What does this have to do with fashion for blue-collar workwear?
I was recently in the trendy neighborhood of Silver Lake (Los Angeles) and I wandered into a shop called “Golden Age”, which sells “French Workwear”. The store held shelves full of heavy cotton jackets and coveralls, all in different shades of blue. I also spotted what looked like well-worn firefighter uniforms. Everything was really expensive, too. I wondered, what’s going on here? In a interview with BidstitchLudvic Orlando, the owner of Golden Age, explains French Workwear:
“First, the uniforms of French workers were designed at the end of the 19th century in France and the clothes became more resistant with the industrial revolution. The oldest work jackets we have found date from the 1920s in moleskin fabric, stiffer and thicker, made for minors and heavyweights Different fabrics were then used over the decades: denim, linen, linen/combed cotton, herringbone, drill cotton later… French companies had to provide their workers with at least a set of blue uniforms for all types of jobs such as factory workers, construction workers, farmers, mechanics, etc. That’s why these pieces are so unique, made of different fabrics and used over the years. years in many different jobs inside or out, washed and repaired for decades, showing every shade of blue used!”
French workwear is just one of many “workwear” trends that have been popular over the past few decades. Maya Ernest entrance Explain:
For decades, utility-oriented workwear has been valued for fashion over function. In the ’90s, hip-hop legends like The Fugees and Tupac wore overalls and chores over coats, while queer communities embraced workwear for their baggy, androgynous look. The 2000s saw skateboarders and cholo culture take over the trend, often mixing boxy work pieces with female drummers and low top sneakers.
Ernest goes on to ask what it means when the workwear style is appropriated by people who don’t use the clothes for the actual job:
The fashion industry doesn’t share the practical mindset of workwear – it’s about what looks good, not how something works. However, focusing solely on style can detract from pieces created for utility. As workwear grows in popularity outside of its target demographic, one has to wonder when its adoption becomes problematic. Is there a problem with the glamor of someone’s work uniform? And will this glamor drive up prices for those who actually wear utility-oriented styles for convenience?
When asked, “Do you see any irony in hip kids working the clothes of the old working class in France?” Ludvic Orlando, owner of Golden Age, replied:
“It’s ironic, but I get the appeal, when I was a skate kid, that’s what I wanted to wear. If you think about it, we saw the same trend phenomenon with vintage Carhartt, Dickies, Levi’s which are icons of American workwear, Kanye has worn them for the last 5 years and made them very popular among the hype crowd, while they have always been used by the average worker… Functional, comfortable clothing , well made and durable have definitely taken over the wardrobe from the hype to the more casual customer.I have always found workers, cowboys or military uniforms very inspiring in their fit, fabrics, functionality and craftsmanship. -do. Working class has always been the most stylish in my opinion! That’s why it’s a big part of what we offer in our stores.”
Still, Maya Ernest entrance warns that this glamorization of working-class style can cause problems for people who actually need clothes for work, especially as the clothes become more expensive as celebrities and hipsters buy the style:
Unlike the groups that originally embraced workwear, modern shoppers admire work-inspired pieces for their look rather than their function. Practicality is not a necessity (or a common feature) in fashion, price included. Consumers are paying hundreds of dollars to wear pieces that are already distressed and falling apart.
The popularity of utility-focused styles may soon die out – but if it doesn’t, those who actually wear the pieces every day will pay the highest price of all. Brands producing workwear need to be aware of their first customers, Massony warned. Work clothes “are linked to people’s livelihoods”, she said. “It’s important to remember – and educate others – about the roots of this trend.” Without people wearing Dickies and Carhartts for function rather than fashion, workwear just wouldn’t work.