Workwear and functional clothing has an appeal not lost on many of the world’s premiere men's fashion designers. Multiple pockets, hard-wearing fabrics and boxy cuts result in comfortable garments that not only look good and last, but also serve a purpose.
From worker jackets to overshirts and chinos, workwear was initially designed for those in manual jobs who required clothing they could rely on to do their job. But today, men's workwear is the go-to style of dressing for those who value comfortable, easy style that is suitable for both work and play. If you’re looking to build a workwear-inspired wardrobe, or you want to add to your existing collection, here’s where to begin.
What is workwear style?
As the name suggests, workwear fashion has its roots in blue-collar trades such as carpentry and construction. Designed for ultimate functionality and crafted from hard-wearing, durable materials, men's workwear pieces have historically been made to ensure safety, comfort and ease of movement.
Expect neutral colours like brown, black, khaki and beige (intended to disguise dirt). Fabrics are sturdy and textures are often matte: think heavyweight cotton drill, raw denim, waxed cotton and thick flannel. Workwear style is also characterised by relaxed, rugged silhouettes and functional features like multiple pockets, zippers and buttons.
In recent decades, traditional workwear style has evolved to extend beyond the realms of blue-collar work, becoming adopted more widely by the fashion set and menswear style circles. The rigid fabrics, utilitarian minimalism and boxy cuts of men's workwear are now ubiquitous, appropriated by high street labels, streetwear brands and high fashion designers alike.
Key men's workwear pieces
If there’s one garment to steal from the canon of workwear clothing, it’s the overshirt. A versatile piece which usually features two large chest pockets, a boxy cut and squared off hem, the overshirt can be layered effectively over a T-shirt or worn on its own with chinos and boots or trainers.
This Wax London take is rendered in a navy and black windowpane check and sustainably crafted using recycled cotton, with the addition of eco-friendly corozo nut buttons. Wear it in the warmer months as a lightweight jacket, or layer it under a heavier coat in autumn and winter.
Cargo trousers offer a '90s-inspired take on workwear style, with their large flat pockets and wider-than-usual cut. They're generally made from a heavyweight cotton fabric for a rigid construction that offers serious durability.
This pair from London-based menswear label Percival are more refined than classic baggy cargo pants, making them a perfect smart-casual alternative to chinos. Crafted from heavyweight cotton twill, they'll stand the test of time and will develop a unique patina as they mould to your body shape over the years.
Think the gilet isn't for you? Think again. The once-divisive sleeveless garment, aka vest, has come a long way over the years to find itself cemented as a must-have menswear staple that's as functional as it is stylish, offering the dual benefits of warmth and ease of movement.
For a practical yet fashion-forward gilet that you can layer year round, look to Danish label Forét. Drawing aesthetic inspiration from utilitarian and military design, the brand's reversible vest features cotton twill on one side and padded quilting on the other, with spacious contrasting pockets on both sides. The best part? It's crafted from a combination of Seaqual – an upcycled plastic fibre collected from the oceans – and recycled polyester, making it an eco-friendly wardrobe addition
Thanks to its inherent durability and versatility, denim is essential to any workwear wardrobe, and has been for hundreds of years. These days, a denim shirt strikes the perfect balance between smart and casual, and can be effortlessly dressed up or down.
Crafted from densely woven indigo-dyed cotton that's designed to soften with wear, this version from ASKET will become a firm wardrobe favourite. Team it with chinos and derby shoes for a contemporary take on the business-casual dress code, or if you're feeling particularly brave, pair it with denim jeans for an effortless double denim look.
It should come as no surprise that denim jeans have always been a key element of workwear wardrobes, and their popularity certainly isn't waning anytime soon. Robust styles in selvedge or raw denim exude the rugged aesthetic that workwear is so well known for.
German denim label Closed has myriad jeans styles to choose from, but to really lean into the workwear look, opt for a loose-fitting pair with minimal detailing, like this cotton-linen pair. They feature a detachable cord waistband and a mid-grey wash that offers an authentic lived-in look.
Perhaps the most definitive workwear garment, the aptly-named worker jacket or chore coat as it’s sometimes known has transcended its original purpose and become a modern day menswear staple. Originally designed for factory workers in 19th century France (and dubbed 'bleu de travail' for its distinctive blue hue), the worker jacket is usually constructed from hard wearing cotton twill, and features patch pockets up front.
Unrecorded’s take is understated in design and even comes in a dusty blue hue as an homage to the French worker jackets of day’s gone-by. Sustainably crafted in Portugal from heavyweight organic cotton twill, it's a made-to-last staple that you'll reach for time and again.
Laced work boots
Thanks to their robust construction and rugged style, work boots – particularly laced styles – have taken the mainstream fashion scene by storm. They're perfect for the winter months and best paired with raw denim jeans or chinos, an overshirt and an overcoat.
The Famej style from Italian shoemakers Velasca gets our vote for its combination of smooth calf leather upper and sturdy para rubber sole. Flexible, comfortable and oh-so-tough, they're ready for whatever adventures you have in store.
We couldn't address men's workwear style without mention of overalls, perhaps the most quintessential workwear garment of all. Designed for utmost practicality whilst on the job, they traditionally feature multiple pockets for tools, as well as a hammer loop and elastic suspenders.
Iconic workwear specialists Carhartt are renowned for their classic overalls. The company's more fashion-focused offshoot label Carhartt WIP has produced a contemporary take on the famous Bib Overall, this time made from organic cotton, but just as robust as the original.