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We live in an era when CEOs and movie stars wear chore jackets as style statements, but there was a time not so long ago when ‘workwear’ was solely functional. It offered an affordable uniform for labourers, whether on a farm or in a factory, who needed clothing that was durable enough to withstand the many forms of manual jobs. But utility clothing no longer carries the (heavy) weight of the work it was once made for. Not exclusively reserved for construction sites, today utility pieces offer wardrobe foundations that are practical, stylish, and will carry you through cold weather. Now that winter is upon us, we’ve laid out our top five utility staples for you to add to your wardrobe – even if you live in a converted factory instead of work in one. 

Flannel shirts

Despite their reputation as a lumberjack’s essential, a flannel shirt can indeed be worn by those not chopping down trees and yelling ‘timber!’. A ‘flannel’ shirt does not in fact refer to the check pattern so often seen on it, but to the hard-wearing and super-soft brushed wool or cotton fabric it’s made from. The fabric traps air, which makes it excellent for keeping in warmth in cold weather. With their structure, hard-wearing nature, and many, many colours to choose from, flannel shirts should be worn with pride. No tree-chopping required.

Work jackets

Crafted from a heavy cotton drill with lots of large pockets originally designed for storing tools in, the traditional work jacket (or chore coat) was worn by French labourers in the late 1800s. Today, it is a well-loved piece for everyday, casual wear. With a boxy shape that is still comfortable to move around in, the sturdy jacket can be worn year-round –  in summer as a top layer and, in winter, under a coat for that extra bit of warmth. Traditionally, work jackets were blue but now come in any colour. So, while the cut and fabric are essentially fixed, you can have a little fun choosing a shade you like. 

Work boots

We never stop going on about how great work boots are. Ideal for trickier seasons, work boots can handle a real beating (please don’t actually beat yours up, though). Sitting high on the ankle, nothing – whether rain, mud, snow or sleet – gets through these. Although more commonly known as a relaxed design that puts practicality ahead of style, today’s work boots can also be fairly elevated – look out for a smooth leather finish for a pair that looks just as good on a first date as it would on a building site. 

Denim 

Yes, denim is technically a fabric, but whether  it comes in the form of a shirt, jacket, or jeans – it’s the ultimate workwear staple. And we’ve got ol’ Levi Strauss and his partner Jacob W. Davis to thank for that. Initially used as workwear during the 19th-century Gold Rush in California, denim was picked up by rebellious teens and big-screen heartthrobs. Today, it’s the undisputed workhorse of any wardrobe. Flattering, cool, and versatile enough to wear with both smart and casual outfits, denim will never do you wrong. 

Gilets

To nip any confusion in the bud – gilet (or vest in the US) is pronounced ‘jee-lay’. Now that we’ve got that covered, we can tell you why they’re great. Originally constructed for European manual labourers in the 15th century, the gilet allowed for freedom of movement while providing the wearer with an extra layer – much like armour. During colder climes, gilets provide an additional layer of warmth (especially when stuffed with padding), while not looking overly bulky at the arms when worn under a coat or jacket. Not only that, they act as a cool, versatile layering piece and offer the opportunity to subtly flash a bit of colour – proving that even after six centuries, the gilet is still working hard. 


Words: Ashiana Pradhan
Photography: Andras Hari
Styling: Alice Watt