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The French work jacket in the UK – A fashion icon worth owning

May 1, 2019

The bleu de travail – an iconic French work jacket available in the UK that not only holds great fashion value for British, but is a favourite of vintage lovers and antique fashion admirers.

A staple of French workers back in the 1800s, the endearing iconic piece of garment is making a revival, as the French work jacket is seen on UK streets and malls all over.

Navy Vintage French Work Jacket

Navy Vintage French Work Jacket

The joys of the Working Blues

Loosely translated, bleu de travail could be termed the “working blues”. This worker jacket, typically a navy blue (more like Indigo, really!) top made from 100 percent cotton fabric, has been around for nearly two centuries.

 

Back in the day, the blue buttoned top was worn by rank and file French workers that ploughed the fields, operated the railways, worked the machines and manned the production lines.  It was a rugged piece of work-wear, and it was ideal for French blue-collar workers because it required little maintenance. You could typically wear your bleu de travail for several days (or shifts) before it needed a washing.

 

A true working man’s garment, this piece of work-wear was also surprisingly practical too, because they usually designed them with several beefy pockets on either side, the outer-wear could therefore serve a true chore jacket to help workers carry light tools and supplies around as they moved from one workstation to another.  More importantly, it served as a visual distinction between French work crews and their supervisors/managers.

 Bleu french work jacket

Bleu french work jacket

French Work Jacket Comeback

But today, there’s nothing “blue” (as in “sad”) about the bleu. The comeback of this stubbornly resilient piece of outerwear is proof that the French work jacket is in the UK as a proud fashion statement today, and not as a chore jacket to be scorned at!

 

However, not everyone is lucky enough to own a pair of these treasured French worker jackets. In their vintage state, they are a true collectors item, and not easy to come by. And even if you do manage to find one, you may need to do some patching-up to do.

 

You could locate an original French work jacket at UK online vintage stores. But increasingly, contemporary fashion designers who are inspired by the bleu de travail are creating a more modern version of the worker jacket from the 1800s. Sure, they’re still the working blues of yore – but now you can wear them with the joy of knowing yours isn’t something that French workers once wore in sweat shops and work pits. It has now established itself as a firm fashion icon!

French worker jackets resurgence

The revival of the French work jacket in the UK and other parts of the western world is owed largely to the popularity of the “revivalist” look over the last few decades. In addition to many other fashion designers and leading fashion houses, the French chore jacket has been revived due to the tireless work of people like the legendary New York-based fashion photographer, the late Bill Cunningham.

 

Today, many contemporary labels have reproduced versions of the original bleu de travail.  You could find versions from brands like Vetra and Le Mont Saint Michel, but other designers carry them too. However, because of how en vogue these are today, you might expect to shell out a pretty penny – £140 or more.

 

Many vintage stores might have an original French work jacket in their UK online stores. These might be less pricey – in the £40+ range. But don’t expect these “finds” to be in pristine condition. Some of them might be slightly worse for wear, but nothing that some home-made repairs can’t take care of.

 

You’ll probably be able to find an authentic navy blue at one of the thrift shops near you. But like most precious commodities, you might have to make do with one that has a few stains or a button or two missing.

 

If you do manage to source a French work jacket in the UK, and it’s missing a few buttons, it might be a good idea to replace all of the buttons for something more contemporary. It’s highly unlikely that you could get the original buttons at a reasonable price anyway!

Authentic chore jacket look, Craftsman

Authentic chore jacket look, Craftsman

Authentic chore jacket look

Clearly, today’s version of the chore jacket isn’t designed purely as a workwear garment – though that was the primary quality (it’s deep pockets!) that is rumoured to have attracted Bill Cunningham to it!

 

Like the field jacket or the safari jacket, the French work jacket is an extremely versatile piece of outerwear that can blend into any other piece from your wardrobe. And because it is so “open” and semi-formal, you can easily accessorise it too.

 

Today, authentic and remodelled French worker jackets are worn along with contemporary fashion pieces. As long as your event isn’t “super formal”, there’s a chore jacket look that will blend into the occasion. And because of a lack of structure or lining on the inside, this piece of outerwear is an ideal warm weather companion.

Pulling it off

So, what’s the safest way to pull off that authentic French work jacket look on UK streets, pubs, busses and trains? Well, right off the cuff, it’s safe to say that you should probably shed your “regular” denim top first, if you want to create that authentic bleu de travail look. Why? Because, if you want to wear it like the French workers did – and some still do today! – then do as they do, and just stick with just the chore jacket as your only outerwear.

 

You could wear the French work jacket in the UK for a semi-formal occasion too – something that doesn’t need you to wear a black tie or dress shirt! A casual dinner with friends, or a day out with family and colleagues would be a perfect time to don on French worker jackets.

French Work Jacket Colours

Back in the day, the preferred colour was navy blue, and that was often paired with a matching pair of (blue) trousers. That look completed the “working man blues” look. But bleu de travail was also available in other sombre colours – like black, which was usually worn to more serious events, like funereal or church services.

 

Whichever colour you might prefer (navy blue or black), many aficionados of this working top like to pair the French work jacket in the UK with a white shirt underneath.

 

You might also turn to the late Bill Cunningham, for inspiration on how to pull off that authentic French work jacket look in the UK. You could do that by wearing your favourite shirt or tee underneath your blue worker jacket, and pair it with Khakis – a lighter colour than the dark blue jacket should go well with the jacket. If you aren’t a Khakis dude, then any wide-legged 100 % cotton trousers should do. Finish that look with a pair of black or darker brown dress shoes.

 

Fashion-conscious wearers of the French work jacket in the UK can add a burst of colour to your look by accessorising. Use a contrasting colour scarf or bandanna and tuck it around the neck. Now, you’ll look like the French workers of yore – albeit a rather “upscale” version!

 

 

Links and Inspiration [i] [ii] [iii] [iv] [v]

[i] https://www.asos.com/men/fashion-feed/2016_04_21-thurs/cult-item-french-worker-jacket-bleu-de-travail/

 

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/mar/31/from-fields-to-catwalk-rise-french-workers-jacket-bill-cunningham

 

[iii] https://www.gq.com/story/dropping-knowledge-bill-cunninghams-french-workmans-jacket

 

[iv] https://www.pedlars.co.uk/shop/blue-french-vintage-workwear-jacket-medium

 

[v] https://putthison.com/the-french-chore-coat-finding-good-spring/

 

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