Many of our favorite garments were once no more than piece of workwear designed to withstand daily abuse from physical labor and the chore coat is no exception. Initially conceived as a hardy piece of outerwear, the chore coat is was favoured by workforces on both sides of the Atlantic over a century ago and it has since evolved into a versatile wardrobe staple.
We’re paying homage to the chore coat by exploring the history of this utilitarian classic.
What is a Chore Coat?
While there are many iterations of the chore coat, the quintessential design and construction is a loose fitting coat with large breast pockets, roomy hip pockets, a pointed collar, and a button closure. Originally designed for workwear purposes, chore coats are traditionally made from hard wearing twill or canvas fabric that can take a beating.
History of the Chore Coat
The chore coat first appeared in late nineteenth century France. As a tough piece of outerwear made from durable cotton drill or moleskin, the chore coat was perfect for the tough physical work of laborers, railroad workers, and farmers, thanks to its loose fit that made it easy to throw over a set of overalls.
In addition to being a hardy external layer, the roomy pockets were used to store everything a worker would need from tobacco tins to tools, and the button cuffs made for easy sleeve-rolling. Traditionally produced in a rich, vibrant French benzoate based blue dye, the chore was known in its home country as bleu de travail which translates directly to ‘blue work’.
It wouldn’t be until the bleu de travail reached the United States that it would be christened with its commonly known name. As its name would suggest, the chore coat was used for ‘chores’ like farming and laboring and worn by the working person, just like it was in France. The chore coats of America weren’t made of the same rich blue as their french cousins, but the construction remained much the same.
By the early twenties, chore coats were being manufactured on a mass scale on both sides of the Atlantic by workwear companies that are still operating to this very day. In France, Le Mont Saint Michel, Vetra, and Le Laboureur were supplying workman with their bleu de travail chore coats, while over in the United States, legendary workwear label Carhartt had begun the production of their chore-style coat.
Initially known as the Engineer Sack Coat or simply The Coat, Carhartt’s chore jacket was first produced in blue denim in 1923 before the introduction of the now-iconic duck brown canvas. With the needs of railroad workers in mind, Carhartt tweaked the traditional chore by adding corduroy lining to the collar, triple stitched seams, and reinforcing the pockets with sturdy copper rivets. Additionally, the Detroit brand lined some of their chores with pile blanketing for colder conditions.
Chore Coats Today
As classic workwear has grown in popularity over the last decade, the chore coat and its many interpretations have become a staple piece in many wardrobes. Versatile, reliable, and functional – a chore-style coat can compliment almost any aesthetic – from the smart-casual inner-city look to rugged, workwear inspired styles. The Carhartt Chore Coat has stood the test of time, and many brands have produced their take on the traditional French blue chore coats. There is also a demand for vintage French chore coats that heavily worn and faded, with many Etsy stores and vintage boutiques stocking collections of unlabelled, mid-century French chores in varying conditions.
Chore Coat Options Available Today
Carhartt Michigan Chore Coat
Carhartt’s chore-recipe has barely changed over the past century or so, and the Michigan Chore Coat is a prime example named after the brand’s home state. Constructed from 12oz. ‘Dearborn’ Canvas in a duck brown colorway, this typical chore features four spacious patch pockets and metal button closure. Finished with a corduroy collar – a classic Carhartt hallmark – this chore coat also features triple-stitched seams, a locker loop inside the neckline, and a branded woven label on the chest pocket.
Available for $125 at Stag Provisions.
Vetra Dungaree Twill Workwear Jacket
Vetra was also producing the workwear staple way back in the early twentieth century. The French label still make chore coats in France and this one is made from a durable dungaree cotton twill seen here in an over-dyed beige colorway. Coming in a slim fit with a straight hem, this jacket features three exterior patch pockets as well as underarm gussets for improved comfort, metal buttons throughout, and an additional interior patch pocket.
168EUR at Vetra.
Universal Works Bakers Chore Jacket
British label Universal Works are known for their contemporary updates of classic workwear garments and their Bakers Chore Jacket is a mainstay in their seasonal collections. This edition is constructed from slub selvedge denim with four patch pockets. Swerving from tradition, Universal Works have placed an additional pocket inside one of the hip pockets and added some flare with ornate stitching towards the hem and exposed selvedge on the left chest pocket. Each piece is made in the U.K. and features donut button closures throughout.
$290 at Universal Works.