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Bleu de travail French work jacket – A fashion statement worth making

September 24, 2018

From uniform for factory workers back in late 1800s the bleu de travail French work jacket is now established as a fashion icon worth embracing in its own rights

Three panel cartoon representing and miserable plight of peasants through the depiction of the Three Orders, clergy, aristocracy, and people.

Three panel cartoon representing and miserable plight of peasants through the depiction of the Three Orders, clergy, aristocracy, and people.


570px-Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week - photographed by Jiyang Chen

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week – photographed by Jiyang Chen


No other piece of street style has caught on so well with vintage lovers like the bleu de travail French work jacket has. From its humble beginnings as working blues, bleu de travail has inspired many iconic contemporary figures, none more memorable than the late Bill Cunningham

Edouard Manet, Corner of a Café-Concert, circa. 1878-80

570px-Edouard Manet, Corner of a Café-Concert, circa. 1878-80

A style icon in the making

The late 1800s were a very divisive time in French fashion. Class distinctions were at an all-time high, with the ruling elite embracing a more distinctive appearance than the street style of the “commoners”.  It was often common for farm owners and factory employers to want to visually identify workers from management.


And so, out of this need for class distinction, the bleu de travail French work jacket was born! While “upper management” were oft seen donning on white coats and work jackets, the “working class” had on the hard wearing blue work jacket.

Groupe d'ouvriers

Groupe d’ouvriers

Bleu de travail

Aptly named “bleu de travail”, which loosely translated to “working mans blues”, this chore jacket quickly established itself as the working blues of choice for the working class. Anywhere you went – from farms to factories, and from construction sites to automobile garages – the blue French worker jacket dominated.


  • Made from cotton twill or moleskin, it was hardy enough for factory workers to wear on long shifts and for days at end


  • Originally designed from dark blue or indigo fabric, it was ideal wear in areas where grease, grime, dust and dirt abounded


  • This hard wearing work jacket was loosely cut, allowing for free movement of workers. And since it had no inner lining or padding, the bleu de travail French work jacket was ideal rugged-weather wear

La chaudronnerie à la base de toulon

La chaudronnerie à la base de toulon

Three patch pockets

But what really made bleu de travail popular street style of its time, was the three patch pockets that the garment was designed with. These weren’t just fashion embellishments that were added to a piece of workwear to make it “fashionable”.


In fact, the patch pockets were deliberately designed wide and deep, so factory workers and farm hands could store a lot of accessories and supplies as they moved about the workplace. “Fashionable” – yes, but also practical by street style fashion standards!


Legend has it that it was the patch pockets that endeared the bleu de travail French work jacket to legendary fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. “Bleu Bill” could never be seen without his signature blue chore – that ultimately became his personal style icon. And it was personalities such as Bill Cunningham that later inspired many a contemporary fashion house to embrace the hard wearing worker wear.

France. Lamination of the hot aluminum and light alloy into sheets 90 centimeters wide.circa 1948 and 1955

France. Lamination of hot aluminum and light alloy into sheets .circa 1948 and 1955

High-flying Street style

While late 1800s fashion aficionados weren’t looking at bleu de travail from the lenses of fashion statements, the humble chore jacket has become just that today!  Popular French designers, like Le Mont Saint Michel, saw the deep appeal that the working blue had among the contemporary masses, and have released their own versions of the iconic piece of workwear.


Many fashion houses have taken late 1800s inspiration and introduced their own contemporary twists into their designs. Its no wonder then that one of the Le Mont replicas of bleu de travail isn’t “bleu” – it’s vert (green)! But the other originally designed features of the iconic workers jacket have been maintained, including the buttoned-up style and patch pockets.


Today, as high-flying street style goes, the humble bleu de travail French work jacket has been embraced by others active in the contemporary workwear scene. Chains like Carhartt and Dickies have created their unique signature pieces around this style icon.


If you browse Ebay online you’ll likely see pieces, inspired by the French worker jacket, from other popular workwear makers, like Levi’s. In addition to blue and indigo, contemporary versions of the old hard wearing jacket might not be made from moleskin – but everything else mimics the originally designed garment.

Blue17 vintage French Chore Jacket

Blue17 vintage French Chore Jacket

Street appealing bleu de travail French work jacket

While the late Bill Cunningham certainly added to the street appeal of the bleu de travail French work jacket, it’s practical design from the late 1800s, along with many subsequent fashion “tweaks”, have revived broader interest in this iconic piece of workwear.


For instance, Levi’s version is manufactured from cotton duck, which makes this hard wearing garment easy to crease. And with today’s “fade crazy fad”, cotton duck also fades easily. And that adds even more street appeal to today’s take on the French worker jacket.

Green workwear jacket

Green workwear jacket

A multitude of colours

In addition to a multitude of colours, like dark green, tan and black, bleu de travail is also available from some brands, like Anderson & Sheppard, in traditional dark blue. A&S has produced their version of the French chore jacket from blue hopsack linen – which adds yet another layer of street appeal to this iconic piece of workwear from the late 1800s.


And there’s the everlasting allure of denim! Denimheads are quick to embrace anything that’s made from their favourite fabric. The bleu de travail French work jacket made the Tottenham, London factory of Blackhorse Lane, is actually tailored using Turkish 12-ounce raw denim – which makes this style icon from years gone by a very popular choice among die-hard denim lovers.


It’s innovations like these, some subtle and some not so delicate, that have continued to add to Working blues appeal among today’s workwear lovers. And while the “old” bleu de travail French work jacket was embraced due mainly to societal demands, it is worn today as a fashion statement with pride.


From work environments to casual social and semi-formal official engagements, bleu de travail can be seen worn with abandon. You’ll see workwear fashion lovers wear their favourite pair of outwear over Khakis – like Bill Cunningham.  They’ll put it on under Tees and light sweaters. And they’ll even wear them on top of dress-shirts. And because of it’s practical and functional design, the bleu de travail French work jacket look is so easy to pull off!


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