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The Vintage Workwear Jacket Done the Quintessentially French Way

May 29, 2019

Explore the backstory of the French vintage workwear jacket and the history of French workwear as your inspiration for laid-back style and casual-chic elegance today.


The blue de travail or French vintage workwear jacket never goes out of style and is a staple in today’s world, whether you are a street style-savvy connoisseur or a die-hard vintage French workwear collector. Be inspired by history and today’s trendsetters to try out this classic yet current French workwear item with all your existing casual and work-friendly favourites and add a new must-have to your look.

Furnace worker wearing blue vintage workwear jacket and trousers, Toulon, France

Furnace worker wearing blue vintage workwear jacket and trousers, Toulon, France

The history of French workwear and the vintage workwear jacket


The story of the French workwear jacket began way back in the 1800s. This vintage workwear jacket was envisioned and constructed as a utility clothing item and was adopted by railroad workers, engineers and other hands-on manual labour workers.  Its name of “bleu de travail” translates loosely into “blue work” or “working blues”, emphasizing its purpose as utilitarian outwear for the blue-collared workers of the times.


This vintage workwear jacket was typically made of 100% cotton drill or less often, of a cotton fabrication called “moleskin”.  Cotton “moleskin” was woven out of heavy cotton fabric, then sheared to a soft pile on one side, giving it the look and feel of chamois or felt. This fabrication was usually more expensive than the cotton, drill or canvas options so more of a status symbol even among workers.

Navy blue Cotton drill Work Jacket

Navy blue Cotton drill Work Jacket


Using resilient fabrics like drill, cotton, canvas or cotton “moleskin” delivered a vintage workwear jacket that could stand up to the demands of the weather, the working environments and the physical demands of France’s working men in a variety of industries.


The style of this French workwear was cut in a classic loose silhouette, meant to be worn as a final outer layer over working clothes like undershirts, flannel or cotton working shirts and rugged cotton or denim work pants. The vintage workwear jacket buttoned up all the way on the front and included several patch pockets for the working man’s tools and gadgets.


There were a few key French clothing houses that soon became synonymous with the classic vintage workwear jacket, including Le Laboureur and Le Mont Saint Michel, both of whom continue to be purveyors of these throwback styles today, leveraging their history and experience with authentic French workwear into modern takes of these fashion garments for today’s style-savvy man.

Paul Newman in his vintage workwear jacket, screen trailer for Coolhand Luke

Paul Newman in his vintage workwear jacket

Propelling personalities


Hollywood was not immune to the allure of French workwear styling. Movies from the late 1960s onwards used the vintage workwear jacket as a symbol of rebellion and “bad boy” style. Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” championed the look and set a cool and manly style trend around the world.


Bill Cunningham, the renowned New York street-style photographer, was an early and loyal fan of this French workwear item. He wore it not as a fashion statement but as a utilitarian garment that had a useful purpose in his working life. He could freely move around and within the vintage workwear jacket and was so comfortable in it, he frequently forgot he was wearing one!


Bill would pick up his French workwear jackets on the cheap whenever he was visiting France and had a collection of them he would rely on for his daily use.


Bill Cunningham’s workday look became his timeless trademark: the vintage workwear jacket slung over khakis and finished with black sneaks, with his camera dangling around his neck, ever ready to take that special snapshot that shot him to global fame and glory.

Bill Cunningham wearing his blue vintage workwear jacket at Fashion Week - photo by Jiyang Chen

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week – photo by Jiyang Chen

Vintage Workwear Jacket Styled for Today


The bleu de travail French workwear jacket is now a cult favourite, sought after by vintage workwear jacket collectors as well as today’s trendsetters. No longer a working man’s outfit, this vintage workwear jacket is all about expressing your style savvy in an ironic, very cool way, especially when worn as casual weekend street style or edgy office wear.


The vintage workwear jacket is epitomized by its distinctive front buttoned closure, boxy shape and patch pockets. And, of course, in classic vintage fabrications of cotton, drill, canvas or cotton “moleskin”.

60s Dark Blue Cotton Workwear Jacket

60s Dark Blue Cotton Workwear Jacket


The stylish way to wear French workwear today is in the original throwback shade of indigo blue with clean lines and a minimalistic aesthetic. Pair it with equally classic khakis, your favourite denim jeans or slim-fit trousers and complete the look with white sneakers for casual off-duty ease, or black leather loafers, sans socks, for daytime elegance.


Then make your vintage workwear jacket scream true authentic style by washing it to the point of a faded, well-worn and well-used look – the fabrications are designed to stand up to this treatment and come out looking even better!


Replace your denim jacket or leather bomber with this vintage workwear jacket to up your style ante. This French workwear classic goes equally well with your business-casual pants and shirts as it does with your street style T-shirts and jeans and you don’t get the dreaded “denim tuxedo” look this way.


Another cool way to rock your vintage workwear jacket is to throw it over camo pants, a black or white T-shirt and high-top sneakers. You now have the street corner look down pat. Add your favourite reflector sunglasses and you’ve got yourself a style that says too cool for school.

So where to find your vintage workwear jacket?


One popular online global marketplace that has an abundance of vintage workwear jacket options for you is Esty. Check out Etsy for its workwear offerings, and find millions of vintage French workwear products to choose from.  And you will find your vintage workwear jacket by the tried-and-trusted French fashion house brands that specialize in the authentic Bleu de Travail jacket as well as modern spins inspired by this classic French workwear item.


You will find luxury brands offering you vintage workwear jacket choices, so take a virtual tour and find the French workwear style resonates with you and aligns with your own distinctive fashion sense.


And if you need even more inspiration, look to today’s British Royals. Princes William and Harry rock the vintage workwear jacket worn over their plaid flannel shirts, denim jeans and hunting or riding boots as they pursue their off-duty pastimes on their rural estates.



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