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Classic British workwear clothing through the decades

November 20, 2018

Come be inspired by classic British workwear clothing through the ages and see how those timeless work clothing styles, fabrications and prints work so well in your current wardrobe.


There is something about classic British workwear clothing that never goes out of style. Whether for men or women, work or play, these British workwear quintessential looks are as on-trend today as they were in decades gone by.

Classic British work jackets

There is a place called Holt in Norfolk where you will find the house of “Old Town”, the label renowned for men’s work jackets, leather jackets and men street wear, all inspired by classic British workwear clothing.


A husband-and-wife team run the business and it is known worldwide, but especially in Britain, for its high quality, timeless and essential pieces inspired by early 20th century classic British workwear clothing.


Picture men’s work jackets in drill, serge, tweed or wool. Or men street jackets in leather. And let’s not forget the essential flannel shirts that never go out of style for men.

1920s photo, man in flight suit. Richard Byrd in flight jacket, 1920s

Richard Byrd in flight jacket, 1920s See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


A brief history of classic British workwear clothing


Over 200 years ago, work clothing for men had particular trends and styles. There were the high-waisted pants worn with braces. On top, men wore work jackets – sometimes leather, but often tweed or other materials – with high-cut lapels worn close to the neck. The classical leather work jacket usually was designed in two-button, single-breasted styles.


Beneath the work jacket, you would find a waistcoat in the same fabrication as the jacket, whether drill, serge, tweed, wool or even denim.


And to top off their work clothing, men’s street style dictated the addition of a peaked flannel cap. Classic British workwear clothing for women took the form of apron dresses in delightfully retro prints, patterns and florals.


Alternatively, British workwear for women included high-waisted, wide-legged pants, worn with long-sleeved, buttoned-up blouses tucked in. A leather jacket was optional to finish this look.

Women in work clothes at Slough Training Centre, England, UK, 1941

Women in work clothes at Slough Training Centre, England, UK, 1941. Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Classic British workwear clothing – 1800s to 1940s


Women in the Victorian era worked in offices as far back as the 1800s. British workwear for women of that time was modest, with long, full skirts worn over hoops, high necks and long sleeves.


Unlike men street styles, women embellished their demure work clothing with printed or floral fabrications. They also added plenty of frills and pinned decorative brooches on their dress collars or bodices.


In the early 1900s, when Britain was in the middle of the first world war, women’s classic British workwear clothing was practical yet still flattering. Full midi skirts with long-sleeved blouses tucked in created an hourglass look.


Personality and style came through with pretty cardigans and pearls worn over work clothing skirts instead of blouses.


By the 1940s, women had entered the workforce en-masse and work clothing was much more playful, pretty and apropos for any event, not just work.


Women’s fit-and-flare dresses were in bright colours and retro polka dots, with puffed short sleeves adding a feminine touch. Cropped sweaters with embroidery or beads worn over full skirts were another classic British workwear clothing trend and as flattering today as back in the day.


Links [i] [ii]  [iii]







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