The vast majority of us know how much time it takes to make a piece of clothing look good. We spend years beating our jeans to hell until they’re so perfect we can’t even stand to wear them out anymore. Because of the unique nature of indigo blue jeans, this process is especially nuanced with raw denim, but there’s another kind of hard-wearing garment that requires a lot of love to make perfect.
Work pants, those durable sons of guns, can be divided into three categories that we’ll be exploring today: the work trouser, the double knee, and the painter’s pant. Each of these categories is exemplified by one or both of the major workwear makers: Carhartt and Dickies, but there are many other options up and down the pay-scale and across the world.
These pants, simple and functional, rarely come in the interesting and high-end fabrics that we find in our favorite Japanese jeans, but that doesn’t mean they won’t yield amazing results. The fabrics in these work pants might seem flat to start, but beat them down and they can fade, albeit in a slightly different way than jeans. The following three styles are truly blank slates that can be dressed up or down, but no matter what – beaten to a pulp.
The Work Pant
Dickies 874 Work Pant
The work trouser is exemplified by the Dickies 874, the stripped-down, no-nonsense straight cut. The pant sits at the natural waist (a rarity for mass-market clothes these days) for a flattering, slightly retro style that has been adopted by fashion-conscious folks the world over. Despite the ubiquity of Dickies in the semi-futuristic all-black streetwear world, the 874s seem to be worn best by skaters, who really break them in. Sure, Dickies can be seen worn on the backsides of working people in all kinds of industries, but the cavalier way that skaters and other such delinquents break these puppies in really brings out the character in the poly-cotton blend.
Available for the almost unbelievable price of $23, the 874 is a must-have that is suited to any budget.
Ben Davis Work Pant
The work pant from Ben Davis is like if Dickies never sold out and added a little taper to their pants. The Ben Davis pants are cut from a similarly tough poly/ cotton blend and differ every so slightly with a cowboy-style raised pocket, a gorilla logo, and the distinction of being connected to Jacob Davis, the man who actually helped created the modern Levi’s jean.
Ben Davis pants feel like something from out of a time capsule. Their high rise and extremely wide leg seem too good to be true (if that’s what you’re into) but maybe that’s why they’ve fallen to a less prestigious place on the work trouser totem pole. Regardless, this pant is great if you’ve been a big Dickie’s fan and want to incorporate something a little more stylized and a lot more obscure.
Available for $43 at Greenspan’s.
Cat’s Paw Chinos
God help you if you fall in love with Cat’s Paw, because you’re gonna have a helluva time tracking them down. Challenge notwithstanding, these chinos from the sub-brand of Toyo Enterprises are certainly worth the struggle. Unlike the last two styles of work trouser mentioned, the chinos from Cat’s Paw are made from 100% cotton, which means it won’t take quite as much work to break them in and they’ll drape handsomely from the get-go.
Considering the differences between these pants are so subtle, small details are everything. The Cat’s Paw chinos’ logo flips the script by placing their famous cat on the opposite ass-cheek. A small detail, but one that might be enough to get your pants noticed. The pants, though pragmatically straight-legged, are cut in a more modern style. A slightly lower rise might win over the less retro dressers and overall excellent construction will convince the rest.
Available for $77 at Rakuten.
Samurai Denim Dickies
Did I say something about boring materials? Think again! Samurai did their own take on the Dickies 874 with a 50/50 cotton and polyester denim. The 13oz. material has been grand indigo dyed and has been once washed, making them far comfier and more wearable than the originals.
Samurai developed a three-dimensional crotch to make them more maneuverable, but it’s not all new stuff. They kept the bones of the original, the relaxed fit, the zip fly, and even the hook closure. Plus, they’re selvedge and made in Japan?! What could be better?
Available for $187 AUD (~$135 USD) at Corlection.
The Double-Knee Pant
Carhartt Double Front
The second legendary style of work pant is the famous double knee pant. Its major difference from the work trouser is in the name—it has a double knee. Its extra layer on the knee means it will be far more durable and the whole garment is styled with this intense durability in mind. They’re cut more like a jean with patch pockets on the rear and also have a hammer loop and a side pocket.
The exemplary design in this category is the Double Knee Pant from Carhartt. You can see a well-worn version above as worn by undercover menswear expert, Daniel Day Lewis. It comes in a 12oz. rigid duck canvas more akin to the 100% cotton you may be used to than the poly/cotton used in Dickies. Carhartts are still made in the U.S. and are an absolute must-have, just look at Daniel Day-Lewis’s roping!
Available for $50 at Carhartt.
Taylor Stitch Chore Pant
Taylor Stitch makes a mean chore pant. The 12oz. Tuff Duck used for these work pants is a complex blend of hemp, recycled polyester, cotton, and elastane making for a super abrasion-resistant, tough fabric with a tiny bit of stretch. They’ve been washed to soften them up and feature slash front pockets, patch back pockets, a button fly, and of course those double knees! Bar-tacking and double needle construction should hold the whole ensemble together.
Available for $128 at Taylor Stitch.
Grease Point Workwear Work Jean
One man brand, Grease Point Workwear brings the world of raw denim colliding with real-life workwear. His high-end double knee’d work jeans and trousers come in all manner of heavy-duty selvedge Japanese denims and canvases. The triple-stitched, hand-felled seams and exposed rivets galore should mean these things last you for a lifetime—or at least long enough for you to get killer fades.
Grease Point brings a slightly more tailored look to the table, as well as all manner of excellent materials. Double indigo denims, black on black, tans, and olives—all with that much-loved selvedge edge. No other double-knee pant will give you access to such extraordinary materials or the sheer attention to detail that an artisan like Grease Point can manage.
At a steeper (but much deserved) price point, Grease Point’s made-to-order jeans go for $329.
Stan Ray Painter
Few things look so don’t-give-a-shit cool as a dirty pair of painter’s pants. Unlike the two other styles, painter’s pants aren’t so much about the ways you lose color from the garment, but the way you gain it. Not unlike the double knee pants in styling (minus the double knee and exposed rivets) these pants are known for their respective brand’s logo on one of their patch pockets and their iconic hammer loop.
The superlative pant in this category is the Painter’s Pant from legendary Texan brand, Stan Ray. The relaxed straight leg, the high waist, and lightweight canvas make it a versatile and comfortable pant. Great for summer, you should pick up some of these made-in-U.S.A. beauties and hurry up and get them dirty.
Available for $88 at Urban Excess.
Pallet Life Story Denim Painter’s Pant
Pallet Life Story has taken the classic painter’s pant and given the whole thing an update. The sanforized 12oz. denim is clearly not white, but that might make taking that first painter’s pant step a little less intimidating. The wide work fit has been tweaked into a slightly tapered cut. The pieces of the painter’s pant puzzle are all present, just dyed indigo this time!
Available for for £185 (~$240USD) at Clutch Cafe.
Iron Heart Black Wabash Painter’s Pant
For our final work pant of the list, we thought it logical to go with Iron Heart, the brand famous for its fanatical devotion to making really tough pants. Their Wabash Painter’s Pant is clearly no exception with triple needle construction, felled side seams, and poly-cotton stitching. Iron Heart also made an interesting choice by incorporating wabash, one of the oldest workwear fabrics around. This particular wabash is on a black/black sulphur-dyed 12oz. and the stripes of bleached dots give the whole piece an incongruously formal look.
The formal-appearing fabric, combined with the pragmatic styling of the classic painter’s pant makes for a pleasant dissonance. The wabash fabric fades beautifully over time and at 12oz., it’s one of the lightest fabrics you could possibly wear in a pair of Iron Heart pants. Though straight-legged, it’s a slimmer, low-rise fit that might appeal to those of you who haven’t loved the previous big-legged cuts.
Available for $295 at Iron Heart.