‘Working Blues’

Author : Pascal Aumasson / February 2024

At the turn of the 20th century, after smocks, aprons and military fatigues for off-duty soldiers, came the bleu de travail or ‘working blues’ for labourers, including farm labourers; practical clothing for men, designed to protect the whole body from the dirt in factories and workshops, composed of tunics, trousers, overalls, or a chore coat and trouser combination. They became known as ‘working blues’ once the textile industry had mastered dyeing techniques and thanks to a particular dark blue dye known as bleu de cuve, which could withstand high temperatures and did not deteriorate in the light. In addition, stains and dirt did not show up so much.

Working blues were the result of an inter-regional exchange economy: the weaving and dyeing took place in the north and east of France, while local businesses did the making. These businesses were known for their savoir-faire from very early on, which lead to an uptake of working blues in both the countryside as well as in the city.

On the lookout for strong materials, manufacturers tested heavy drill fabric, made of tightly woven cotton or linen, a wool mix, and a heavy calico cotton fabric, (which was more often brown than blue). In the 1960s, moleskin (tightly woven cotton fabric known to be tear-resistant) became brand Le Mont St Michel’s signature fabric. On top of their working blues, workers would wear grey trousers to protect their blues from dirt, smudges and stains.

It’s a clothing item manufacturers continue to perfect, designing anything and everything from flaps over the pockets, zips, pockets up one trouser leg designed to keep a foldable metre stick and back pockets to put work gloves in. The cut was designed so the fabric would not get caught in machines (accidents had become frequent in factories since the Industrial Revolution). In order to meet the demand from growing numbers of factory workers, production numbers were renewed each year, numbering into the hundreds of customised pieces. In addition, manufacturers had to cater for the workers’ many different sizes. In 1978, the master tailor’s workshop at Brest harbour, which provided all dockyard workers with workwear, was working with 31 different coat sizes, 11 different chest sizes and 4 different trouser lengths.


Translated by: Tilly O’Neill



Author : Pascal Aumasson, « ‘Working Blues’ », Bécédia [en ligne], ISSN 2968-2576, mis en ligne le 7/02/2024.

Permalien: https://bcd.bzh/becedia/en/working-blues

Contributed by : Bretagne Culture Diversité