8 Rugged Workwear Pieces All Men Should Own

Image Credit: Taylor Stitch

If you don’t own any classic workwear staples, you’re missing out. These versatile, hardwearing, utility-inspired garments can do it all. They can be smart, adding a rough-and-ready edge to tailored clothing, or casual, naturally combining with streetwear and off-duty attire.

We’re not, of course, talking about ‘work clothing’ you’d wear to the office. Rather, ‘workwear’ is a catch-all term which refers to functional garments that would have originally been worn for blue collar jobs – think factory work, mining, carpentry and other, manual occupations.

Workwear is often made from denim or cotton twill for durability, features handy pockets and compartments for storing essentials, and comes in comfortable, relaxed fits so as not to restrict movement. All practical qualities that appeal in today’s non-stop world. Not only that, with many of the designs unchanged for generations, they’re among the most timeless menswear pieces around.

In short, you need some. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are nine items you should consider.

Work Boots

Endlessly versatile, a classic pair of leather boots might be the only winter shoes you need. Find a dark brown leather pair, in a simple Derby silhouette with a durable rubber sole, and wear them with anything and everything.

Sure, traditional work boots might have come with a steel toe cap and been made from almost indestructible leather, but for your feet’s sake, we’d recommend going for something a bit less hardcore.

The likes of Red Wing, Timberland and Dr. Martens are renowned for their rugged, go-anywhere takes, but you could also go for something slightly smarter from the likes of Crockett & Jones or Loake.

Worker Jacket/Chore Coat

Chore coats were originally designed for factory workers. Some of the earliest styles hailed from France, where they’re known as ‘bleu de travail‘, thanks to their distinctive blue colouring.

The style would typically be made from hardwearing cotton or moleskin and feature three large patch pockets on the front. Today, worker jackets can be picked up in all manner of colours and fabrics, but their simple design remains.

Ideal for layering or as a lightweight spring jacket, this piece of outerwear will quickly become a go-to in your casual wardrobe.

Flannel Shirt

What more can be said about the flannel shirt? Defined by its soft, warm fabric, this style is an irrefutable menswear icon.

They can be found in a wide range of colours and patterns, making them ideal for injecting a splash of colour into a look, but they’re equally at home as part of a more muted monochrome fit.

If you haven’t got one hanging in your wardrobe, now is the time to rectify that error.

Utility Pants

An underrated aspect of the workwear wardrobe, utility pants can really make a look sing. There are a number of variations within the niche, from cargo trousers through to carpenter pants, each one offering its own distinct look and feel.

Cargos, for example, give off a military vibe, with their twin thigh pockets, while carpenters evoke a more classic workwear aesthetic, given that they’re traditionally used by wood workers and machinists.

But no matter which style you prefer, utility pants tend to share the same relaxed fit, with wide legs and a mid rise that makes them flattering for a wide range of body shapes.

Denim Shirt

If you don’t already own some sort of denim shirt, you’re really missing out. In our mind, there isn’t another casual shirt that offers the versatility of one made from the hardy woven blue cotton.

The style is, of course, classic workwear, but it’s transcended its humble, blue collar roots. Today you can pick up denim shirts in more tailored, suit-ready designs alongside the staple, western styles that naturally accompany a casual wardrobe.

Denim Jeans

Denim jeans are one of the world’s most worn items of clothing, and for good reason. They were originally designed for the American west around the turn of the 20th century, where gold miners and actual cowboys would prize them for their durability and functional design. But, thanks to Hollywood, this once humble style rose through the social ranks, popularised by James Dean and Marlon Brando in the 1950s, before going mainstream.

Today, they’re a staple regardless of your personal style, but for workwear-inspired looks, there’s no better choice. For bonus points, look out for jeans made from hardy selvedge denim, which refers to the ‘self-finished edge’ of the fabric, visible when you turn up the hems.

Gilet/Padded Vest

Gilets come in a wide range of styles, but you can easily spot a workwear variation thanks to the pockets and the hardwearing fabrics they’re made from.

These are perfect mid-layers – garments you can wear over a tee or shirt and under a heavier coat for extra ballast. Go for one in a muted black or grey for a more stealthy finish, or opt for a vibrant shade of red or blue to bring a bold pop of colour to any outfit.

Pocket T-shirt

You’d be hard pressed to survive, style-wise, without T-shirts. They’re as basic as it gets, but also as essential, whether you wear them on their own in summer or use them as a base layer under knitwear in winter.

The pocket tee is a bit different though. It’s got a more utilitarian feel, thanks to that pocket, and they’re usually made from slightly heavier jersey, giving them a more robust feel. They’re ideal for wearing with cargos and work boots then, especially if you find one in a relaxed, boxy cut.

Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a writer and photographer, contributing to publications including The Independent, The Times, The Rake and Black + White Photography magazine. His photography has been exhibited by Photofusion, Central Saint Martins and Photo Co-Op.