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What is workwear?

What is workwear?

Photographed: Universal Works jacket (£149); MVP indigo jeans (£30); Dickies chinos (£45); Red Wing boots (£249)

In a nutshell

As it says on the tin, workwear is clothing originally made for working in, but which has now transitioned out of mines, forests and factories into every man’s wardrobe. “It’s fuss-free and purposeful,” says Thread stylist Alice Watt. “Everything was originally added for a reason – from the fabric to the zips and pockets – not decoration.” Think tough, practical things like jeans, cargo trousers, donkey jackets and chunky leather boots.


People who work with their hands have always worn clothes specialised to the job, but modern workwear was born in the industrial revolution, when labourers moved en masse from the fields to work factories, on railways lines and down mines. Because of the rigours of their work, their clothing had to be hard-wearing and protective. Fabrics like denim, corduroy and heavy drill cotton were resilient to damage and comparatively cheap to produce, which made them ideal for workers on low wages.

In the 1980s, working class subcultures like punks and football casuals adopted the look as a way to express their heritage (it helped that the clothes could withstand a moshpit). In the last decade, workwear been adopted more widely, particularly by people interested in the craft and heritage of their clothes. “It’s covetable, but not trend-led,” says Alice. “Which is why it’s as relevant right now as it was in the 50s.” And because it’s still hardy and functional, it as easy to style as it is to take care of.

How to wear it well

“Workwear has an ageless quality which suits men of any decade,” says Alice. “You can wear it all at once or one staple at a time – it's incredibly hard to get wrong. Whether you go for a flannel shirt under a gilet with selvedge denim jeans and hiking boots, or simply pull on a utility jacket over a T-shirt and chinos, it's incredibly versatile.

“You do need to be careful not to overdo the look, though. The palette and textures of workwear lend themselves to something more pared-back. The fact that workwear is all about authenticity rather than trends means it works best with wardrobe classics, rather than anything heavily printed or with big logos. And while workwear looks best once it’s been beaten up a bit, you should do the beating up yourself. Pre-distressing doesn’t have that all-important heritage.”