Why The Spring 2018 Workwear Trend Is Music To Our Ears

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Why The Spring 2018 Workwear Trend Is Music To Our Ears

Photography by Mr Matthew Brookes | Styling by Mr Dan May

22 February 2018

This season’s built-to-last, blue-collar-inspired clothing also knows how to relax.

Perhaps too often, a trend can come flying our way that seems something of a challenging proposition. Suits with sneakers? Yes, we’re aware that not everyone is keen on that one. Ironic metal hoodies? Also, perhaps, rather a leap forward for the man who’s more at home in chinos and striped shirts.

Thankfully, though, the same criticism can’t be levelled at one of SS18’s main ideas: workwear. What do we mean by workwear? Well, certainly not suits and ties. No, this is about the kind of sturdy, durable and comfortable pieces that working men have been wearing since at least the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, it’s all about some pleasantly familiar pieces, like the chore jacket, jeans and cargo trousers, as well as about the kind of fabrics you normally associate with them: heavy cotton drill, denim, canvas.

What’s different about it this spring, then? Essentially, both quality and sophistication. Ami has taken the classic French workman’s jacket and given it a more stylish edge, rendering it in a variety of checked and striped canvas fabrics, and repurposing its signature royal blue colour in shirts and tailoring. Junya Watanabe is partnering with skate/workwear brand Carhartt to produce blazers with industrial-looking construction details. Fendi is taking a more retro approach to the whole thing, fielding a range of nostalgically tan-coloured pieces that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970s post office.

Meanwhile, there are more subtle hints of the working man’s wardrobe snaking through many collections. Shirts are coming with sturdy patch pockets. Corduroy is present in summer weights. Jeans seem to be looking particularly well-worn and worked-out. Colours veer towards a factory spectrum: brown, navy, khaki, tan.

Anyway, to reinforce our initial point: the main take-home here is that this trend is very easy indeed to wear. To test out this theory, we travelled to Cape Town, South Africa, with a large suitcase of this spring’s workwear-inspired pieces and asked an incredibly laid-back bunch of musicians to put them through their paces. Scroll down to find out how they got on.

Guitarist Mr Andre Geldenhuys (above, left) has a finger in many musical pies, so to speak: he currently plays with a wide range of fellow South African musicians including folksy singer-songwriter Mr Jack Mantis and rapper Mr Spoek Mathambo. He felt quite comfortable, he says, in his Ami denim jacket – one of the key workwear-inspired pieces of spring 2018. “Denim is a pretty neutral colour,” he says. “You can pull it off with most things. But you can also mess it up and do anything with it. It’s a strong fabric.”

Fellow guitarist and ballad writer Mr Donny Truter (above, second from left), the frontman of poetical blues band Taleswapper, concurs – perhaps because, as he puts it, “I got all the best stuff.” (NB: he’s talking about a faux shearling-lined coach jacket from Wacko Maria, which, we have to agree, is rather good.) “The gear’s great,” he says, over a game of pool. “Workwear’s almost an everyday thing, so it’s got to have its comfort, it’s got to have functionality.”

Mr Truter’s bandmate in Taleswapper is the multi-instrumentalist Mr Jacques du Plessis (above), who also moonlights as singer for Mr Cat And The Jackal, a theatrical ensemble whose sound is pleasingly hard to pin down. “That’s the fun thing with Mr Cat And The Jackal,” says Mr du Plessis. “I sometimes write country tunes, or Django or a blues number, or rock ’n’ roll, even metal sometimes. But I like to keep it open.” As a man who also builds his own instruments (and can tease a tune out of a saw, no less), he’s well-versed in the merits of workwear. “It’s durable and you can wear it every day,” he says. Of course, we probably wouldn’t recommend taking Loro Piana’s chambray shirt, worn here by Mr du Plessis under a cotton gilet from Blue Blue Japan, into an actual workshop – this is definitely the “inspired” end of the workwear spectrum. But hopefully you get the picture.

Saxophonist Mr Hiram Koopman (above, left) is, in fact, hard at work as we speak – he’s recording his debut album with his eponymous jazz ensemble, the Hiram Koopman Trio. Perhaps counter-intuitively, then, his workwear outfit from MR PORTER was more about enjoying his downtime. “It’s quite different to something I would normally wear,” he says, “But it’s just comfortable. I love it. Particularly the materials and the texture.”

Of course, workwear has been around for a while – the trend is not even necessarily about trying something new, but investing in a souped-up version of a piece that you already love. Take, for example, Japanese brand KAPITAL’s take on the denim jacket for SS18. Rendered in beautifully washed Japanese denim, it comes in a very contemporary oversized cut that plays wonderfully well into what guitarist Mr Cornelis Hundersmarck (above, right) who currently plays with free-spirited NYC pop artist Julietta, calls “the whole baggy workwear vibe”. As he explains, it’s a timeless look that’s particularly strong for spring, but will last well beyond it. “I think workwear has always been so popular and enduring because it’s kind of stayed the same, with little additions here and there to make it more interesting. Also, when it’s made well, it lasts forever and is something you can always wear.”

What’s more, says Mr Hundersmarck, sturdy, hard-wearing clothes have the added benefit of developing character and extra comfort as time goes on. “Nothing beats an old, worn-in jacket, or a pair of pants or denim jeans.” We couldn’t agree more.