Labor Wear for Fall

Carhartt recently released a video for Labor Day that good-naturedly highlights the rookie gaffes of apprentices, and you should watch it, because it’s wonderful. I’ve done at least three or four of these, and as embarrassing as it is, everyone stumbles when taking their first steps, and it’s good practice to laugh at yourself, if not then, at least in retrospect. 

I like to think it’s in honor of those who suffered for those benefits we sometimes take for granted that workwear has become such an ingrained part of everyday clothing.  From denim to duck cloth, one can hardly walk down a street anywhere in the industrialized world without seeing something that references the hard-wearing togs of the common laborer.  Many of the upcoming fall/winter collections include a sweeping variety to choose from, so if you don’t feel like going all-out with hickory-striped coveralls and hi-viz, you’ve got plenty of other options.  Here are my favorites for the early season.

Chamois Shirts

labor wear workwear

Blame it on the subzero winters I spent in New York during my formative 20’s, but few things give me as much comfort as chamois shirts.  They took me from the first whispers of the Adirondack fall to the late spring Putnam County bloom, keeping me warm with their brushed flannel softness.  Bonus: their wash-n-wearability means you can fill your closet with these hard-wearing shirts and run ’em to the ground.  LL Bean is still the OG, but I find their pockets a little strange.  Nowadays I prefer the heavier and more modern cut of the Taylor Stitch Yosemite shirt, which I wear everywhere from the jobsite to the campsite.

Chambray Shirts

labor wear denim shirt

I don’t really recommend denim shirts; their tight twill weave and starchy fabric is stiff and unnecessary for all but the most rigorous environments.  Chambray, on the other hand, is a plain weave that’s much softer against the skin, and more easily incorporated in other styles of dress.  I wear mine, a grey one from Taylor Stitch, with a reversible denim/cavalry wool jacket from Evan Kinori (here’s a similar one in hemp), but the beauty of chambray is that it is such a staple that you can wear it with sport coats, leather jackets,  peacoats, and probably everything else in your wardrobe.  If you don’t already have a chambray shirt, now’s the time to pick one (or two) up for the fall.

White Jeans & Shearling Jackets

I wish Beams Plus had a store in San Francisco; I’d probably spend all my money there.  This season has a big Ivy influence, but like most styles, there’s a bit of workwear thrown in for good measure.  My favorite is this combo of a shearling coat and white jeans.  Most guys shy away from these items because of their penchant for dirt and stains, but this is exactly why they are so great: like an old glove, signs of use only add to their beauty and personality.  Similar to black jeans, white (or off-white) jeans go with practically everything, and are arguably easier to pair with than indigo.  Top them off with a mouton jacket and suede boots and you’re good to go.

Double Denim

Leave it to Ralph Lauren to make something as derided as the Canadian tuxedo look good. For the upcoming season’s “Wear Your Story” ad campaign, the company tells six individual’s stories of how their favorite denim became so. I can’t tell if what they’re wearing is the actual favorite denim, but it doesn’t matter; what does it that they wear it in a way that seems natural, organic, and unforced. Even if you can’t see yourself in head-to-toe indigo, the lookbook is still inspiring, showing how you can break up the look with tweed sportcoats, duffle jackets, and my all-time favorite, the polo coat.

Fishermen’s Sweaters

You don’t have to be a fisherman to look good in a sweater, but a bit of good old salt-of-the-earth ruggedness does help.  Unlike a regular plain-woven jumper, part of the draw of fishermen’s sweaters is the ability to tell a story by the weave alone.  One of my favorite makers is Inis Meáin, who draw from both natural and cultural influences to create unique designs that favor those who wish to stand out quietly.  If I can spend future funds now, I’d grab their Claíochaí sweater, utilizing no less than five types of stitches mimicking the varied patterns of stone walls zigzagging across the Aran Island.  StyFo affiliate No Man Walks Alone has it in a deep moss green, which is perfect because I don’t have any sweaters in that color and that’s the only way my wife will allow me another.

Photos courtesy of Ralph Lauren, No Man Walks Alone, and Beams Plus

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Peter Zottolo
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
Peter Zottolo

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11 thoughts on “Labor Wear for Fall

    • Glad to see that I’m not the only one who dislikes that. How am I supposed to identify with a brand represented by 18 year old kids (who don’t even look like the brand’s target audience)?
      The Inis Meáin did by far the best job, their model really looks like someone I can imagine living on a remote island and spending most of his free time on a fishing boat.

      • I hear ya. Hard to beat that Inis Meáin guy for rugged good looks. I see it this way: the younger models are like new jeans, handsome but lacking time-worn character. The Inis Meáin guy is like your favorite pair of aged jeans, frayed and scared and all the better for it.

  1. Steel toe western style Red Wings with oil proof soles and heels, Levis, I wore 501s for a while went to boot cuts for years then back to 501s Pipe welding falls into the one of the most rigorous environments . Denim shirts are actually too loose a weave especially after being washed a few times and they hold starch poorly. Heavy khaki cotton twill, heavy starch is the way. We used to get them from a company out of New Orleans, B&B, Carhartt makes a decent one now and they are easier to find plus the snap buttons are quicker to get out of when you catch fire. I always had no less than a dozen hanging in the closet. Hand made welding hats and belt buckles made from thin cut pieces of stainless steel pipe and polished. Outerwear was brown duck of every variety .

    • That sounds awesome. While I wear heavier stuff for actual work (I’m a union electrician currently working on high-rise residential buildings in San Francisco), this article is more for those who wish to wear clothing that is inspired by the genre. Some people do go all-in with the theme, but some want looks that are more accessible.

      On another note: I have three denim shirts that are 4-8ounces and way stronger that most other fabrics. In fact, the weave itself is a twill, no different than any other twill. The weave of some twills is looser than others; and the ones I have from Gustin, Taylor Stitch, Wrangler, and Iron Heart are all fine, just varying weight. Any kind of twill is fine for my line of work, but denim is about as robust as you can get without adding Kevlar. I work around sparks, but nothing like pipe welders. Now they have fire extinguishers around all hot work 🙂

  2. While most of your thoughts on this type of dressing are acceptable, the thought that white jeans over ride denim as more easily accepting of other fall pieces falls short. Different, yes-better, no. If you could only own one of the items you mentioned, white, black, or denim jeans, denim would still be the winner. The current fascination with work wear is not new. I guess it gets gets an overhaul with each generation.

    • I do prefer indigo denim (I have five indigo jeans and only one pair of white) and absolutely recommend it as the best, but from a pure color perspective it’s hard to argue that white is easier to pair other colors with.

      And yes, workwear has been in style for quite some time; there are endless riffs on it that keep it interesting.

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