The Men's Lifestyle Destination

The French Worker’s Jacket Guide

A practical blue staple for men. An essential guide to the iconic French workers jacket, chore coat or work shirt.

Last updated November 28th, 2021
Words by Samantha Ferrec
Photos by Mr Eric Valdenaire & Pinterest
Bleu de travai chore jacket from andsons - The French Worker’s Jacket An Essential Guide by &SONS | SEIKK Magazine

The classic French worker’s jacket, chore coat or work shirt is a practical and iconic everyday staple that transcends its humble origins.

Among the timeless menswear pieces, we naturally find the crisp white shirt, the pair of denim trousers, or the leather jacket, that have been worn for ages thanks to their versatility and functionality. However, another unmissable garment that has become a staple over the years is the French worker’s shirt. Whether you are a full-time explorer or a weekend adventurer, this shirt is indispensable. Coming from the world of industrial factories, it is today named in a variety of ways depending on the country.

It can also be called a worker’s jacket, utility jacket, work shirt or chore coat in the US. Even with all these names, it manages to keep a classic and timeless identity. All these denominations refer to a practical piece of clothing that usually possesses two or three big-sized front pockets and a vibrant blue colour. The lack of precise name reveals how the worker’s jacket is more of an anonymous garment defined by its functionality rather than a fashionable icon, and is inextricably linked to its humble origins.

THE ESSENCE OF THE SHIRT

A Protective Uniform For The Labourer

Initially worn by farmers, railway labourers and engineers due to its resistance and functionality, it is said that the worker’s jacket appeared in the late 19th century in France. In reality, its origins can be traced back to the 18th century, way before the Industrial Revolution. Although many aspects of its role in History are unknown, it is certain that this piece of clothing embodies the multiple changes that occurred in the workforce and labour world, but also in technology and science.

Vintage French workers jacket - Photo by Eric Valdenaire from the photography series bleu de travail | SEIKK Magazine
FRENCH WORKER’S JACKET, CHORE COAT, WORK SHIRT OR UTILITY JACKET © ERIC VALDENAIRE | 2013 FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHY SERIES “BLEU DE TRAVAIL” ERICVALDENAIRE .COM

A Functional Cut

The silhouette of the chore coat is defined by angular lines and a wide boxy shape. The aim of this cut is to enable ease of movement but also protect from any potential injuries. It was a necessity to find clothes that could protect the workers from the new dangers brought by work equipment evolving faster than work clothing. Before the standardisation of security workwear, the clothing worn in manufactures used to be civilian and daily wear featuring large sleeves and wide cuts.

The French Workers Jacket Photographie Employes du chantier naval Grant & Horne Saint John N B Reid & McDonald Vers 1917 - The French Worker’s Jacket | SEIKK Magazine
PHOTOGRAPHY OF SHIP YARD EMPLOYEES, GRANT & HORNE, SAINT JOHN, N.-B. REID & MCDONALD, NEAR 1917, 25 X 119.5 CM, © MUSÉE DU NOUVEAU-BRUNSWICK

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, machines started to be introduced in
factories and workwear had no choice but to adapt.

From mechanical to automated machines, the production tools were experiencing rapid modernization. This context of innovation brought disruption in the workforce organisation and the daily tasks of the workers. Work accidents increased and many workers would get caught in machinery. It wasn’t rare to see mutilated factory workers, with a missing arm, leg or hand as clothes and body parts could be easily ripped off.

The silent film Modern Times (1936) by Charlie Chaplin perfectly embodies this inability to keep up with the accelerated rhythm of machines, and getting caught and stuck in one. In this well-known scene, he is wearing overalls, which is another piece of clothing born from the need of manual workers at the end of the 19th century.

Charlie Chaplin in French workers jacket Charles Chaplin and The Little Tramp film - The French Worker’s Jacket | SEIKK Magazine
CHARLES CHAPLIN & THE LITTLE TRAMP, BUBBLES INC. S.A & ROY EXPORT SAS

Initially, the shirt was a unique piece, similar to a long laboratory coat, that would be fastened with a belt around the waist. Throughout the years, it progressively transformed itself into different types of clothing like coats, jackets, trousers and shirts.

The worker’s shirt was constructed with straight and simple cuts in order to protect the body without limiting the gestures and movements.

The typical worker’s shirt has three large square or rectangular pockets are placed on strategic places like the hips and chest. The wide exterior patch pockets helped store and hold different types of tools such as a spanner, a tape measure or a technical logbook. They are patched without a flap to facilitate the gesture of putting objects in and out. Apart from oversized pockets, the jacket also includes functional details such as the button fastenings, making it simple to put on and take off. The cut and shape of the worker’s jacket may seem simple, but it is in reality perfectly designed for all the gestures of a man in motion.

A Strong Resistant Material

The material traditionally used is hardy cotton drill or moleskin, also known as Toile de Chine, that has highly resistant properties. It could also be a thick canvas or sturdy twill chosen because they resist high temperatures and extreme cold. The worker’s jacket needed to be made of the cheapest but sturdiest textile to endure demanding physical activities and to be used for as long as possible. Not only is this material easy to clean because it doesn’t attract dust as much as other textiles, but it also prevents cuts and scratches. The stitchings could be reinforced with a double-needle or rivets, and eventual holes were repaired with patches of other textiles such as cotton. All these details make the French worker’s shirt one of the most resistant and durable of all time.

Man welding in French worker shirt or workers jacket from Pinterest - The French Worker’s Jacket | SEIKK Magazine
METAL WORKER WELDING IN A DURABLE BLUE WORK SHIRT OR FRENCH WORKERS JACKET

A Unique & Useful Blue Colour

Recognizable thanks to its unique hydrone blue, this distinctive colour is what gave the name “bleu de travail” to this garment, meaning “work blue” in French. The colour choice was far from simply aesthetic. The characteristic often cited for this blue colour is that it made stains less visible. This could mask dirt and hide splashes of grease or other liquids.

Another reason is that the colour was cheap to produce. The fabric was dyed with a blue made of benzoate and is known as one of the first synthetic dyes. Before its invention in the 18th century, the dark and rich blue colours were reserved for a wealthier group of individuals because it originated from the lapis lazuli stone, known for its rarity. The dyeing process was also way more complex. Not only was the raw material expensive, but it would also fade after multiple washes because the colour couldn’t fix on the canvas

The original name of this colour was “Bleu de Prusse” (Prussian Blue), also named “Bleu de Berlin” (Berlin Blue) because it was invented in this city by Johann Jacob Diesbach around 1700-1704.

An accident led him to discover this blue colour, as he was initially researching a red colour similar to the “Florence Lacquer”. The Prussian blue represented a low cost to make and would hold well and durably on fabric.

THE FRENCH WORKER’S JACKET TODAY

Both practical and resistant, the French worker’s shirt has made its place in the wardrobes of all types of men. The proletarian origins lead this garment to be associated with the working class, and for many years continued to act as a social indicator of the working classes. However, in time the worker’s jacket became progressively more appreciated and valued, finally being adopted by any individual regardless of their socio-economic background.

Although the worker’s jacket presence in today’s wardrobes is a perfect example of fashion gentrification, the piece is fortunately used for what it was initially designed for: a strong and resistant overshirt or jacket that can adapt to extreme environments.

Man in workshop wearing andsons blue bolt chore jacket or French workers jacket from &SONS - The French Worker’s Jacket | SEIKK Magazine
WORKER WEARING A ‘BLEU DE TRAVAIL’ BLUE BOLT CHORE COAT OR CLASSIC FRENCH WORKERS JACKET BY &SONS

A Symbol Of The Working Class

The predominance of the blue shirt in France made this piece a uniform for the working class and the term “blue-collar worker” first emerged in opposition to the “white-collar worker”. Depending on the size of the factory and on its trade union, the blue shirt had to be paid for by the worker or could sometimes be given for free. Either way, the garment was often the unique and only uniform and had to be taken care of. Occurring holes and tears would be repaired with different patches of fabric for it to be worn for as long as possible.

Over the years, the blue shirt became a symbol of the working class. While some workers rejected this type of categorization, others were proud that the blue worker’s shirt represented their social class. The shirt embodied values, such as authenticity, hard work and practicality. This led to its adoption by other members of society such as sailors or painters, who would identify with the ethic and spirit of the labourers. However, some workers viewed this as the sign of inferiority and a standardised work organisation.

The French workers shirt also travelled into other countries like in the United States, where the details remained similar but the colour and fabric varied and so did the name, as the term “chore jacket” and “chore coat” is prefered. Levi Strauss & Co. dominated the worker’s shirt market thanks to the solidity of its blue denim trousers also worn by factory workers.

American icons quickly adorned the blue chore coat such as the movie star Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke or the street photographer Bill Cunningham.

Paul Newman Wearing French Workers Jacket in cool hand luke film1967 - The French Worker’s Jacket | SEIKK Magazine
PAUL NEWMAN WEARING A FRENCH WORKERS JACKET IN THE 1967 CLASSIC FILM “COOL HAND LUKE”

Today’s Brands & Products

Nonetheless, brands such as Le Mont Saint Michel, which used to make the shirt at the beginning of the 20th century are still key workwear producers today. Technical brands are constantly reinterpreting and adapting the design to answer the needs of the adventurer of today. The pockets are large enough for them to welcome everyday tools, which is ideal for any activity requiring a set of objects to carry around. Stone Island reiterates the garment to make solid outerwear with ample cuts facilitating motions and practical pockets, while streetwear brands such as Carhartt offer functional and simple workers jackets.

Seikk Magazine has selected the most durable and useful worker’s jackets that can suit the tough days of a Construction Worker or Mechanic, to the classic and raw style of an urban dweller.

The Original & Classic Chore Jacket

&Sons is a vintage-inspired brand creating timeless garments by and for craftspeople. If you are looking for the most authentic-looking worker’s shirt, this is the piece you need. With its traditional box cut and signature four pocket detailing, the strength of the chore jacket has been reinforced with over-stitching. The indigo-dyed cloth has been washed for an authentic ‘worn in’ patina and is made of cotton twill for a softer touch and a comfortable feel.

A Bakers Jacket For Bread Makers Of All Kind

Based on the design of an authentic Worker’s Jacket, this garment is a combination of
functionality and timelessness. The UK brand Universal Works aims to make contemporary menswear and its founder David Keyte takes inspiration from growing up in a working-class family that loved to dress well. The Barker’s Jacket in a discrete dark navy blue is crafted from cotton twill and has three pockets wide pockets perfectly suited for manual work.

Minimal Artsy Work Jacket

Paris-based A.P.C. infuses its simple style and minimal DNA in its dark-hued work jacket. The piece is a unique take on the vintage workwear aesthetic with a black and stonewashed finish to give a worn and thrifted look. Made of Italian cotton gabardine, the fabric is cut with utilitarian lines and features two oversized patch pockets. Perfect for an artist or a photographer, it strikes the perfect balance of functionality with a minimal vintage spirit.

The Japanese Railroad Worker Jacket

Blue Blue Japan’s unique worker’s jacket is cut with textured fabric with a distinctive blue colour and finely stitched details. This cotton jacket combines traditional construction techniques with vintage Japanese workwear. The natural blue indigo is a signature of the brand and has been produced with traditional dyeing methods. After frequent wear and washing, the vibrant colour will slightly fade and develop a patina. With four large pockets and brass buttons, this Sashiko Railroad Worker Jacket is made for those with an acute attachment to quality, durability and craftsmanship.

The Classy Worker-Inspired Coat

Made from organic cotton canvas and the classic cut of the chore jacket, the Michigan Coat reiterates the workwear roots of Carhartt WIP. This version in Hamilton brown with a darker Corduroy collar makes a perfect piece for a full earthy tones look. The coat is a perfect mix of exquisite details with the brass-toned hardware while remaining functional thanks to the four front pockets.

The Outdoorsy Techwear Work Jacket

The Work Jacket made by Stone Island is the best for an outdoorsy adventurer. Thanks to the David-Tc fabric it is composed of, the piece is waterproof and enduring, meaning that you can go off in the wilderness knowing that your gear will resist any meteorological conditions. For even more practicality the three pockets can be closed with buttons to store tools and avoid risking losing them during an activity demanding a lot of movement.

Click the product names for a closer look, or use the link to shop all jackets.

SHOP JACKETS

Complete The Look

FAQ’s

What is a chore jacket?

Also called the worker’s jacket, chore coat, work shirt or utility jacket, all these names refer to a practical piece of clothing that usually possesses two or three big-sized front pockets and vibrant blue colour. Originating from the world of industrial factories, the chore jacket has become a timeless menswear staple over the years.

Are chore jackets good?

The material traditionally used in French worker’s jackets or chore coats is hardy cotton drill or moleskin, also known as Toile de Chine, which has highly resistant properties. The worker’s jacket or chore jacket needed to be made of the sturdiest textile to endure demanding physical activities and to be used for as long as possible. The stitchings could be reinforced with a double-needle or rivets, holes easily repaired with patches and the jacket can be lined for extra warmth. All these details make the chore coat one of the most resistant and durable jackets of all time.

What is French workwear?

French workwear is synonymous with durable items of clothing from late 19th century France. Initially worn by farmers, railway labourers and engineers due to their resistance and functionality, it is said that French workwear including the iconic blue worker’s jacket or chore coat, work shirt and overalls appeared in the late 19th century. But in reality, French workwear’s origins can be traced back to the 18th century, way before the Industrial Revolution.

Not sure workers jackets are for you then shop all coats and jackets.

Samantha Ferrec is a Writer, Art & Fashion Historian and PR in luxury. She is passionate about heritage, sustainability and timelessness

Load Next