Yet another genre of clothing that has had its original, historically authentic identity appropriated multiple times over the last decade, there’s no denying that ‘workwear’ (referring loosely to that style of clothing rooted in working class livelihoods and manual labour) shall always endure. Cue your literary metaphor of choice involving Levi’s jeans or chore coats.
Granted, our popular culture’s most recent obsession with workwear looked as if it had boiled over in the late 2010s: when actors ranging from Daniel Day-Lewis to Ben Affleck all bought into a kind of blue collar cosplay — complete with Carhartt ‘Detroit’ jackets.
Online fashion discourse, or lack thereof, being what it is in the 21st century, we’ve since moved on. In the last 8 or 9 years — technically, during a period of overlap with the aforementioned workwear craze — clothes lovers have also gotten really into indie sleaze; femme-baiting (à la Gucci); and, more recently, that whole ‘quiet luxury’ debacle (AKA: Well-made clothes in premium fabrications, defined by their high pricepoint and slightly mundane aesthetic). But I digress.
For everything going on in this era of hyper-segmentation, the very qualities that made workwear such a constant in music and fashion going all the way back to the 1980s guarantee it will never disappear from the conversation.
Even now, in something of a relatively lull period for the genre (The Bear’s reference to ‘Big E’ denim notwithstanding) it’s impossible not to see the intrinsic appeal of really great double-knee pants, waxed canvas outerwear and what-have-you.
Without further ado then, here are five workwear brands we think offer a best-in-class combination of rugged good looks and practical functionality — hard hat sold separately.
Table of Contents
- The Best Workwear Brands For Men Right Now In Australia
- Best Workwear Brands In Australia – Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Workwear Brands For Men Right Now In Australia
One of the most important forerunners in the proliferation of Americana, Carhartt was established in 1889 in the midwestern city of Dearborn, Michigan. Initially renowned for making tough apparel for manual labourers and rail workers, the company was not immune (like most historic US manufacturers) to the economic ravages of the Great Depression.
This, in turn, led to diversification. Carhartt evolved its offering to include aprons, bags, headwear; and following WWII, formally entered the British and Canadian markets. Today, the rebranded Carhartt WIP (‘Work In Progress’) is a continuation of this legacy.
Originally launched in select European markets in the 1990s, WIP focuses on offering some of the most iconic Carhartt designs — ergo, the ‘Michigan’ coat in 12 oz. Dearborn canvas — albeit in a tailored and contemporary fit.
The brand offers a range of great options for shoppers looking to dip their toe into the whole workwear scene: uniquely American in heritage, yet inspired by the globe.
A brand that really ought to exhibit a bigger cultural footprint here in Australia, Dickies was established by two hat salesmen — C.N. Williamson and E.E. ‘Colonel’ Dickie — in the Texan city of Bryan in 1922. Originally a manufacturer of bib overalls, the Dickies of our shared popular imagining essentially began to take shape in the early 1980s.
The brand’s reliable ‘Eisenhower’ jackets and ‘874’ work pants (noted for their affordability and toughness) made it a favourite among Californian skaters; who soon were disseminating these styles widely amongst underground emcees and working class neighbourhoods.
Despite the fact that Dickies has maintained that street cred, the brand has also made massive strides in the capital-F fashion space. In 2023, the brand continues to work with a range of similarly thoughtful designers — with a strong alignment around high-end Japanese workwear (e.g. Junya Watanabe).
Very much cut from the continental tradition of workwear, Arpenteur is a neo-heritage brand (founded by messrs Marc Asseily and Laurent Bourven in 2011) that specializes in reimagining classic French workwear silhouettes. Think chore coats, fishtail parkas, painters’ smocks — the works.
In keeping with Asseily and Bourven’s desire to “perpetuate” the traditional craft of Lyon (home to France’s wider textiles and silk weaving industries) every Arpenture garment is made locally: almost certainly in a range of muted tonal greys, beiges and blues, so as to last the test of time.
The best-selling ‘ADN’ jackets offer a particularly handsome microcosm of everything Arpenteur’s customers love: ticking off all the boxes when it comes to comfort, durability and pockets you’ll actually want to put personal items into.
A very hands-on and work-centric label, Hard Yakka is the best Australian workwear brand to crack our list. The company was founded in Victoria in the 1930s and since then has become a stalwart for industrial workers who demand clothing that is durable and optimal on the performance front.
Obviously, that means steel-toed boots and Hi-Vis clothing are a big part of the equation; yet Hard Yakka has also come along in leaps and strides in its everyday offering.
The company’s sherpa-style outerwear and flannel shirts are a favourite with weekend warriors all over the country — a great way to pack light whilst staying warm, when camping or other similarly outdoorsy pursuits are on the cards.
A luxe, workwear-adjacent brand that instills a patchwork of aesthetic influences into the rugged, “left-of-centre” clothing that is its signature, Engineered Garments needs very little introduction — even if you’ve only been cursorily interested in menswear over the past 20 years.
The brand (part of renowned New York retailer Nepenthes) was established in 1999 by the Japanese designer Daiki Suzuki; who would go on to win massive acclaim throughout North America for his rugged and obsessively well-made vision of outdoor apparel. In 2008, Suzuki was honoured by the CFDA with the title of ‘Best New Menswear Designer in America’.
In the ensuing 15 years, Engineered Garments has seemingly become one of the most desirable names in fashion. The company’s chunky silhouettes and sophisticated material fabrications have seen it partner up with everybody from Reebok to Palace Skateboards.
If the brand’s SS24 lookbook is any indication: we can soon expect perennial Engineered Garments faves (e.g. the patchwork work shirt) to be joined by springtime apparel with a healthy dose of Ivy League flair.
Best Workwear Brands In Australia – Frequently Asked Questions
What should I look for in workwear?
Considering the historical origins of the genre, any legitimately well-made piece of workwear should be comfortable, durable and aid in the performance of a particular activity.
What are some Australian-owned and/or Australian-made workwear brands you’d recommend?
ELEVEN Workwear has you covered. The brand is an RSEA favourite, specialising in high-visibility gear and thermoregulating apparel made with various ripstop fabrics.
How many RSEA Safety stores are there in Australia?
Originally a local Melburnian institution that started in the city’s southeast, RSEA Safety today operates over 50 stores Australia-wide.