reinforces the client’s brand, and this is achieved, in part, through the use of retail designs.”

With all the emphasis on fashion, the question remains — can you create a program that is stylish and functional at all job levels? “That is the challenge, of course, but that is where the industry’s expertise comes in,” says Helebrantova. “A retail designer may bring to the table the concept or idea, but it is the uniform designer who has the ability to deliver the product.”

Of course, some of this has less to do with designer apparel and more to do with marketing. “For some upscale clients, it is very important to have their name attached to the retail name,“ says Helebrantova. “They go to a fashion designer not because they can’t get the services from us, but because doing so better positions their brand.” While the retail influence is here to stay by all accounts, it remains to be seen what lasting effects the trend will have on the uniform industry. “This is neither good or bad for the uniform industry. A retail designer brings a different approach, but the innovation still comes from both sides.”