It used to be that workwear was defined as a specific kind of clothing worn by blue-collar workers who needed more protection than regular street clothing offered. That is no longer the case. The term has now been appropriated by a new culture that sees workwear as literally any clothing you wear to work, regardless of your job or function. This has led to clothing manufacturers having to come up with new terms to describe various types of clothing. One of those terms is ‘functional workwear’.
What is functional workwear? That is what this post discusses. As you read, know that the ‘functional’ portion of the definition varies from one environment to the next. What is function to an auto mechanic will differ from function as defined by a line worker for the local utility company.
A Basic Definition
According to Alsco, the company that pioneered uniform rental in the late 19th century, functional workwear is generally classified as clothing designed to perform a specific function in the workplace. That function goes above and beyond merely covering a person up. This makes functional workwear different from business suits, casual wear, and street clothes.
Function to an auto mechanic would include characteristics like protecting against sharp surfaces and potentially hot temperatures. It would dictate clothing capable of withstanding the punishment of the daily work environment in relation to things like grease, grime, solvents, and so forth.
To the utility line worker, function is more about protecting the worker from the elements. This suggests heavier clothing worn in layers during the winter months but lighter clothing that still protects against the sun during the summer. Functional workwear for a utility worker might also include designs that take into account the hand tools such workers use.
Heavy Duty Workwear
Despite differences in function from one job to the next, one thing most functional workwear designs have in common is their heavy-duty nature. Remember that this sort of workwear is intended for blue-collar workers whose work environments are dirty and dangerous. Workers need clothing that provides enough protection and can stand up to whatever the environment throws at them.
The nature of a person’s job dictates what kind of clothing is necessary. Someone working in an industrial plant would need functional workwear that includes heavy-duty pants, a shirt, and work boots. That worker might also require an apron and gloves as well. Heavy jackets and leggings would not be necessary because the individual works indoors.
Someone who works outside year-round would obviously need heavy duty outerwear for those times of the year when colder weather dictates heavier layers. Believe it or not, layering is a key component when designing functional workwear for outdoor workers.
Dressing in layers helps prevent hypothermia by increasing the absorption of perspiration and making it easier for workers to control body temperature by adding and removing layers. It is far better to dress in layers than putting on a single, heavy coat and pair of leggings.
It Can Be Stylish
Alsco points out that functional workwear does not have to be visually unattractive. It doesn’t have to be plain and boring. Functional workwear can actually be stylish in addition to being heavy-duty and protective. However, you will pay more to get both style and function together. To some, it is worth paying for.
Not all workwear is the same. In the modern era, some clothing referred to as workwear consists of business and casual attire. If you want workwear designed for a function above and beyond just covering your skin and presenting a professional image, what you really need is functional workwear.