The versatile vintage French work jacket making a comeback!May 14, 2019
By mounting its modern-day comeback bleu de travail establishes itself as more than just a vintage French work jacket that fashion aficionados from yester years loved.
Over its fabled 100-year plus history, the remarkable vintage French work jacket has seen itself evolve. Born into a world of workwear, the humble blue chore jacket today takes centre stage amongst some of the world’s most luxurious brand names
Versatility and practicality – The rise of the Chore jacket
From workwear brands to high-end luxury names – everyone wants a piece of the humble bleu de travail today. Yet, it seems like a century ago, no one but the working class would dare to be seen in one of those “working blues”.
In fact, literally translated, “bleu de travail” actually does stand for blue workwear – something that could be seen throughout Frances’ working populaces in the late 1800s. If you worked anywhere other than in “white collar” jobs, you’d most likely have to wear a blue chore jacket. There were no two ways about it!
Unsurprisingly though, what made the vintage French work jacket a “people’s choice” back in the day, is exactly what’s fanned its revival today:
- Versatility: Which meant it could easily fit into any environment back then. And it can still do so today!
- Durability: Like the French worker of yore, today’s fashion lovers crave durability in what they wear. And this piece of vintage French workwear provides that in spades!
- Practicality: The colour, the style, the design and the fabric, all blend in to make this iconic piece of vintage wear very practical indeed!
It’s no wonder then that, from its humble beginnings in the factories, garages, farms and warehouses of the last century, the French worker jacket is now seen everywhere – from causeways and runways, to high-end fashion malls and thrift stalls. It seems like, no matter where you go – someone is wearing a blue chore!
What makes the vintage French work jacket
Before we talk about the “what”, let’s explore the “why”, shall we?
For whatever reason (some say it was societal demands, other say it was a “practical thing”), workers back in the late 1800s needed to be identified and set apart from their managers and supervisors. And bleu de travail fit right into place to perform that function. So, while the “upper cadre” were often seen in white trench and overcoats, the blue chore was the outerwear of choice for the working class.
And then, there was the matter of being practical around the factory floor. Workers back in the late 1800s didn’t enjoy the luxury of robotic trolleys and mechanized cranes to provide them with all their working supplies. The multi-purpose patch pockets – deep and wide – in their workwear proved rather handy for the task. Workers could stuff them with all they needed – tools, supplies and accessories – and effortlessly move from one workstation to another.
Moleskin or cotton drill
Typically, the vintage French work jacket was fashioned from moleskin or cotton drill, making it a rather tough work companion of the working class. Best of all, the choice of hardy late 1800s fabric meant this piece of French workwear would last for a long time – which suited the low-paid working class perfectly!
But the deliberate design of the French worker jacket offered much more to its wearer.
Loosely cut, it provided the average worker freedom of movement, which made working in fields and factories very comfortable. And then, the designers deliberately left it without inner lining or padding – which made wearing it in extreme conditions (there was no air-conditioning back then!) for long periods bearable.
And when a chore jacket got worn out or developed a hole, the tear could quickly be patched with any piece of fabric that was close at hand. Once again, this design was ideally suited for low-maintenance French workwear.
And speaking of maintenance, what made the vintage French work jacket so endearing to the common folks, was its dark blue (almost indigo, by some accounts!) colour. Because the average worker often worked long hours wearing his/her trusty outerwear, it had to withstand dust, grime and sweat – and still not require frequent washing or cleaning. And on all those measures, bleu de travail scored extremely high marks.
The comeback of the vintage French work jacket
Cinema lovers of the late 1960s may have caught a glimpse of the famous French worker jacket on the big screen – worn by hunky Paul Newman in his epic Cool Hand Luke in November 1967. But no one did more for the comeback of the versatile French outerwear than the late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who was honoured with the moniker “Bill Cunningham blue” because of his love for this piece of French fashion from the past.
Bill could be seen everywhere wearing his trusted bleu de travail. Anywhere that his assignments carried him, you could be sure that the legendary street fashion photographer wouldn’t go without his blue chore jacket. In fact, the blue jacket and khaki trousers were a signature outfit that put Bill Cunningham and the working man’s blue into the limelight once more.
Modern-day designer’s the world over have come up with their unique twist on this late 1800s piece of fashion.
London’s Blackhorse Lane is one of the many British clothing ateliers that have created one of their own workwear brands based on the versatile blue French outerwear. Manufactured from their facilities in Tottenham, London, and made from 12-ounce Turkish raw denim, this contemporary indigo-coloured version of the vintage French work jacket comes complete with multiple patch pockets and nickel buttons. To pull off a perfectly casual look, you could wear this piece with dark coloured dress or denim pants, and finish the look with an informal pair of dark brown shoes.
Le Mont Saint Michel
From its offices at Westfield London Shopping Centre, Mr. Potter offers its customers an entire range of imported Le Mont Saint Michel cotton and moleskin French workwear. The brand specialises in bleu de travail, but this contemporary comeback version comes with a twist. The Le Mont Saint Michel offering is a replica of the famous vintage French work jacket – complete with 3 front patch pockets and button fastenings. So, what’s the twist? Well, unlike the traditional blue or indigo styles, this version is offered in green!
And because this contemporary French worker jacket is so versatile, it goes well with almost any of today’s fashion pieces you may have in your wardrobe. Wear the green Le Mont Saint jacket with an Arpenteur Tee, or a pair of white jeans from any of your favourite workwear brands. Finish that look off with a pair Converse One Stars and a Mikia glass bracelet – and you’re all set!
And for those of you who love your vintage French work jacket in indigo, Mr. Porter has something for you too – this one from Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard. This version of the blue hopsack linen French worker jacket comes crafted all the way from Italy, and features two patch pockets, as well as a buttoned upper breast pocket. Whether you have formal plans, or wish something for an informal event, this version of the contemporary bleu de travail can be worn over a light jacket and white jeans.
Yesterday’s vintage French work jacket is today’s centre piece
The versatile yet humble blue chore has quickly established itself a place of honour amongst contemporary wardrobes. But that’s nothing new to this piece of workwear. Back a century ago, workers used bleu de travail on a daily basis for work. But often, they had a “special” black version that they wore for important non-work events – like Church or festivals.
Today, iconic contemporary workwear brands like Dickies and Carhartt have come out with their own unique spins on the blue “peasant wear”. However, even these legendary labels have gone to great lengths to preserve the essence of what made yesterday’s vintage French work jacket so special.
The revival of this modest piece of late 1800s workwear, thanks to its popularity amongst personalities like Bill Cunningham and many others, has given it centre stage in many of today’s wardrobes. The ingenuity of their designs today – including deviation of colours – makes the French worker jacket a must have in everyone’s wardrobe.