These vintage photos of Burger King's uniforms show how much the chain's look has changed over time - along with its identity
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- Burger King's uniforms have changed a lot over the years.
- The uniforms have gone through funky, peppy, and somber phases as the brand has tried to craft a unified and distinct aesthetic.
- Their latest redesign is part of the brand's new aesthetic, which revolves visually around its most iconic product: the Whopper.
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From funky to faded to fresh, Burger King's uniforms have changed a lot since the chain got its start in the 1950s.
Burger King CMO Fernando Machado told Business Insider that until recently, Burger King's uniforms were a "dog's breakfast." The chain's previous uniform, which was designed in 2012, featured gray polyester dress tees that Machado described as "very generic."
Machado also told BI that the chain's newest uniform, which was rolled out in 2015, was the chain's first globally standardized uniform.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, before Burger King was a global brand, U.S. locations featured bold, colorful, and creative uniforms. Its 70s-era uniforms were a groovy blend of ketchup and mustard with poofy hats, while in the 80s the brand turned to stripes, plaids, and baseball caps. In the 90s, the brand dallied with solid blues - the opposite of their former red-and-yellow color scheme - perhaps to differentiate itself from the colors so closely associated with its closest competitor.
Machado said that the period during which Burger King became a global company was also when its uniforms were the least effectively designed. The 2012 uniforms were criticized - as well as other aspects of the brand's aesthetic redesign that year - for closely resembling those of Burger King's competitors.
Burger King in 2015 unveiled its newest uniform redesign, which features Whopper stripes on black and grey. The 2015 uniform is now standardized around the world, and also introduced hats, hoodies, and aprons into the mix.
Machado said that the brand's newest uniform was part of an aesthetic overhaul that aimed to represent the Whopper, Burger King's most iconic sandwich, in its visual identity. The new uniforms were also designed with the goal of strengthening and unifying the chain's brand identity across franchises around the world.
Here's how they fit into the heritage of Burger King's uniforms:
1974 — Burger King ran an ad spot in 1974, which appeared to feature two different versions geared toward its white and black customers, respectively. For white audiences, 'Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce' was sung by a green-eyed white woman in a soft pop style. For black audiences, it was sung by a trio of black women in a funky soul style. The women in both commercials wore the same uniforms.
By 1979, Burger King added a dose of black and a dash of white to their uniforms. According to Machado, the 70s were a golden era of creativity when it came to the brand's uniforms.
This photo was taken in 1982, two years after the first Burger King opened in France. Although the stripes look drab in this black-and-white photo, they were actually a bright, eye-catching red. Until recently, Burger King uniforms were unique in every country around the world.
What's not stripes nor solid red? For Burger King in 1983, the answer to that was red plaid. Employees wore bold red frocks over plaid shirts in the US throughout most of the decadent decade.
In 1992, Burger King experimented with table service, and also blue. One stuck — the other not so much.
The burger chain experienced a series of trials and tribulations in the 1990s, including the destruction of its headquarters in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew and a disastrous merger that resulted in a significant decline in revenue. The chain's uniforms reflected the company's weak branding and haphazard central management, and had none of the panache of the uniform's earlier iterations.
After struggling throughout the early 2000s, Burger King underwent a complete aesthetic overhaul in 2012. Its restaurants were remodeled and its uniforms redesigned to a steely gray. However, its aesthetic redesign was less than successful. Some critics compared the new uniforms and restaurant design to those of the chain's competitors.
Just three years later, in 2015, the uniform was redesigned yet again and standardized across the globe. Again, the uniform redesign was part of a sweeping effort to revamp the aesthetic of the brand.
There's nothing more "Burger King" than the Whopper, and the 2015 uniform celebrates the centrality of the chain's signature product to its identity. If the real Whopper was in our hearts all along, then Burger King wears its heart on its sleeve.
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