Workwear has been a mainstay in menswear for some time – think chore jackets, boilersuits, postman (or Derby) shoes – but more recently the trend has taken a step even further towards the functional. In recent seasons we’ve seen what look like fly-fishing jackets on the catwalks. There are models wearing sci-fi utility belts. And most commonly there’s what’s been dubbed my much of the industry as warcore.
It’s no longer just the uniform of manual labour roles that have taken fashion houses’ fancy, but the utilitarian gear of the battlefield too. Sure, MA-1 bomber jackets and camo-print is evidence we’ve been borrowing from the battlefield for some time but we’re talking a whole outfit overhaul for the trend’s next step.
Skinny silhouettes have been benched and replaced by baggy cargo pants with copious pockets. The catwalks have been awash with utility bags, vests and chunky-soled shoes from everyone from Louis Vuitton to Alyx to Landlord. Technical textures and features like anti-stab fabrics and bullet-proofing, made specifically for the front line, have remained in street-ready designs, with some thinking fashion’s current obsession is a nod to the world being, excuse the hyperbole, in the midst of an impending apocalypse. Armour up!
Off the catwalk and in stores too, the military-inspired garms are now a regular feature. “Brands like Engineered Garments, Beams Plus, Stussy – they are perfect modern interpretations of these iconic shapes and always are a highlight for us,” says Joe Warner, Goodhood sales and brand manager.
These shapes have been welcomed by streetwear aficionados and fashion week street-stylers with the term ‘utilitarian’ casting a wide net and allowing for plenty of sartorial eccentricity. And, as mentioned, no shortage of pockets.
Some will simply opt for an earthy palette of tan and khaki, while others may go full military-inspired warcore and commit to camo print, cargo textures and several key pieces. That’s what makes the trend so popular – not only is it fruitful in key pieces, it’s simple to make a statement.
3 Ways To Wear It
Long-sleeved T-shirt + crossbody bag + non-cargo trousers
The biggest benefit of utility-wear is functionality. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be a trade-off between functionality and style. The right piece can be easily working it into your everyday attire to give it a touch of the trend.
A simple way of making this work without dipping more than a toe into the trend is by basing your look around a simple utility vest. The gilet-esque shape is not too disruptive so choose it in black and keep everything else simple and it will do all the heavy lifting for you.
Layer over a long-sleeve white tee to maintain the simple theme – don’t go too oversized but make sure all of your pieces offer a relaxed feel. And break up the look with some streetwear-friendly loose-leg trousers (choose a non-cargo style to wear the trend lightly) and finish off with some fresh technical trainers.
Utility jacket + cargo pants + boots
Here’s an example of how you can boldly wear the utilitarian trend without looking like you’ve raided a surplus store. Find a utility-style jacket, complete with pockets and epaulets, but look for one that’s cropped or obviously been made by a fashion designer, not somebody kitting out an army.
Wear it again with cargo trousers but again make it a fashion decision by looking for an oversized pair that nobody in their right mind would wear into combat.
For a finishing touch, trying accenting the look with camo – but on a piece that doesn’t have the military connotation, like a bucket hat.
Field jacket + cargo pants + chunky soles
If you’re more willing to experiment, we can dial things up slightly . Camo print was usually made to keep you hidden but on a field jacket, it’s a simple way of standing out. The key is to let the print shine and surround it with simple tones and maintain an earthy palette throughout.
A pair of cargo trousers are a functional option below the belt. The slightly heavier weight may make them a bit more structured than your usual choices, but they’ll offer plenty of freedom in fit and sit nicely on top of some chunky-soled trainers, which prevents the look from going full Action Man costume.
Rewind a decade and a pair of cargo pants, away from manual labour uniform or the battlefield, was seen as a scruffy choice worn only by unwashed backpackers. But with relaxed cuts a more popular choice today, everything that made the cargo pants a no-go previously works to its benefit now. Although, over time, we’ve changed our minds, the key proponents haven’t changed the design or style of their cargos pants. With that in mind, opt for iconic workwear brands like Carhartt or Dickies for robust, long-lasting ones.
Many types of jacket could be described as “utility” because loads of our favourites were originally designed for a specific job. For this trend, however, discount labourer styles like truckers and chore jackets and go for the ones with a military or outdoorsy edge instead. Think bombers, field jackets, windbreakers. All of them are easy to layer and you probably own at least one already. Stick with neutral colours and if you really care about the functionality, opt for brands that have some history in these styles, such as Barbour or Alpha Industries.
Gilets have been a key piece in the arsenal of preppy dressers for some time and the utility vest isn’t a far cry from its sartorial sibling. Its function is no longer simply a handy in-between layer – the utility vest can be placed atop long-sleeved T-shirts, hoodies and the more harness-style ones easily handily work over your outerwear too. Landlord NYC produce more fashion-forward silhouettes, as do Italian brand Alyx – even in its Nike x MMW Kiger collab. Safer, more traditional shapes can be found from the likes of Carhartt, Arket or Heron Preston.
When your parents were wearing a bumbag on holiday, you felt embarrassed didn’t you? It’s fine, we’ve all been there. Now it’s time to eat some humble pie (just as you did with those dad sneakers a year or two back). Give the accessory a modern update however and opt for a chest pack or harness vest.
Easy to layer under a jacket, it’s super functional, hand-free and, of course, comes with a host of pockets. Alyx, A-Cold-Wall* and Junya Watanabe have all nailed the utility-wear trend in their latest seasons and the brands’ chest packs have become the popular choice of your favourite Instagram street-stylers, although the high street is catching up.
The hard-wearing qualities of army boots have seemingly been high on the list of every footwear designer in recent years. It makes sense, nobody wants to wind up with frustrating holes in the heels, when chunkier soles and tougher leather are able to cope with unpredictable weather. These attributes have been applied not only to new high-top silhouettes, but even to summer footwear like sandals to give them a stronger structure that is bang on-trend off the back of the chunky sneaker fad. Dr Martens are a natural and reliable choice when it comes to chunkier military-inspired boots, and they’ve recently taken on sandals too.
Focusing on the finish touches can be an easily and accessible route into the utility trend. If you’re unsure on how to best incorporate warcore into your getups without looking like a new recruit, this is your best bet. A light finish to your everyday outfit can be produced through military-inspired belts like those from Alyx – their shape is reminiscent of aeroplane seatbelts. The studio’s designer Matthew Williams also designed a buckle-fastening cap for Dior’s Spring 2019 collection that brings an understated hint of the trend to simple looks. Failing that, try a clip-on hard case for your phone.