The New Rules of Workwear


Image Credits: Brayden Olsen

Share This Article

In This Article

In the realm of apparel, workwear holds a distinct narrative, one that is woven from the threads of necessity and durability, evolving over time into a tapestry that blends function with fashion. 

This genre of clothing has transcended its utilitarian origins to stake a claim in the fashion lexicon, embodying a rugged aesthetic that speaks to both hard work and high style.

Initially designed to protect and serve the worker, these garments were crafted from robust materials, engineered to withstand the rigors of labor and the elements. 

Over the decades, this no-nonsense attire began to seep into the cultural fabric, adopted by subcultures and style icons, and reinterpreted by the fashion industry.

fashion week outfit showing man wearing a baggy dark blue workwear suit

Image Credit: Goldie Williams

Today, workwear straddles the line between its roots in labor and its role in leisure, offering pieces that are as at home on the construction site as they are in a downtown café.

The interplay between the practicality of workwear and its burgeoning appeal in the fashion arena presents a fascinating study in contrasts. 

On one hand, the core tenets of workwear—durability, comfort, and protection—remain non-negotiable. 

On the other, these very elements have been co-opted by the fashion world, where the ruggedness of workwear is celebrated for its aesthetic appeal. 

The result is a symbiotic relationship where functionality informs fashion, and fashion, in turn, elevates functionality to a style statement. 

This duality has led to innovations in materials and designs, making workwear more versatile and appealing to a broader audience.

At the forefront of this sartorial movement are brands like Carhartt, Dickies, Red Wing etc each with its own heritage and contribution to the workwear ethos. 

carhartt high fashion runway outfit, featuring their classic workwear jacket
luka sabbat out and about wearing a green workwear jacket

Carhartt, with its roots in railroad workwear, has become synonymous with durability and ruggedness, its garments bearing the hallmarks of classic American resilience. 

Dickies offers a slightly different narrative, one that intertwines the practicality of work attire with the casual cool of streetwear, making it a favorite among skaters and artists alike.

Red Wing, on the other hand, is renowned for its footwear, crafting boots that are as sturdy as they are stylish, a testament to the brand’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship.

These brands, with their rich histories and adaptability, have not only survived but thrived in the shifting landscape of workwear. 

They have managed to maintain their authenticity while embracing the nuances of fashion, offering collections that pay homage to their roots while catering to the contemporary consumer. 

Today’s workwear is marked by a distinct evolution from the past decade, embracing oversized silhouettes, vintage-inspired designs, and a fusion with high fashion that redefines the concept of utility wear.

workwear ensemble from the latest louis vuitton collection headed by pharrell denim button down with matching denim shorts with brown boots and a matching brown jacket

Image Credit: Louis Vuitton

In the current zeitgeist, workwear is characterized by a deliberate nod to comfort and mobility, manifesting in oversized silhouettes that allow for ease of movement and a relaxed fit. 

Additionally, there’s a burgeoning affinity for vintage-inspired looks, where garments echo the rugged charm of bygone eras with distressed fabrics, faded colors, and classic patterns. 

The narrative of workwear in high street fashion is one of creative assimilation, where elements of workwear are being reimagined by mainstream fashion houses to bring a touch of the pragmatic to the pedestal of high fashion. 

Louis Vuitton, a beacon in the luxury fashion world, has notably embraced this trend, weaving workwear aesthetics into its latest pieces with remarkable finesse. 

The brand’s collaboration with Timberland is a testament to this fusion, where the rugged, outdoor spirit of Timberland’s iconic footwear is elevated through Louis Vuitton’s lens of luxury, resulting in pieces that blur the lines between high fashion and high function.

This collaboration, among others, signifies a broader trend where high street brands are drawing inspiration from the workwear domain, incorporating durable materials, functional designs, and a palette of earthy, utilitarian tones into their collections. 

These pieces are then styled with high fashion elements, from luxe fabrics to avant-garde silhouettes, offering a new narrative in contemporary fashion that celebrates the workwear heritage while pushing the boundaries of modern style.

Designers continue to experiment with layering workwear pieces under tailored coats, accessorizing with high-end bags, or juxtaposing rugged boots with delicate dresses, offering a modern twist that challenges traditional fashion boundaries.

Image Credits: Christian Vierig/Getty Images & Kenzo

At the heart of the workwear aesthetic are the staples, time-tested pieces that serve as the building blocks of the workwear wardrobe. These include:

Sturdy Denim: The quintessential workwear fabric, denim, is prized for its durability and ease of wear. 

In the workwear context, sturdy denim jeans or jackets are indispensable, often featuring reinforced stitching and heavy-duty fabric that can withstand the wear and tear of manual labor or everyday urban life.


Utility vests: These  are the epitome of functional fashion, most of the time  equipped with multiple pockets and made from robust materials. 

Rugged Boots: Footwear in the workwear category is all about protection and longevity.

Rugged boots, often with reinforced toes and slip-resistant soles, provide the necessary support for demanding environments while also serving as a staple in casual, street-style looks.

ASAP rocky performing wearing classic timberlands

Belts with Buckles: Beyond their practical purpose, belts in workwear often feature bold buckles that serve as a focal point, adding an element of design to the utilitarian ensemble.

odell beckham jr wearing an all leather outfit with a prominent belt buckle as the perfect accessory

Cowboy Hats and Overalls: Tapping into the heritage of workwear, cowboy hats and overalls bring a touch of Americana and nostalgia, embodying the spirit of the frontier and the ruggedness of outdoor labor.

Rugged Shorts: For warmer climates or seasons, rugged shorts offer the same durability and functionality as their full-length counterparts, ensuring comfort without compromising on the workwear aesthetic.

Image Credit: League Fits [IG]

Cargo Pants: A quintessential element in the modern workwear arsenal, cargo pants have transcended their military origins to become a staple of practical fashion.

Characterized by their loose fit and an array of pockets, cargo pants epitomize the blend of utility and style that defines contemporary workwear. 

Image Credit: Acielle StyleDuMonde

Shirt & Tie: While not traditional workwear, the suit and tie represent the formal end of the workwear spectrum, embodying professionalism and polish in office settings and formal occasions.

These staples not only define the workwear aesthetic but also offer a canvas for personal expression, allowing individuals to mix and match pieces to suit their style, needs, and, importantly, their narrative within the contemporary fashion landscape. 

In the realm of contemporary fashion, workwear transcends mere clothing, extending its rugged ethos to a range of accessories that not only complement the aesthetic but enhance functionality. 

These workwear accessories  are the unsung heroes of the ensemble, imbuing outfits with an authenticity and readiness that speak to the heritage of labor and the pragmatism of the craftsman.

Beanies: A staple in the workwear arsenal, offer both warmth and a laid-back edge to any outfit.

Originating as a practical solution for workers in cold environments, beanies have been embraced by the fashion world for their effortless appeal and versatility.

They come in a variety of textures and colors, allowing for personal expression while staying true to the workwear tradition of simplicity and utility.

asap rocky with rihanna wearing an LV pearl covered beanie

Utility Bags:  Another cornerstone of the workwear accessory family, ranging from robust backpacks to versatile cross-body bags. 

These bags are designed with compartments and durable materials, ensuring that they’re not only a fashion statement but a practical component of the daily grind. 

Image Credit: Szymon Brzoska/ The Style Stalker

Expanding the accessory repertoire, key rings and trouser chains add a functional yet fashionable flair to the workwear ensemble.

In the realm of workwear, the trend of customizing pieces has become a canvas for individuality and creativity. 

The rugged, durable nature of workwear garments makes them ideal backdrops for personal touches like patches, embroidery, and various DIY techniques. 

This movement toward customization allows wearers to infuse their workwear with personal stories, affiliations, and artistic expressions, transforming functional garments into unique pieces of wearable art. 

Patches, often collected or crafted to signify personal achievements, affiliations, or interests, add a layer of identity to jackets and bags. 

Embroidery, whether it’s a subtle monogram or a bold design sprawling across a jacket’s back, offers a touch of craftsmanship and uniqueness. 

DIY techniques, from distressing denim to hand-painting jackets, empower individuals to leave their mark on their garments, making each piece a testament to their creativity and style.

This trend not only celebrates the individual but also breathes new life into workwear staples, merging tradition with personal narrative.

DIY embellished louis vuitton denim jacket from their latest collection

Image Credit: Louis Vuitton

The foundation of any workwear ensemble, both literally and figuratively, is the footwear. 

Sturdy and comfortable shoes, such as boots, sneakers, and oxfords, are pivotal in workwear fashion, offering protection and support while making a style statement. 

As said previously, boots, especially, have taken center stage, with designs ranging from the classic steel-toe for practical labor to refined leather for office settings, all maintaining the durability and comfort synonymous with workwear. 

Sneakers, once relegated to the gym or casual outings, have been reimagined with robust materials and supportive designs, making them suitable for more active work environments or as a comfortable alternative in casual office settings. 

runway model wearing sneakers to complement an all cargo militaristic outfit

Image Credit: Reese Cooper

Oxfords, with their sleek design and sturdy construction, bridge the gap between the workshop and the boardroom, offering a polished look without sacrificing comfort or durability. 

tyler the creator wearing a semi formal outfit and topping it off with black oxford shoes

The landscape of workwear style is dotted with iconic figures who have turned functional attire into powerful expressions of personal and cultural identity. 

With artists and designers including figures like Sterling Ruby, Steve Mcqueen, Kanye West and Lil Yachty as well as the avant-garde approaches of Rick Owens and Maison Margiela, incorporating workwear elements into their personal style and collections.

Blending the raw, unrefined aesthetics of traditional workwear with contemporary design principles. 

lil yachty wearing a workwear inspired outfit with baggy denim, timberlands and a carhartt jacket
kanye west and julia fox both wearing denim on denim workwear outfits