The men’s vintage workwear style has been growing steadily for many years. Vintage suits and ties are out and in come demands for more casual, more relaxed, more workwear inspired men’s 1950s clothing. While the amount of written information about 1950s workwear is minimal, my vintage catalog collection has helped provide some examples of men’s clothing worn by the working classes in “blue collar” jobs and weekend casualness.
Starting at the turn of the century and up to the 1960s, there was little change in men’s workwear styles. Materials, colors, and fit changed, but the overall style of workwear for common occupations remained the same. Overalls, coveralls, uniforms, and workwear separates made up the bulk of men’s vintage work clothes. A sturdy pair of work boots to finished the look.
1950s Vintage Workwear: Overalls
The fit of the coverall remained quite baggy from the 1920s to the 1940s, and slimmed down in the 1950s and 1960s to a fit you still see today. Both dark denim blue and white overalls were worn in the 1950s and even the hickory stripe or engineer stripe denim. White contrast stitching is the trademark of vintage denim workwear.
Overalls were worn over a heavy duty wool or cotton long sleeve work shirt. A matching button up light jacket shirt provided additional protection of the arms, as well as more pockets.
Vintage Men’s Workwear: Coveralls
An alternative to overalls were coveralls, also called wearalls or unionalls. These were preferred by mechanics, aviators, and factory workers who needed to keep clean without straps, pockets, and shirt cuffs that could get tangled in machinery. The coverall was a one piece pant and shirt combination that zipper up the front. Blue or striped denim, khaki twill, white duck cloth, or any neutral color of medium weight cotton provided a range of durability and hues. Two large chest pockets, side pockets, and sometimes a self fabric slide belt completed the style. The coverall could be worn over other work clothing or just over underwear in hot climates.
Vintage Men’s Workwear: Matching Uniform Sets
For service oriented jobs that were not too dirty and required a uniformed appearance — such as gas station attendant, repairmen, gardener, delivery driver or shop keeper — a matching set of pant, shirt, and jacket was ideal. These uniforms could have a name tag or company name embroidered onto the shirt and jacket. The colors were lighter than overalls and coveralls, with olive green, khaki, tan, blue, grey, and green in the 1940s and 1950s. Cotton twill or light weight wool were used instead of denim.
The work shirt looked like a men’s dress shirt with two chest button pockets and button up collar.
The work pants were flat front with a creased leg and cuff up until the 1950s. Belts were almost always worn with 1950s workwear.
The work jacket was a waist length zip-up jacket with two pockets on the front or side. The style is similar to a Harrington, bomber, of golf jacket. They were made in matching fabric to the pant and shirt for a unified uniform.
The sporty varsity bomber jacket with striped ribbed cuffs and collar was a trendy new look in the mid 1950s. Jacket did not need to match pants with this look, although that was an option.
Men’s Workwear: Separates
Work shirt separates were made of heavy duty cotton twill, denim, covert (wool or cotton) or chambray. Blue was the standard color, with khaki, army green and sometimes black as alternatives. In winter, plaid was popular for the 1950s outdoorsman. Most work shirts had two chest pockets with a button down flap.
Work jackets, purchased as separates, were made of covert cloth, wool or dark denim. They could be lined in flannel or shearling in winter or unlined the warmer days. They came in the chore jacket style as well as the bomber jacket.
Men’s work pants could be denim blue jeans, a sturdy wool or cotton twill, or corduroy with a fit to match the decade. Dark denim blue jeans were the only option for men’s workwear until almost the 1960s when colored blue jeans matched the palate of cotton work trousers. The fit was wide leg and high waisted with a slight taper at the shoe. As the decade progressed they grew narrower and slightly lower on the waist. Read the history of blue jeans here.
Vintage Men’s Work Boots
Physical jobs required heavy duty boots for most occupations. Work boots from the teens onward had an overall similar style. Thick rubber soles with thick sole and a lace-up body that extended over the ankle and up over the calf. Rubber boots existed for wet jobs, but leather was good enough for most work environments. It wasn’t just cow leather. Horsehide and even kangaroo leather were deemed more durable. Shades of brown and black were the only options. In winter many boots were lined in shearling for warmth.
Less physical occupations called for sturdy work shoes- usually a moc toe oxford or a chukka boot. In the later years the tan colored cork rubber sole and lighter leather body started to emerge. The engineer boot remained a classic work boot, also popular with motorcycle riders (and rebel teens.)
Putting Together a 1950s Workwear Look
For those of you reading this because you need a working class costume, here are some ideas on what to buy and where to find men’s vintage style workwear clothing.
- Overalls – There are a small handful of clothing companies that still make classic overalls. Blue denim overalls will be easier to find.
- Work Shirts – Dickies still makes most of their work clothing in classic cuts (1950s-1960s style) with matching pants and jackets. Their work shirts are also excellent.
- Denim Jeans – Levi’s makes reproduction jeans from the 1890s to 1960s. Some of them have a very vintage workwear look that I love (but not the high price tag). 1950s reproduction denim jeans are a little easier to find. They would work well for earlier decades as well. Shop here for all men’s style pants, overalls, and jeans.
- Jackets – Casual bomber jackets and chore jackets are back in fashion. Shop jackets here.
- Boots– Most leather workwear boots are still in the classic vintage styles. Justin Original and Red Wing have some of the best choices