Ask dapperQ: Dapper Attire for a Dirty Job?

A reader asks:

“I work in some of the less glamorous corners of agricultural science.  So, I can’t wear anything to work if I can’t soil it, stain it, or scuff it.  And, I certainly can’t wear anything that might get caught in laboratory equipment.  So, my work uniform is pretty much the same t-shirt-and-jean combo I’ve been wearing for half my life.

I just recently realized the joys of stepping out in formal-wear…It it strikes me that my workday might be a lot more fun if I was excited about what I was wearing.  But, all the clothes that really crank my gears are just inappropriate for my job.  Is there a way I can make my work clothes more exciting.”

I have six words for you: Denim, flannel, camo, plaid, and work boots. Now, I know what you’re thinking. These hardly seem dapper. In fact, these words probably conjure up trite stereotypes about how our community dresses, when in fact we are stylish to the core. But, stylish folks have a way of making the aforementioned materials and patterns, which can get dirty as well as withstand wear-and-tear, into something fashion editorial worthy. (Think heritage wear [Rugby by Ralph Lauren], urban woodsman [Woolrich Woolen Mills], or rugged chic [Filson].)


Comedian Drae Campbell rocking a dapper urban lumberjack look. Styling and photo by Jahn Hall.

Here are three outfit ideas combining denim, flannel, camo, plaid, and work boots in a way that is both fashionable and functional:

Rugged Wear

Outfit #1: Why it works

Instead of wearing denim on the bottom, switch it to the top and pair a denim button-down shirt (you can even add a bow tie) with camo pants. The shirt, pants, and work boots can all get stained and actually look better once “worn-in.” Just stick with a tailored or slim-fit camo pant without hundreds of pockets, lest you land yourself in 1990s cargo pant land.

Outfit #2: Why it works

Switch out your white t-shirt for a t-shirt with a contrast pocket. The pocket adds some detail so you can forgo bow-ties and accessories that might get caught in equipment. Again, work boots look even more dapper when they are broken in. But, the secret ingredient in this ensemble: Flannel lined pants. Roll ’em up and let your inner dapper peek out. Pictured above are Woolrich Women’s Classic-Fit Flannel Lined Pants. They run about $80, but you can find them anywhere between $200 (Filson’s pants are impeccable) to $36 (Dickies tried and true work pants come in flannel-lined styles).

Outfit #3: Why it works

Layer your t-shirts with a vest. Vests keep you a bit warmer on cold days, but they don’t have long sleeves that will get caught in equipment. I personally like plaid because it’s super dapper and looks good with added work splatter. But denim vests can also hold up to wear-and-tear and still look just fine (if not better) with some stains. Do I even need to talk about those boots? We-Er-Er-K!

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  • And don’t forget to have a spray bottle of oxiclean at home. I’ve used it to treat stains ASAP and after weeks before washing and it hasn’t let me down!

  • I can’t tell you what a save this has been for me. I have been desperate for dapper looks as a machinist, having many of the clothing restrictions as above. Your answer was a lightbulb. Totally going to do a wardrobe overhaul.

  • Love!!! Especially the flannel-lined pants and the bandana-esque bow tie on Drae. (And it plays off the real bandana in her pocket. Cute!) Thanks, DapperQ!

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