Working it 24/7
Workwear used to mean scratchy polyester button-up shirts and boring blue ties. Or if you do a physical job, possibly a paint-splattered old t-shirt and dungarees. But in the past few years, both the office and the construction site have both inspired fashion designers to take luxury twists on our everyday essentials.
Vetements deliver a trend
The luxury streetwear brand Vetements kicked off the trend back in 2015, with its now infamous DHL t-shirt. Sold for £185 (and resold on sites like ebay for many times more), the acid yellow tee became for many poisonous symbol of excess – here was an elite brand capitalising on working-class culture for its rich consumers.
But others saw Vetements as having played a subversive trick on the fashion world, showing people will pay for anything (even a parcel delivery company’s uniform) as long as they’re told it’s cool. When DHL boss Ken Allen was himself photographed in one (lead pic), it seemed the joke had come full circle, and by that point, utilitarian workwear was spreading its way from the catwalk to the high street.
The Drake effect
Since then, clothing originally designed for tough jobs like farming, fishing, and carpentry have become ubiquitous, with brands like Carhartt, Dickies and Red Wing, which had been popular among actual manual labourers in the 1990s, re-emerging as streetwear for everyone.
Stone Island has seen sales soar in recent years thanks at least in part to Drake, who has made the brand’s chunky knit sweaters, cargo pants and bomber jackets cool among his young hypebeast fans. Easy to layer, and made from practical fabrics like thick denim, wool and waxed cotton, this type of workwear is designed to last.
New York-based designer Heron Preston has gained notoriety for putting construction workers’ clothing on the catwalk. In 2016 he even teamed up with New York City’s Department of Sanitation to create a collection of jackets, bombers, hoodies and cargo pants that he hoped would honour its workforce and highlight the city’s recycling problems.
Kanye West has taken the workwear trend perhaps the most literally of any designer, with this “construction worker” parka from his most recent collection. Complete with reflective safety stripes and a large rain hood, it fulfills most of the practical needs you might have on a building site, although after looking at the hefty price tag, you’d probably plump for one from your local hardware store instead.
Out of office
Office wear has also been inspiring designers over the past few seasons. At Gucci, Alessendro Michele has made it his job to elevate the workplace staples of the 1970s (wide ties, slim-cut flares and nerdy pullovers) in the minds of fashion buyers by mixing them with fantastical elements like gold ear shields, fluffy slippers, and in one collection, a severed prosthetic head, creating a camp take on office attire that favours the brave.
More recently, British designer Paul Smith has taken notes from the style books of 1980s London city boys for his S/S 2020 show. Models were dressed in boxy pin-striped suits, drop-shoulder macs and double-breasted woolen blazers that would all get the approval of the most conservative office boss.
But then there were twists – the sporty, drawstring bags slung over the models’ shoulders, as if they were heading straight from work to the gym; the glossy patent boots; the cow-print shirts, and the pops of lavender and buttercup yellow all giving the collection a fresh, youthful feeling.
It’s the kind of clothing that makes you eager to start work.