Born for miners, loved by fashion designers. We celebrate International Workers’ Day by retracing the path that workwear has taken to become a streetwear statement.
A symbol of equality that soon became an inspiration for fashion designers all over the world, workwear has existed for millennia, but with the first industrial revolution (late 1700s) the advent of the system of product manufacture, production and forms of organization and division of labour set a well-structured process in motion that also involved the uniforms used by workers in the metalworking industries, by miners, in workshops and so on.
In fact, the functional models that we commonly know as work uniforms date back to the beginning of the 19th century, which included garments with durable fabrics – such as cotton canvas and denim – with lots of pockets (without locks) for easy storage of tools.
A new social class – with their own dwellings in designated areas close to the industries, their own hobbies when not engaged in the exhausting and time-consuming work; they are recognizable by the rugged fabric jackets and wide trousers they wear: it is the Working Class.
The first mass-produced working garments were patented by Levi Strauss, namely the dungarees and the denim trousers: they both had copper rivets and seems to be sturdier and stronger, and several pockets on the legs and hips. They spread mainly in the American West among miners, farmers, factory workers, until they became – in modern times – probably the two most worn streetwear garments in the world.
From the 1930s onwards, with the rise of class struggles, trade unions and the involvement of intellectuals in the often inhuman conditions of the working class, workwear took on a social significance: many public personalities, such as writers, thinkers, artists, wore workwear jackets or trousers to demonstrate their closeness to the workers’ cause.
These include the famous Siren Suit of 1944 worn by Winston Churchill, a great advocate of workwear as practical casual wear, which later became the iconic jumpsuit, with zips or buttons.
Many artists, especially Soviet ones, adopted work uniforms for ideological reasons, among them Aleksandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Archizoom Associates, who created garments to contain a tool kit for painting: the uniform became a symbol of equality with a double meaning, practical and idealistic, uniting different categories of work, not only the humblest ones.
The first collection in the history of fashion inspired by Workwear.
From its diffusion among intellectuals to the world of fashion, the step was short: this type of clothing became a source of inspiration for some of the world’s most famous designers.
The first models genuinely inspired by Workwear arrived during the Second World War, thanks to the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her “Cash and Carry” collection: exquisitely Haute Couture dresses and suits characterized by large pockets and zips, capable of holding the equivalent of a handbag inside them, a collection accompanied by a revolutionary fashion show that would change the course of fashion.
This was followed by Yohji Yamamoto‘s work from the 1970s onwards, which was strongly influenced by the working class: a style that was also a perfect match for minimalism and Japanese rigour, chosen by the designer as exemplifying his ideal of design.