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Style / December 2017

Style 101: The French Worker's Jacket

Over the past 100 years, the French worker’s jacket has gone from a practical garment worn by the working class to an everyday item for city-dwellers and a point of inspiration for luxury brands.

Blackhorse Lane has recreated the French worker's jacket from a vintage pattern. Photograph by James Munro.

No clothing category has had such a meteoric and widespread rise in recent years than traditional workwear, in what can only be described as an overarching casualisation of dress codes. That’s largely thanks to its practical nature – they were originally designed to be hard-wearing, comfortable and allow for free movement – as well as the relaxing of traditional class attire. Take the Royal family as an example: Prince Charles wouldn’t be caught dead in denim, and yet both William and Harry seem to relish at the opportunity to throw on a pair of jeans. Although denim, checked shirts, safety boots and knitted fishermen sweaters have been ubiquitous among inner-city wardrobes for decades, one more recent addition is the French worker’s jacket, easily distinguished by its often vibrant ‘hydrone’ hue.

Origins

As its name suggests, the worker’s jacket was originally designed as a utilitarian garment, first worn by railway labourers and engineers in France in the late 1800s. The French name – bleu de travail – literally translates to 'blue work', underpinning its function as practical outerwear for the proletariat.
Traditionally made from hardy cotton drill or moleskin, this jacket could withstand the tough demands of physical jobs, and any holes were simply patched up with other pieces of cotton. Loose in fit, it could be worn as a protective layer over other clothes, with buttons up the front and at the sleeve to allow for rolling, as well as three or four patch pockets for storing small tools and loose parts. While early iterations were not labelled, certain brands started purpose-making them in the early to mid 20th century, including Le Mont Saint Michel, Vetra and Le Laboureur, which still operate as workwear brands today.

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Jessica Beresford

Jessica is The Rake's Managing Editor.