My passion for flags and uniforms

Ever since I was a much younger boy (than right now), I have had a profound liking as well as tremendous respect towards flags and people in uniforms. 

A strong memory from my childhood, is the day when I saw one of the original Royal Viking-ships in Port of Trondheim (I think), dressed from bow to stern with many beautifully colored, and big signal flags. Naturally, since it was cruise season, it must have been a summer's day because I also remember the blue skies as the perfect backdrop - the freshly painted, flag-decorated ship stood out like a wonderful gem in my young eyes. I don’t remember the exact occasion as to why the ship was dressed up like this that day, but it must have been a special day of some kind. On cruise ships, decoration flags are normally only used on «turn-around» days (when a cruise ends and another one starts), or on other special occasions such a maiden call to a port. 

In my time on the SS Norway, I was also the one who replaced the relatively «tiny» Bahamian flag at the stern during anchoring with a much bigger flag. In my opinion, it looked more suitable for a ship of that size. Off course, it would have been way much better with the Norwegian flag at the stern of the SS Norway, but she was after all a Bahamian registered ship. Today, in my own private collection, I have what is believed to be the very last Norwegian postal flag flown from the main mast of the SS Norway on the morning of March 1st 1987 as she arrived in Nassau for a flag-change ceremony to Bahamian registry. I hope some day I will have my own place with a big flag pole, so that I once again can let it fly. 

During overnight stays in port while serving on my dear Crystal Symphony, at night, we replaced the decoration flags with decoration lights. During my time as the Chief Officer of the ship, I guess I was a true pain in the butt for the bosun. When I replaced the former Chief Officer, this was one of the things he taught me as well. Never settle for anything less than perfect, because we would always be judged by those watching us and our work. It was a matter of pride that all bulbs were always working: none should be left dark. If after hoisting a string with lights, we discovered a broken bulb, the line had to be taken carefully down again and the bulb had to be replaced. Remember, this was in the days before the much sturdier LED-lights. Attention to detail in every possible way, always out-weighted the extra work in replacing one or several broken bulbs. 

On all cruise ships I have worked in the past, everybody had to follow strict uniform requirements. As officers, we had the regular daytime uniform, and from 18:00 hours, the evening uniforms. Evening uniforms also came in various styles, depending on whether it was a formal or informal night on board, and depending on whether we were sailing in warm- or cold climates. Common for all uniforms was that they all had to be neatly worn at any moment. When we arrived as officers at the ship for the first time, we quickly learned that wearing anything but white under our all-white day-uniform was not one of the smartest moves.     

When talking about uniforms, I also have a strong memory from my earlier years, of bus drivers and taxi drivers wearing uniforms and a cap, as well as candy-shop staff in white coats selling candies in small coned paper bags. Those were the days.  

Today, I think a great moment in time, is when I’m sitting at, or near the boarding gate of any Thai Airways operated flight, and see the line of flight crew arriving to their aircraft. The Captain naturally first, followed by his pilots, Chief Purser and finally, cabin crew. All in perfectly and correctly adorned uniforms, clearly proud of their job, their company and making a wonderful statement towards everybody in their vicinity. They certainly know they are being watched and they always look so immaculate. To me, they are making such a clear statement that they are here to take care of us (the guests) with ultimate pride, care and professionalism. I often catch myself in judging airlines on how their aircrew wear their uniforms and how they walk the airport terminals. 

As we all know, the use of uniforms by various companies is often an effort in branding and developing a standard corporate image but it also has an important effect on the employees required to wear the uniform. A few years back, a national survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates for the textile service industry found that customers are more inclined to do business with employees who wear uniforms because they stood out as professionals and were seen as being more competent and knowledgeable. Those survey results hold true even today and can translate into real bottom line benefits for those companies choosing a managed uniform program for their employees.

But on a more serious side-not as to why I find uniforms a completely and necessary standard to any professional company, this list from the Internet I think says it all. 

  1. Create an attractive business image. For better or worse, society tends to judge people by how they dress. Selecting an appropriate employee uniform can immediately establish a professional business image that attracts and helps retain customers. 
  2. Promote your company or brand. When employees wear uniforms displaying corporate logos and colors, they help brand and differentiate their business in the markets they serve. 
  3. Free advertising. Well designed work uniforms worn in public become “walking billboards,” promoting a company’s products and services “for free.” 
  4. Protect workers. Uniforms deliver functional benefits, like wearer safety. For example, flame resistant (FR) workwear can help prevent injuries caused by accidental electrical arc flashes or flash fires, and high visibility uniforms can help protect workers from being struck by motorized vehicles. 
  5. Improve security. Company uniforms featuring specific styles or colors quickly identify who does or does not belong in specific work areas or on job sites. 
  6. Prevent product cross-contamination. Uniform programs designed specifically for the food or healthcare industries can help reduce cross-contamination threats; those constructed to dissipate static electricity can help prevent damage to sensitive electronic components. 
  7. Foster team spirit. Work uniforms promote a sense of team spirit and a sense of belonging. This, in turn, can improve worker productivity. 
  8. Employee benefit. Employer provided uniforms save employees money, and when provided as part of a Rental Program, eliminate employee laundering time and expense. 
  9. Improve customer relationships. Work uniforms immediately identify company representatives who can be approached for purchasing information, thereby improving overall customer service. 
  10. Promote company pride. Work uniforms help instill a sense of pride and responsibility and can convert employees into “brand ambassadors” outside the actual workplace. 


Within time, and with the so-called modernization of our (European/Western?) society, it seems like great looking uniforms are becoming more rare, and are even replaced with much more (cheaper) informal t-shirts with various types of pants. Luckily, as soon as you travel out into the big world again, to for example Thailand or even Japan, uniforms are still a big deal. From doormen at shopping centers, to security guards and immigration officers, one thing they all have in common, is their pride in their uniforms. I wish we could go back to that point as well. We actually don’t even have to go that far out into the world to see uniforms: take a look at the immigration officers at for example Frankfurt airport: sitting in their glass-booths with their jacket buttoned up, and tie done correctly, and with their uniform caps on.

I have met so many people with different opinions about (their) uniforms, from meaning they are totally useless to those that think it’s reasonable and a part of their job. I have sometimes been accused of having a strong uniform fetish, but as a Captain, I still stand by my opinion on the use of proper uniforms.  Not only that, but uniforms should always be clean and maintained (as in ironed) properly. How many of us has seen newspaper reports of people in official positions being pictured, where they appear to have been literally thrown into their uniform? You can most of the time, quickly see how comfortable they actually are in their own uniforms. 

On a very recent trip to the Netherlands, I stayed one night on board the former ocean liner SS Rotterdam, and their staff all wore nautically themed uniforms. Even though I’m not quite sure if a person without the proper licenses should actually wear maritime officer’s uniforms with distinctions, it did make them stand out from all other guests on board. Certain uniforms, such as for example police uniforms are actually in most of the world, strictly illegal to be worn by anybody outside of the institution. As far as I know, I think this also goes for all maritime uniforms, including navy/military uniforms.

I would very much like to hear your opinion on flags and uniforms, is it true that everybody like a gentleman in uniform as opposed to a person in jeans and a t-shirt? 

A recent image of myself: posing in an uniform jacket and with a beautiful Dutch flag, on board the SS Rotterdam. 
And yes, this is the exact moment I decided on this bLOG entry. 

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