It’s one thing to describe a look or cultural movement, but it’s doesn’t mean much without identifying the pieces that make it up. Below you’ll find a quick look at small selection of
workwear’s most common and important pieces.
Naturally, blue jeans are a signature of workwear, with Levi’s iconic five-pocket, riveted design becoming one of the most commonly worn pieces around the globe. But even with denim’s sheet practicality and popularity, it’s not the
only option when it comes to pants. Closer to dress trousers, workwear chinos are epitomized by Dickies 874 Work Pant, which first entered production in the late 1950s. While Dickies’ version is a flat front trouser made with a slightly rigid wrinkle resistant fabric, other iterations have been crafted in alternative materials or featuring pleats. If you’ve ever worked a retail or warehouse job, chances are you’ve owned a pair of these pants—if not a pair of Dickies 874s.
Similar in design to the overshirt, the chore coat is more overtly a piece of outerwear. Born out of the “bleu de travail” worn by the French labor class, the original designs of this piece are simple: It’s a heavyweight cotton, button closure jacket with patch pockets (usually somewhere between three and four). While the “bleu de travail” would go on to directly influence the modern
denim jacket, these earlier iterations are somewhere between an unlined blazer and a very heavy overshirt. The classic blue version received regular wear by the late street style photographer Bill Cunningham, who wore his chore coat regularly thanks to its easy shape and large pockets. Today, the silhouette has more association with brands like Carhartt and Carhartt WIP, whose Michigan iteration in duck canvas has a noticeable presence on worksites and within fashion week galleries year after year.
Denim Jeans and Jackets
Pioneered by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis (the man behind the brand that would become workwear icon Ben Davis), the first pair of denim jeans were created in 1872 and patented on May 20, 1873. Created from and named after the French fabric “Serge de Nimes,” denim quickly earned a reputation as a hard-wearing fabric—first by California miners and U.S. rail works, resurfacing as a “bad boy” staple among bikers in the 1950s. By the 1960s jeans were a cultural staple, ranging from pre-shunk jeans worn by highschoolers, to the Levi’s Type III trucker jacket. By the 1990s, fashion brands had tapped into denim, crafting the concept of “designer denim.” As the U.S. lost interest in heritage denim production, Japan swooped in to preserve and reimagine denim as we know it, keeping tradition alive while redefining what “designer denim” could be. Brands embodying this modern balance include Japan’s Visvim and Kapital, along with RRL and, of course, Levi’s.
While it’s easy to simply assume this is just a larger button-up shirt, this piece technically has a lot more layering opportunity. Generally lighter than a canvas coat but thicker than an oxford cloth shirt, this is a piece usually
crafted out of wool or flannel featuring chest pockets creating extra storage. Word over a T-shirt in the spring, over another button-up shirt in the fall or over a turtleneck in the winter, this is a practical staple in the workwear wardrobe.
Of course these items will vary in silhouette and detail based on the brands producing them. While fashion labels and runway designers often tap into the archives of the following brands, we’re spotlighting the OGs within the workwear space. Even as these names have sublines and offshoots that cater to the modern consumer, keep this in mind:
The following aren’t “fashion brands,” at their cores they all produce pure workwear.