Creating quality chef clothing

Funky, cool and well designed sustainable chef wear — just for women! That’s the brainchild of two friends, Cork based Ali Wheeler and Caitlin Ruth. KATE RYAN finds out more
Creating quality chef clothing
Left to right: Audrey McDonnell (Cookbook Cafe Dublin), Darina Allen (Ballymaloe, Cork), Ali Wheeler (Hot Knickers), Jess Murphy (Kai Cafe Galway), Caitlin Ruth (Deasy’s, Ring).

IT was a great idea that started when two Clonakilty women got together.

Ali Wheeler, designer and founder of Hot Knickers, designed a dress for Caitlin Ruth, head chef of Deasy’s Restaurant, with perfect form and function.

The difference being? This was a dress meant for hard work and graft…

“Two years ago, Caitlin came to me and asked me if I would design some work wear for her, so I made three cross-over Kimono-style dresses,” says Ali.

Caitlin explained: “I had this Kimono-style chef jacket and I really liked it, but I wanted it to be a bit longer so I could wear it as a dress with leggings underneath.

“I asked Ali if she could design something along those lines with shorter arms and a bit of an A-line so I wouldn’t have to be worried about waistbands or reaching up and showing everyone my tummy.

“I just needed to be completely comfortable and not worry about anything because when you’re cooking it’s like intense panic — you don’t want to ever be distracted by what you are wearing.

The Caitlin Kimono.
The Caitlin Kimono.

“What Ali made is something that I never have to think about when I’m wearing it. They are the best thing to happen to me in a kitchen!”

As well as running a busy kitchen, Caitlin once a year assumes the mantle of managing behind the scenes at Electric Picnic’s Theatre of Food. Post-festival in 2017, Caitlin approached Ali with an idea of designing a range of chef wear specifically for women.

“I mentioned it to Ali in a ‘Wouldn’t it be cool’ kinda way,” says Caitlin.

“We sat on it over Christmas,” says Ali, “But in March 2018 realised we needed to get cracking if I was to have a range designed and ready to wear in time.”

The duo approached Sally McKenna, of McKenna’s Guides, who thought a fashion show with some of the female powerhouses of the chef world strutting their stuff on the runway would be a great addition to the Sunday programme at Electric Picnic.

The Tunic.
The Tunic.

Darina Allen of Ballymaloe House, Jess Murphy of Kai Café, Galway, Audrey McDonald of the Cookbook Café in Dublin and Caitlin Ruth herself quickly jumped on board and PR company, Host & Co, sponsored the fabric used to create the initial designs for these Queens of the Kitchen.

Ali chose a fabric that can flex and move with its wearer.

“I could see the potential in Caitlin’s idea and instantly knew I wanted to make it in denim, because denim is a traditional workwear fabric.

“Caitlin mentioned that Darina Allen would be one of our models, so I studied what Darina liked to wear. I was delighted to see she likes to wear denim too, so it was a wonderful coincidence!” says Ali.

 The Wrap Over.
 The Wrap Over.

Ali sourced an ethically produced denim made from a polycotton fabric blend with elastin for durability and a speedy turnaround for laundry.

“The ethically manufactured denim might cost more but it’s not about competing, it’s about doing things better: ethically sourced and ethically made,” says Ali.

The range includes four styles of dresses (The Caitlin Kimono, The Wrap Over, The Tunic and The Knot Dress), baggy jeans, aprons, bakers’ hats and bandanas with prices starting at €20 to €200.

The garments are tailored to each person’s own shape and size, allowfor weight fluctuation and are also designed for those either left or right handed.

The good news is that this tailor-made experience can be done over the phone. Alternatively, stop by Ali’s studio in Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty, which is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays, 11am to 5pm.

“I love my chef dress!” says Caitlin. “It looks cool and I get to wear something that I feel comfortable in — then Ali makes it look nice.

“The dress, apron and bandana are so comfortable that I don’t want to take them off, in fact, changing back into normal clothes almost feels like I’m downgrading what I’m wearing!”

The Knot Dress.
The Knot Dress.

Ali said: “Much of the traditional chef wear is cut for the male body, and often doesn’t allow for movement, stretch and flex.

“So for female chefs the material walks up the body creating a big lump clumped around the back. It’s just not attractive or comfortable.

“I’m thinking about things in a different way other than just what it is going to look like — it needs to be equally functional and fabulous. Chefs are creating quality food using quality ingredients; brilliant chefs with amazing skills and expertise. Why can’t they have quality clothing that follows the same ethos?”

In a world where the choice of kitchen work wear for women is either masculine or twee, now there is a great contemporary alternative. It’s funky, cool, well designed, made with ethically sourced fabrics that looks amazing and outperforms.

Anyone can wear this and feel like a star in their own kitchen: chefs and enthusiastic home cooks alike. It’s not a costume and not a uniform — this is workwear that empowers!

Contact Ali Wheeler 023 88 59715 or email


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