As a very proud northerner from a very northern town, I’d like to think us savages are far better equipped to deal with dressing weather-appropriate. Chilly evenings that seem like the Arctic are commonplace, and the slightest ray of sunshine provokes unabashed shorts and shades wearing – we’ve got a pre-thought-out ensemble ready to deploy at the slightest change in temperature. This being said however, London living for 3 years has clouded my judgement, and the other day I was less than prepared for a very frosty afternoon.
Borrowing a mate’s red checked shirt jacket (they said tartan – I know better), insults began to fly about me looking like a lumberjack, hick, redneck etc. My unkempt beard didn’t aid my cause. Several insulting exchanges later however, we realised that this isn’t such a bad look after all. American workwear is a brilliant choice for the autumn/winter period, and the list of advantages are endless.
First and foremost, it’s a classic choice. The blue collar worker has been an icon ever since Jacob Davis devised copper rivets for Levi’s denim in 1873, and most women I know (and some men, for that matter) hold a soft-spot for ultra-masculine, rugged appeal. Nothing says alpha male more than looking like you’ve just come from a hard day’s graft at the mine.
Secondly, it’s so easy. American workwear will never, ever leave the fashion consciousness, and sheer convenience definitely has a part to play in this. Throwing on a few of the basics creates a guaranteed FashionBeans-approved outfit with minimal effort required. Can’t be arsed to have a shave? Don’t do it. Ran out of hair wax? Cushion that bedhead with a beanie. The dishevelled look is central to American rural-inspired pieces, and throwing together a few things of the same style will reap some success in this area.
The final appeal of US workwear, you ask? The affordability of it all – there’s something in every price bracket for every modern gent. Low-cost Primark and H&M offer plenty in way of basic checks and staples, whilst specialised brands such as Penfield and Carhartt bridge the gap between high street and luxury for those with a few extra pounds sterling.
By following a few FashionBeans tips, you can make the most of American workwear this season, and look like a total brute doing it (in the best possible way, obviously).
First, a bit of modern lookbook inspiration for the type of look we are going for today. You can, of course, adjust and manipulate to your preference and personal style – whether you prefer rugged and dishevelled or masculine and refined:
Although an optional variant of the American workwear look, I’d strongly recommend layering up. Not only is it bang on trend this season (ahem, fashion points right there), but it’s inkeeping with this particular style and blocks out any unwanted cold, wet and downright miserable weather.
A plain t-shirt is the best foundation for your torso in my opinion; whilst some may be an advocate of the vest for added warmth, I always feel like a child on the way to nursery. Stick to a strong neutral colour without novelty slogans, graphics or patterns – having ‘Sexy and I Know It’ scrawled across your front will ruin even the best ensemble in seconds.
The added bonus of utilising a t-shirt as a base is the ability to lose all your outer layers indoors, providing comfort throughout the day.
Checks are so, so, so important to American workwear, and they essentially define the entire look we’re aiming for.
Flannel and wool materials are best and come in a range of fits and price-tags on the high street, but my advice would be to look for large-fitting vintage shirts on your nearest second-hand rail. You can usually find some traditional, classic checks at an affordable price complete with quality lining and thickness; nothing fits the bill better than an imported item that was work-specific.
For those seeking a more convenient way of shopping (I admit vintage shopping can be a complete nightmare), Uniqlo offers some brilliant basic checks that are more than easy on the pocket. Search for a shirt that is thicker than your average (but not quite a shirt jacket), as layering is a key tool here and nobody wants to look like the Michelin man.
Also, avoid bright colours like the plague. Not only are they incredibly inauthentic, but they look incredibly cheap, so approach your workwear shirt with a classic and traditional mindset. Feel free to mix and match corduroy and plain flannel as you wish, as long as they’re simple and classic.
Now, if you’re opting for a shirt jacket (which is more than acceptable, gents), then feel free to pass on a coat.
However, for top layering points and a cosy, comfortable fit, throw on a coat over your shirt. I hate to sound like a parent, but you really will feel the benefit as thoughts of beer gardens and BBQs become a distant memory when you’re sat freezing your balls off on the way to work.
Simple, clean silhouettes are best for an American look, and workwear goliath Carhartt offer a fantastic heritage ‘chore jacket’ that has been only slightly altered for the contemporary wearer. Neutral tones and quality linings are best, and keep an eye out for minor details that propel an outfit to greatness. Toggles, corduroy collars and size-adjusting drawstrings are functional yet subtle additions that strike a fine balance between style and practicality.
Whilst puffa jackets may seem appropriate, I’d exercise a little caution in terms of proportions; layering adds a certain bulk to even the most slender of our kind, and I fear that adding a puffa jacket will throw out your whole silhouette.
Levi’s 501s are a demiGod of denim, and perfect for an American workwear look. Not only are they the uniform of the hunter-gatherers themselves, the 501 is an undeniable piece of constant and classic style. We all know, however, that prestige comes with a price-tag, and there are plenty of appropriate alternatives.
I’d say go for the fit that best suits you, as comfort is a crucial part of your autumn/winter looks, yet try to stay in the middle lane of leg width. Slim or slim-skinny is fine, but the super skinny versions will probably make you look too top-heavy (I know from our skinny jeans debate that some of you like that look however) whilst the boot cut I feel is just a little too dated.
Experiment with stone wash, navy, black and light blue, sticking to a loosely tapered style. Rolling up hems once or twice is excellent stylemanship, as is avoiding any gimmicky trends such as the carrot fit, designed tears/rips and neon stitching.
Hard-wearing, ground-breaking boots are the most desirable form of workwear footwear. Anything too dandy, such as true formal styles, will look odd when paired with the ultimate in casuals, and anything too modern will only detract from the elements of traditionalism we’ve embraced.
Try to select brands that are multifunctional in terms of purpose and consumers, with Dr Martens and Dickies both excellent examples of workwear becoming fashionwear. When laced up tight and tucked under denim jeans, the boot is weather proof and fool proof when constructing your perfect workwear ensemble, and after a few wears, that brand new pair will become one of the most comfortable things you own.
If you’re a little strapped for cash, standard desert boots will do just fine – although not the perfect accompaniment to a workwear look, they are classic and casual enough to complement.
Not all brands are acceptable, though. Timberland boots are definitely off the agenda, as are anything remotely military – JLS have done enough to scar today’s pop culture without infecting our winter wardrobes too.
Fur-lined bear trapper hats, beanie hats, gloves, mittens, scarves – anything remotely rural and you’re on to a winner. Don’t go all out and combine huge amounts of knitwear and accessories, select a few quality pieces that are both weather and style appropriate.
Colours, once again, should be muted. Everything should appear essential to the look conveyed. By this I mean forget about unnecessary necklaces, cufflinks or cashmere – we need the bare essentials in order to channel the blue collar weatherworn worker of the wilderness, and namby-pamby luxury will only dilute this aesthetic.
Keep things simple, and keep things traditional.
So, hopefully you now know all you need to know in order to tackle an American workwear look this autumn/winter. So put down the blazer and the razor blades, and pick up the shearling and denim for a look that has a proven track record again and again.
Bring your wardrobe back to basics and embody a look that is the epitome of unadulterated masculinity.