I was recently in the hipster neighborhood of Silver Lake (Los Angeles) and wandered into a shop called “The Golden Age” that sells “French workwear”. The shop has shelves full of thick, cotton jackets and scarves, all in different shades of blue. I also saw what looked like well-worn firefighter uniforms. Everything was very expensive. I wonder, what is going on here? In an interview with Bidstitch, Golden Age owner Ludwig Orlando explains French workwear:
“The first French workers’ uniforms were developed in France at the end of the 19th century, and the clothes came in opposition to the Industrial Revolution. The oldest work jackets we have found are from the 1920s in moleskin fabric, tough and thick, made for miners and heavy different fabrics used for decades: -Dance, linen, mixed linen/cotton, herringbone, later cotton drill… construction workers, farmers, mechanics, etc… That’s why those pieces are unique, made of different fabrics and used for many years in various indoor and outdoor activities. Used inside, they are washed and repaired, showing shades of blue from decades of use.
One of the many ‘workwear’ trends that have become popular in recent decades is French workwear. Maya Ernst explains the resource issue:
For decades, service-oriented workwear has been prized for fashion over function. In the ’90s overalls and coats were worn to work from home by hip-hop legends like the Fugees and Tupac, while queer communities embraced workwear for its baggy, androgynous look. The 00’s saw skaters and cholo culture dominate the next trend, often mixed with boxer knee-like pieces with booties and low-top sneakers.
Ernst asked what workwear style means when people don’t use the clothes for actual work:
The fashion industry doesn’t share the practical mindset of workwear – it’s about what looks good, not how something works. Focusing solely on style, however, can be detrimental to pieces created for utility. As workwear gains popularity outside of its target demographic, one has to wonder when adoption will become problematic. Is there a problem with the aesthetics of one’s work uniform? And does that allure really add value to those who wear utility-oriented styles for practicality?
“Do you see anything funny about the hip kids in France doing the old working class clothes?” When asked. Golden Age owner Ludwig Orlando replied:
“It’s weird but I understand the appeal, when I was a skater kid, that’s what I wanted to wear. If you think about it, we’ve seen a similar trend with vintage Carhartt, Dickies, Levis, American workwear, Kanye has been wearing them for the last 5 years and it’s very popular with the masses, always. Used by the average working man… Practical, comfortable, well-made and durable clothing definitely raided his wardrobe from the inside. For the casual customer, I have always found workers, cowboys or military uniforms very inspiring in their cut, fabric, function and craftsmanship. The working class has always been with me. Feedback is very beautiful! That’s why it is a big part of our offer in our stores.”
Still, Resource partner Maya Earnest warns that this working-class style gentrification poses a problem for those who need work clothes, especially as celebrities and hipsters buy into the style and the clothes become more expensive.
Unlike the groups that initially embraced workwear, modern consumers appreciate pieces inspired by energy rather than function. When it comes to fashion, functionality isn’t necessarily (or a common feature), it adds value. Consumers are paying hundreds of dollars to wear pieces that are already distressed and disintegrated.
The popularity of utilitarian styles may soon fade — but those who wear the pieces every day will pay the highest price. Workwear brands need to keep their first customers in mind, Masoni cautioned. Workwear is “related to people’s livelihoods,” she said. “It is important to remember the origin of this trend and inform other people.” Dickies and Carhartts Workwear simply wouldn’t exist without the people who wear it beyond fashion.