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Clothes Call: Everything You Need to Know About Building-Staff Uniforms

Carolyn Hahn in Building Operations

Upper West Side, Manhattan, Schwab House

Doormen Uniforms Primer

What should your co-op or condo board look for in a uniform? First of all, it should reflect who you are. Doormen (a.k.a. doorpersons) need to be easily recognizable for security and service reasons. "It's got to fit the neighborhood. When buildings were being converted in the early '80s, you'd see these very new co-op boards in the West Village, for example, outfitting their doormen with long-tailed coats," recalls Edith Schickedanz, a management executive at Gumley-Haft." They were trying for a white-glove image for what had been a modest rental building, and it just didn't work."

"Don't turn your staff into clowns," says Margie Russell, executive director of the New York Association of Realty Managers (NYARM). "No jaunty little fedoras at an angle, no London bobbies. Nothing from the Renaissance." Russell does feels that a hat is appropriate for doormen who stand outside. But not, she cautions, "those high-brimmed hats — they were called crowns for a reason."

Don't turn your staff into

clowns. No jaunty little

fedoras, no London bobbies.

Nothing from the Renaissance.

"Looking gimmicky is the wrong focus for doormen," says Don Levy, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens. "You want them to be a visible deterrent to people who should not be in the building." But don't overdo it: "Military touches, epaulets, even white gloves are out," says Steve Greenbaum, director of management at Mark Greenberg Realty

At Schwab House, the board set up a subcommittee of residents, including one who had worked for years in the garment trade. The results, obtained through Top Hat Uniforms: conservative grey suits with grey trim and silver name tags. Schwab House bought the uniforms outright and has a cleaning contract with a dry cleaner that leases space from the co-op.

 Suitable Numbers

While some buildings do squeak by with one suit jacket and two pairs of pants for doormen and other front-of-building staff, most try for two jackets and two or more pairs of pants. Even that each may not be enough, says Gabe Piro, owner of Dornan Uniforms. "Pants get damaged more easily than jackets. Or if one doesn't come back from the cleaner in time and one is damaged, you've got no backup." If the building can afford it, "a third jacket is going to give a more polished look over the long haul," says Jennifer Busch, the owner of I Buss Uniforms.

Start small. Don't order more than you need. "You probably don't need five shirts per person," Ray Christian, owner of W.H. Christian Uniforms, says. "Once you've established five as the base, good luck ever [reducing it]. If you start at three shirts, you can bump it up on a case-by-case basis."


Keeping uniforms in tip-top shape is an ongoing process. With a big staff, most managing agents suggest a cleaning contract, or even contracting with a local dry cleaner that offers a bulk rate.

When Eric Mandelbaum was selected as board president of Seward Park, the 1,728-unit co-op on Manhattan's Lower East Side, uniforms were very low on the list of things he felt the board needed to address. That's because longtime general manager Frank Durant had already dealt with it sometime before Mandelbaum had joined the board. "Each and every person on our very large staff had 21 changes of clothing." Was that a lot? "Seven changes of clothing is standard, even generous. We had 21," Durant notes. ”We were stuck paying an enormously inflated price for rental and cleaning.” Durant requested an immediate renegotiation of the contract, which brought monthly uniform rental and cleaning charges down to $300 per month, but he eventually advised the building not to renew the contract.

A well-made custom outfit can cost $1,000. More affordably, off-the-rack uniforms can be tailored and customized in two to three weeks.

Either way, the budget for uniforms will have cyclical peaks and eddies. "I'd say every three or four years [you replace them]," says Lyn Whiting, a vice president at The Argo Corporation and resident manager at the 1,130-unit Fordham Hill in Riverdale, The Bronx. She notes that the first year will be a bump, followed by two quiet years, followed by a bump in the fourth year.

Then, of course, there are some who will wear one uniform forever. Some residents at the 48-unit co-op at 404 Riverside Drive still remember "Eddie." A wisecracking little man who jauntily greeted everyone as he opened the door, he seemed to love being a doorman.

It's no surprise, then, that at his own request, he was buried in his uniform.


From the December 2011 issue of Habitat magazine. For print-magazine articles back to 2002, join our Archive >>

The article was updated to correct a Frank Durant quote. The $300 cleaning figure was after that figure was lowered, not before.

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