the article examines the social uses and symbolic meanings which are present in the working uniform adopted by usiminas, a large steel company located in ipatinga (mg). this uniform is one of the greatest symbols of prestige in the region, since all the employees wear it, regardless of hierarchy level or gender (under a discourse of equality, it is worn even by the president of the company). the reality under investigation reveals a paradox between the need to equalize the workers by the garment and the company hierarchy, which may imply differences. to unveil the symbolic universe to which the uniform is connected, the analysis articulated symbolic anthropology, material culture and social history, retrieving the historical background regarding the adoption of uniforms in brazilian factories as well as the context in which usiminas was implanted. in the process of symbolic disputes in urban spaces, the uniform was useful to shape behaviors and "civilize" the workers. however, in spite of the control which is possible through the uniform, the access to many privileges have contributed to transform it into a status symbol. the data show that, rather than an inert material to protect workers, the uniform materializes gender and class relations, has an essentially dynamic social life, "impregnated" by memories, dreams and accomplishments, besides being marked by persecution, layoffs, fear and pain.