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Vintage Workwear

June 15, 2015

Vintage workwear is wonderful stuff. It’s practical, rugged, and a great nostalgia look. If you love vintage Americana, it’s really fun to have a vintage work shirt with a name tag – especially when it’s the genuine article and not a copy. You can pretend to be Buddy, who works at the gas station, or Dolly, the waitress who serves the best apple pies. Basically, you can be the star in your own teen movie.

Working man

Working man


But authentic older workwear isn’t, of course, just restricted to American clothes. You can get British vintage workwear too, as well as versions from all over the world. What constitutes workwear is very simple – it’s what a blue-collar worker wears to work. So You might get British miner’s boots, old collarless shirts, donkey jackets and sturdy twill trousers, or American denim waistcoats, caps and uniforms. In fact, strictly speaking jeans are work wear, as are cowboy boots, chaps, and fringed jackets.

workwear advert.

workwear advert.


Think of workwear though through different periods in history and what mostly comes to mind is denim. Denim caps or hats, overalls, dungarees, and playsuits (for grown men and women as well as children), work bags, work gloves, denim jackets, aprons, waistcoats, neck ties and bandannas. Then you get chambray shirts (chambray is a kind of light denim) and plaid shirts, too. Working American men mostly appeared in blue, it seems.

Vintage workwear jackets

 in Life Magazine.

in Life Magazine.


Workwear can also have military connotations. Flight jackets come under this category, and there are many different styles of flight jacket – lightweight canvas for summer as well as the sheepskin ones for winter, and bomber jackets. Then there’s army jackets, and naval styles of jacket. In fact, just jackets are a category of their own within workwear. So you get vintage motorbike jackets, flight jackets, railroad jackets, lumberjack jackets – just about every kind of working man has his own style of jacket, adapted to his needs.

Modern guy in workwear.

Modern guy in workwear.


Some workwear is now being re-made for modern tastes. Jeans fit into this category, and there are companies who have revived 100-year-old British miner’s boot lasts and are having them handmade in the UK again, in the finest leather and finishes. Although the original miners probably never paid those prices…

Workwear eras

You can buy workwear from whatever era you prefer, as you can still find antique denim jackets from the turn of the century and upwards. It seems strange to think that while our Victorian forefathers in the UK were wearing black wool trousers and white cotton shirts, Americans preferred jeans and blue chambray shirts. Somehow it feels like jeans are a modern invention, but they’re not at all. It’s the same for sportswear – American athletes in the 1920s were wearing sweatpants, t-shirts and sweatshirts, while our sportsmen were wearing baggy shorts and knitted jumpers.


Vintage workwear is highly collectible, so check the label. Vintage Osh Kosh b’Gosh , Lee, Converse All Stars and Carharrt are worth looking out for, as well as other brands with rugged names like ‘Big Chief’, ‘Bear Brand’ ‘Hercules’ and the charming ‘Can’t Bust ‘Em’.


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