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Vintage American workwear reimagined as fashion statement

March 25, 2019

Vintage American workwear has continually been reinvented and reimagined through the ages as style and fashion statements for work, play and everything in between.

Vintage American workwear is no longer confined to the working man or working woman in the fields, factory floors, mineshafts or railroads. Iconic vintage workwear is now a symbol of style and fashion savvy, with broad appeal and application across work and play.

San Francisco Mint employee, 1873

San Francisco Mint employee, 1873

Vintage American Workwear Backstory

 

Vintage work clothes and vintage workwear always did and continue to inspire fashion and style through the ages, and not just for work but for every occasion and in all kinds of reinventions. The fact that vintage clothing is ubiquitous in almost every aspect of our lives, gives testament to that statement. Whether it’s at work – in offices or outdoors, at the mall or on the bus or train, you’ll never get away from seeing someone or the other wearing vintage.

 

Vintage American workwear has its origins in the resilient, hard-working and durable fabrics, designs and structures of work clothes. Due to the prevailing social, economic and cultural situations back then, clothing fabrics were made to withstand the demands of manual labour, from mining to farming to factory floor operations.

 

Traditional flannel work jackets by Dickies and iconic, enduring work clothes by Carhartt are the timeless vintage workwear products and brands in vogue back then. And guess what? These, and other names are still popular for both work and play even today.

 

Subcultures like punk and hip-hop picked up on work clothes trends and styles. They adopted them as a badge of disruption and rebellion, taking vintage workwear out of the realm of manual labour and transporting these styles and looks to main street fashion for men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

 

In the 90s, Post Overalls and Helmut Lang reinvented vintage American workwear as fashion statements that represented a combination of function and style. Wearing these vintage-inspired work clothes signified you were “in the know” and very au courant with your wardrobe choices.

Unemployed miner. West Virginia USA, 1937

Unemployed miner. West Virginia USA, 1937

Working men and their vintage American workwear

 

Work clothes for men in America originated from the 1920s onwards to support manual labour jobs. Work jackets in cotton twill, engineer jackets in canvas, railroad coats in wool and dungarees in denim made up the roots of vintage America workwear, working men style.

 

Vintage workwear was created and designed to provide safety and comfort for jobs on factory floors, in mines, on farms, on railways and in mechanic shops. The fabrics were specially selected for durability, fire resistance, weather resistance and outdoor safety.

 

The construction of vintage workwear was all about work clothes reinforcement and utility, with copper rivets, metal buttons, loads of pockets and places for storage.  Vintage workwear was lined and layered to protect the wearer from the elements and work environment hazards.

Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock, 1957

Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock, 1957

Fashion’s adoption of vintage American workwear

 

Fashion designers created vintage workwear inspired clothing that were constructed of the sturdy denim, canvas, wool and flannel fabrics of classic work clothes.

 

Authentic copper rivets, lots of pockets, plenty of double stitching and other vintage workwear elements added a fashion-forward spin on vintage American workwear that was marketed to everyone, not just working men.

 

Having movie and music icons like James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elvis and others adopt vintage American workwear classics like blue jeans, brought work clothes into mainstream fashion and inspired rebels and followers alike to adopt the vintage workwear look.

Carhartt store in Hamburg, Gemany

Carhartt store in Hamburg, Gemany

Vintage American workwear brands

 

There are some American heritage brands that stand out for their vintage workwear products. Carhatt and Dickies are two brands that have been making work clothes for decades.

 

Carhartt has been creating vintage American workwear since the 1800s and offers its customers work jackets, overalls, shirts, denim jeans and dungarees, coats and vests. They also specialize in fire-resistant work clothes.

 

Visit Carhartt’s website to find vintage workwear specials like jeans in heavy durable denim, heavyweight fleece lined vintage denim work jackets in classic indigo, rugged climbing boots and hard-working pullovers, hoodies and warm knitted caps.

 

Dickies is another vintage American workwear icon and brand, famous for work clothes and accessories like it’s padded flannel jackets, back packs, work belts, steel-capped work boots and utilitarian back packs.

 

Take a spin through Dickie’s online store to find the original work pant, vintage workwear that goes beyond work and fashion-forward options like carpenter pants in cotton twill, trendy denim cut-off overalls in pale blue and T-shirts with the iconic Dickies logo.

Helmut Lang, 2008

Helmut Lang, 2008

Vintage American Workwear as Fashion statement

 

Designers like Post Overalls and Helmut Lang took vintage American workwear out of the factory and farm and made vintage workwear inspired products for the savvy, fashion-forward consumer.

 

Post Overalls is known for its engineer jackets in a multitude of fabrications and details. This jacket is a throwback to the work jackets worn by working men on railroads, in factories and in mechanic’s shops. The high quality and customized details that go into the production of these work jackets have attracted a loyal, cult following.

 

Post Overalls products are available through various suppliers, like EndClothing, where you will find the classic vintage American workwear cotton twill work jacket, the herringbone engineer’s jacket in retro dark blue, and a timeless Chambray shirt that goes with everything.  Traveller vest, hunter jackets and army pants round out the working men style options.

 

Helmut Lang, known for his iconic painter jeans and other creative twists and spins on vintage workwear, made a career out of taking traditional vintage American workwear to the next level for discerning consumers looking for the genuine article with a contemporary look and feel.

 

Visit Helmut Lang online to find work clothes reimagined and reinvented for today’s fashion-forward consumer. You will find bomber jackets, denim jackets and jeans, leather trenches, studded leather jackets and much more. The clothes are minimalist and structural in style and appeal.

Women buying Men's overalls, Rockville, Maryland,1942

Women buying Men’s overalls, Rockville, Maryland,1942

Contemporised vintage American workwear

 

Today’s working world goes far beyond the pre and post-industrial ages, with global populations working the gig economy from home, shared work spaces, studios, lofts and offices. Work itself is nothing like the era during which vintage American workwear was born.

 

So, fashion and function have come together to reinvent vintage workwear into something new and fluid that works for work and also for play, while retaining those nostalgic style and fabrication elements that speak to the vintage clothing aficionado in all of us.

 

Some of the timeless trends of vintage workwear that rock the catwalks of our daily lives today include:

Mission Manufacturing Co, field shot, Miss Mission series, Houston,Texas, 1944.

Mission Manufacturing Co, field shot, Miss Mission series, Houston,Texas, 1944.

Fit-and-Flare vintage workwear style

 

The fit-and-flare shape is always in style, from the 1940s right to today. Rock this vintage American workwear look in a belted sleeveless dress in your favourite deep plaid colour combinations of navy, burgundy, red, black or grey, over a lace-embellished blouse or a pussy-bow necktie long-sleeved top. Add early 1800s vintage workwear style brooches in a cluster to finish off your throwback workwear vibe.

US Armed Services poster, early 1940s

US Armed Services poster, early 1940s

Shirtdresses inspired by Vintage American Workwear

 

Adorn yourself for Fall in the ever-flattering hourglass-shaped shirtdress in a mustard background with small white polka dots, a matching belt made in the same fabrication, large contrasting buttons down the front and sleeves rolled up loosely to your elbows. Add a pair of high-heeled oxfords in deep brown and you have the vintage workwear inspired look to take you to work today.

 

Or spin the vintage workwear shirtdress look for Summer in classic denim in shades of retro indigo or work clothes inspired stone washed blue. Keep the matching fabric belt to extend the vintage workwear inspiration, then add white sneakers or ballet flats to contemporize your style.

Mission Mfg field shot, Miss Mission series,Houston,Texas,1944

Mission Mfg field shot, Miss Mission series,Houston,Texas,1944

Working men inspired fabrications

 

There are classic, working men inspired vintage workwear fabrications that come back around every fashion season and cycle. Hounds tooth checks, corduroy, plaids, Prince of Wales checks, tweed, wool, rugged heavyweight denim and pinstripes are reimagined every year in today’s forms and silhouettes.

 

Bring these vintage workwear fabrications to life in your wardrobe today in tailored tweed blazers worn with creamy blouses and dark skinny pants for a work clothes vibe, or wear with vintage American workwear blue jeans and a classic white T-shirt for a casual-chic effect. Finish your dressed-down look with classic loafers in black or tan and show off your ankles.

 

For your work clothes wardrobe, treat yourself to a plaid pencil skirt suit in warm Fall colours of gold, brown and red and compliment the look with a vintage workwear inspired Victorian lace blouse in shades of clotted cream.

 

And let’s not forget the timeless yet youthful appeal of a vintage workwear inspired corduroy fabrication skirt worn with a fitted black turtleneck sweater tucked into the waist, over opaque tights and with knee-high boots. Pick your corduroys in any colour – they never go out of style and work with everything in your closet.

Woman standing next to military aircraft tyres, 1941

Woman standing next to military aircraft tyres, 1941

Vintage American Workwear for you

 

Now that you have seen all your vintage workwear options and backstories, and how to spin them for your own personal look and style, check out your favourite work clothes inspirations at online shopping websites or your nearest thrift stores.

 

Source authentic vintage American workwear for low, low prices at your local thrift stores or on global online market places or visit the consignment stores in your neighbourhood to find original pieces to combine with your current classics. Your consignment stores offer you the genuine article at a premium price but worth the money if you want a high quality, one-of-a-kind vintage workwear wardrobe.

 

Alternatively, visit online shopping websites to find vintage workwear inspired modern fabrics, cuts and styles that give you the contemporary look you crave, with a hint of throwback vibe thrown in for that whimsical touch that epitomizes your own personal style.

 

Links [i] [ii] [iii] [iv]

[i] https://www.carhartt.com/

 

[ii] www.dickies.com

 

[iii] https://www.endclothing.com/us/brands/post-overalls

 

[iv]  www.helmutlang.com

 

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