If we had to design the perfect piece of everyday outerwear, it’d probably wind up looking a lot like a worker jacket. This pleasingly basic coverall garment was originally worn by French railroad workers and engineers in the 1800s, before being adopted by the fashion crowd. The former party benefited from its durable fabric and practicality, while the latter were drawn in by its stylish simplicity and versatility.
We agree wholeheartedly with both sides. Not only do worker jackets look great and go with everything, they’re also extremely hard wearing and tend to get even better with age. It’s also one of those precious few pieces that can be called on all throughout the year – a light jacket in the summer and spring, and a handy layering tool in autumn and winter.
Don’t own one already? We think you should. Whether you go for a classic French worker jacket or an American ‘chore jacket’ version, it’s our job to teach you a little more about this timeless design, and to offer some friendly buying advice so that you can pick one that’s just right for you. From fit and fabric to the best brands to shop, here’s what you need to know about this classic piece of workwear.
What Is A Worker Jacket?
The clue is in the name. A worker jacket is a piece of outerwear designed to stand up to the daily abuse of manual labour. It has a simple button front, classic collar, three or four patch pockets to the front, and is typically made from heavy cotton fabric like duck canvas, drill, or sometimes moleskin.
The first worker jackets originated in France in the 1800s. They were designed for railroad workers who needed something loose-fitting and durable to wear over their clothes, and dyed blue to differentiate manual workers from their superiors who would wear white or grey. In France, this style of workwear was known as ‘bleu de travail’, or ‘working blues’, and many of the original brands that produced those first jackets are still producing them to this day.
It didn’t take long for the Americans to put their stamp on the style too. Michigan’s Carhartt released its now-iconic chore coat in 1927, which was essentially a beefed up version of the French favourite, featuring riveted pockets, a thick canvas outer and a generous fit.
When Should I Wear A Worker Jacket?
The greatest thing about a worker jacket is how versatile it is. It’s something that can be worn all year round, adapted to suit all sorts of dress codes, and pairs well with anything and everything. For us, it’s an easy day-to-day option that you can wear pretty much any time. Style it with a shirt or roll neck, trousers and boots for a solid smart-casual look, or dress it down with sneakers and a T-shirt.
The only time we’d advise against wearing a worker jacket would be in more formal settings or on really special occasions. Yes, it can be smartened up with dressier pieces, but it’s still a piece of workwear at the end of the day. If in doubt, throw on an unstructured blazer instead.
Worker Jacket Buying Considerations?
As with any garment, fit is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a worker jacket. Traditionally, this style of jacket was cut wide in the body and arms to allow a good range of motion, but there are slimmer versions available that can look a bit smarter. In general, you should be aiming for the shoulder seams to sit on the shoulders, and the hem to fall a couple of inches below the hips.
If you still want to go with a classic worker jacket, you could always have your local tailor alter it for a more flattering fit.
Worker jackets come in many different materials, but the most common is some type of heavy cotton like twill, drill or moleskin, which is essentially just a brushed cotton fabric.
They’re all good options, but it’s a good idea to think about the climate where you live before deciding. Twill is lighter, making it a good option for warmer weather, while drill and moleskin are better suited to cooler temperatures.
The Best Worker Jacket Brands
Swedish brand Asket is one of our favourites here at Ape HQ. The collection is small, tightly curated and focuses of quality, versatility and timelessness above all else. The idea is to enable people to do more with less, limiting consumption and simplifying good style.
The label’s overshirt is the piece that first put them on our radar, and it remains one of the best twill worker jackets we’ve come across.
London’s Percival is one of the best brands out there when it comes to classic shapes and styles with playful, contemporary touches. The label’s signature overshirt is essentially an updated worker jacket, featuring a few extra buttons to the sleeves, a modern cut, and tons of colour and fabric options.
Portugal’s ISTO is all about quality over quantity, offering simple, well-made essentials that are ethically produced, with transparent pricing. The brand’s Work Jacket features an understated two-pocket design, and comes in a range of muted neutral and pastel tones to ensure maximum versatility.
Form & Thread
There’s no shortage of worker-jacket options at Form & Thread. The British brand offers a number of different takes on the style, from the minimalist Mechanic Overshirt to the open-collar Gallery Jacket.
All pieces are ethically produced using the best materials and built to stand the test of time.
Founded in Burgundy in 1956, Le Laboureur is one of the best-established brands when it comes to traditional French worker jackets. Made from tough cotton drill fabric, the three-pocket jackets come in a range of bold block colours, including classic blue.
Fancy a bit of texture? Check out its moleskin version.
Carhartt’s chore coat is an icon in its own right. Constructed from heavyweight duck canvas and finished off with four patch pockets to the front, this classic workwear piece is America’s answer to France’s bleu de travail, incorporating additional details like rivets, jean-style metal buttons and a flap pocket.
The US brand does several similar styles, some of which are available with a quilted lining for added warmth in cold weather.
French workwear label Vetra is one of the oldest names in the game when it comes to classic worker jackets. The brand has been producing its signature Bugatti-blue overshirts since 1927, and they’ve barely changed since. There are other colours available too, as well as multiple fit options and several different styles that riff on the original garment.
American workwear brand Stan Ray was founded in Texas in 1972 with a goal to create hardwearing clothes for hardworking people. Today, it’s found a new audience in more style-conscious consumers, who want clothes that are practical and functional, but also look good.
Along with other workaday essentials like painter pants and dungarees, worker jackets are one of the things Stan Ray does best. Expect to find all sorts of materials options, plenty of eye-catching colours and loose, boxy cuts across the board.
When it comes to upscale, preppy casual wear and quirky soft tailoring, there’s no brand doing it better than Drake’s. What started out as a London haberdasher specialising in ties has grown into a full-scale clothing brand, and the overshirts are seriously, seriously nice.
If you’re looking for a premium option, this is the way to go.