Labor day was yesterday and it struck me that I did not remotely know what Labor day was for and why we had it off.
So of course I googled it and scored through a few sources to bust that mystery open (if it’s still a mystery to you.)
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s always the first Monday in September and it is in recognition of “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” (Source.)
Can you believe I didn’t know that? Especially given the name of the day! It got me thinking about how we take a lot of those achievements for granted, along with the day itself (I mean, some people ironically still work.) But this is a blog that concerns itself with clothing, among other things, and I thought about how a lot of our favorite styles come straight from the bodies of workers. So without further ado, here are some fantastic fashions that came from laborers themselves.
(And maybe next time you wear any of them, you can spare some silent gratitude their way.)
I know, I know. You have no idea what that is. Let me enlighten you.
Now clearly not all of these are vintage workwear, but the inspiration is clearly working class. The boiler suit’s origins are quite similar to their namesake: the men who maintained coal-fired boilers wore these to protect themselves. They are, after all, perfect for protection: rough materials, no gaps in the garment, long pocket in the front for tool storage, etc.
They are also fantastic one-piece fashion statements. Of course, like other borrowed pieces, you have to be willing to work with the lack of fit (or, if you’re very attached, tailor it to you) and to roll up your sleeves quite literally.
You’ve seen these. Likely on the backs of rebel teens from movies set in the 60s. Or in your local vintage store, waiting for someone to take up the name Earl once more.
The fun in these shirts is imagining who these people once were and taking up their name as a badge of legitimacy. Oh you have a cool tee? I have Earl’s shirt.
The photo above is, if you’re a huge Strokes fan, a classic Julian Casablancas look. It’s unforgettable, this garbage collector shirt. You don’t even know.
The origins of these shirts are rather obvious as well: automobile workers wore these, embroidered with their company logo and name and the style spread to other professions with uniforms. It’s a classic look that bled into the rebellious counter-culture and then, of course, into fashion.
The Flat Cap
(You may be more familiar with its popular name, the Newsboy Cap.)
This headwear goes as far back as 14th century England and it really hit the ground running when parliament passed a law in 1571 to protect their oh-so-precious wool trade, decreeing that all non-noble men over six wear wool caps on Sundays and on holidays, lest they pay a fine.
You can imagine it became a popular look and the flat cap became The Look of all non-nobles and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the working-class signifier.
With the working class in decline since the mid-20th century, the cap has found its home in the middle-class and sometimes the upper class, despite its peasant origins.
I do hope you enjoyed your day off and all the work that people in the past put in to get you that day off, as well as all of the fabulous clothing they brought us because of their jobs.
Try not to feel too guilty while you’re wearing a flat cap and thinking about how it was the signature look of the plebeian types! Eek.