Keeping Up Appearances

Uniforms provide a sense of unity to any group. It’s built right into the name. “I believe uniforms help make for a closer-knit team, as everyone is working toward the same goals,” says Jennifer Linder, spa director at Halele’a Spa at The St. Regis Princeville Resort (HI). Yet, spa employees and their responsibilities come in all shapes and sizes. To best serve clients, staff members need comfortable work attire that fits their role within the spa and its esthetic. “Our intention is to provide a sublime experience, and our physical appearance—including uniforms—should mirror that same intention,” says Amy Olthoff, spa director at Spa Nalai at Park Hyatt New York. “Our esthetic for Park Hyatt New York is that sense of understated elegance and luxury; it is timeless and not necessarily beholden to trends. Our associates’ passion, personality, and skills should shine through rather than the uniform being the center of attention.” Taking the time to understand each position in the spa and tailor uniforms to fit their needs does just that. Here are some tips to take into consideration when updating your spa’s uniform program.


A Warm Welcome

Your spa has one chance to make a great first impression with spa-goers. As such, the professional appearance of the spa receptionist or front desk staff who greets them is key. “First impressions are crucial in any business, and a uniform sets the mood for an establishment,” says Agnes Dalisay, founder of Chi Couture Uniforms. Properly fitted uniforms help spa-goers set high expectations for their visit. “When the guests see the staff in clean, professional uniforms, they know the service and experience is going to be professional,” says Tricia Avery, spa director at The Spa at the Hotel Madeline (Telluride, CO). “It starts with how everybody looks.”

Their attire, especially at reception, should represent the spa with panache and can incorporate fashion trends, as fitted fabrics and embellishments won’t interfere with daily tasks. “What is unique about the front-staff uniforms is that they can be more stylish but polished in order to exude a professional image,” says Dalisay. Debbie Leon, president at Fashionizer Spa Uniforms, agrees and recommends more glamorous options for the front desk. “Styles can be more restrictive, as movement is not necessarily an issue,” she says. Reception outfits still need to be cohesive with the rest of the team to make it easier for clients to navigate the spa and find staff. 

It’s also important to take into consideration varying temperatures throughout the spa when choosing sleeve length and pants. “Front-of-house areas can sometimes be cooler than treatment rooms,” says Leon. “This might mean long-sleeved dresses or jackets to ensure staff is comfortable.” Longer sleeves also  tend to make the uniforms look more professional, according to Monique Mathieu, president of Monique Mathieu.


Backstage Pass

Unlike other staff members, locker room attendants are primarily behind the scenes in the spa, and they have minimal contact with guests. Their physically demanding responsibilities require full freedom of movement. “Those people are working—moving towels, emptying trash, and replenishing supplies,” says Zoe Ann Murphy, vice president medical group and spa sales at Barco Uniforms. At The Spa at the Hotel Madeline, locker room attendants have more lenient uniform guidelines so they can oversee the locker rooms, as well as the fitness center and pool. “If they find something they like and in all black, I’ll purchase it for them,” says Avery. Opting for simple locker room attendant uniforms can be a budget friendly option. “They still need to look professional but for cost-effectiveness do not need to be as stylish as the esthetician and front-desk uniforms,” says Dalisay.


Body of Work

A wide range of motion is also important for the active, dynamic job massage therapists perform, but they also need to look professional when interacting with guests. “One of the key requirements is flexibility, so that movement is free,” says Leon. “The breathability and comfort of the fabric is important.” She adds that loose-fitting styles and fabric with stretch work well. Some uniform manufacturers design styles specifically with active therapists in mind. “We provide uniforms with fabric options with moisture-wicking and antibacterial properties,” says Noel Asmar, president of Noel Asmar Uniforms. “Uniforms for this role use fabrics that stretch in key areas and are designed with extended side slits and gussets for deep lunges and stretches while still retaining shape and structure.”  She also adds that short sleeves allow massage therapists to use their forearms and elbows freely to apply pressure during services. Massage therapists focusing on specialty modalities, such as Thai massage, can benefit from wide pants for added flexibility and an authentic Thai style. Murphy also recommends a pant with room to move. “In our fashion-fitting pant, we allow the comfort to be there in the rise and width of the leg to allow the therapist to bend,” she says.

According to Avery, fit is very personal, and each therapist may have a unique preference, so including your team in a hands-on decision-making process helps keep everyone content. Before updating her spa’s uniform program, she ordered a few styles for therapists to try out and provide feedback. “I wanted them to pick what would be comfortable, because they have to work in them,” says Avery. “Massage therapists are very gentle, emotional beings, and we do anything we can do to make their day better.”


Attention to Detail

Although estheticians may not need to move as much as massage therapists, they also work closely with clients and use a variety of potentially messy products. “Uniforms for estheticians must be incredibly versatile and durable,” says Asmar. “They deal with a lot of different products and services daily and need a uniform that is flattering and sophisticated yet can get the job done.” Tunics and pants made with machine-washable fabrics that don’t require ironing keep them looking clean and crisp from the first appointment to the last and throughout years of wear. Simple styles that fit relatively close to the body are popular. “They can’t be too confining and or feature details that may interfere with function,” says Dalisay.

During facials and other skincare services, staff members are often sitting so they need a uniform that maintains a flattering silhouette in a variety of positions. “We design tunics for a wide range of roles and take into careful consideration all the different tasks each position requires,” says Asmar. “For estheticians, we have a selection of uniforms with embellishments and a flattering fit that also incorporate deep side slits for sitting and stretching.” Colored piping, fashion buttons, and stylized zippers add flair to traditional tops. Mathieu also recommends fitted styles with stretch side inserts or long slits, because they enable freedom of movement.

Manufacturers make the uniform selection process even easier with styles designed to accommodate the various needs of team members throughout the spa. These versatile styles are especially appealing to dual-certified therapists who perform massages, as well as skincare services. According to Avery, many on her spa staff are dual-certified, and their schedules vary each day. They need fabrics with stretch for a wide range of motion, as well as stain-resistance. “Any uniform design has to be in keeping with the mission statement of the spa or resort,” says Leon. “A uniform is part of the brand identity of a company. The ideal selection of uniforms should give you the flexibility and the identity you desire.”

Work in Style

Bring a little pizzazz to your spa with stylish uniforms from the following  companies.—Jessica Morrobel

  • A La Turca Textiles
  • Barco Uniforms
  • Chi Couture Uniforms
  • Fashionizer Spa Uniforms
  • Monique Mathieu
  • Noel Asmar Uniforms
  • Salonwear
  • Smockers
  • Universal Companies
  • Yeah Baby

Learn more about the different fibers that go into popular uniform fabrics to find the right fit for each member of your spa team.—J.N.

  • Cotton is a fluffy fiber that grows around the seeds of cotton plants and makes soft, breathable textiles.
  • Linen fabrics are made from fibers of the flax plant and are absorbent, cool, and fresh.
  • Nylon is one of the most commonly used synthetic polymers and was created as a substitute for silk. It is durable, resistant to sunlight, and colorfast.
  • Polyester is made of natural and synthetic chemicals, and fabrics exhibit improved wrinkle resistance, durability, and color retention.
  • Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by moth caterpillars and has a natural sheen and strength.
  • Spandex, also referred to as elastane or lycra,  is a strong, durable  synthetic fiber known  for its elasticity and  fast drying.
  • Rayon is a soft man-made fiber similar to cotton produced from cellulose, or wood pulp. Rayon fabrics, such as modal, have the same comfort properties as natural fibers, but drape like nylon and are ideal in hot, humid climates.