The Evolution of the American Workshirt | RES IPSA - RES IPSA

The Evolution of the American Workshirt | RES IPSA

Malibu, California — Workshirts have come a long way from their humble beginnings as purely functional garments. Today, they are a staple in fashion, embodying ruggedness, practicality, and timeless style. How did they get their start? How have they evolved? 

The almost 200-year journey of the workshirt in America from a functional necessity to a fashion icon is a testament to its enduring appeal. As we continue to draw inspiration from its rich history, we also look forward to new ways of repurposing fabrics we love into the traditional design: vintage American quilts, Crochet blankets, vintage Kantha quilts, distressed Handwoven fabrics, and vintage Aso-Oke quilts. Read on for a brief background on the workshirt and how we introduce an unconventional, worldly perspective with an American accent.

Table of Contents
I. Early Beginnings
II. The 20th Century
III. The Modern Era

IV. Res Ipsa and the Workshirt


Early Beginnings: The Birth of the Workshirt

The origins of the workshirt can be traced back to the 1800s, when they were designed for labor-intensive jobs. Farmers, miners, and factory workers needed durable clothing that could withstand harsh conditions and frequent washing. Made from sturdy fabrics like denim, chambray, and flannel, early workshirts featured reinforced seams, button-front closures, and multiple pockets for tools and supplies.


  • Mid to Late 1800s: The workshirt, often made of durable fabrics like denim and chambray, is primarily worn by laborers, farmers, and miners. These early workshirts are designed for functionality, featuring simple designs, button fronts, and practical pockets.

The 20th Century: From Function to Fashion

As the 20th century progressed, the workshirt began to transcend its utilitarian roots. During the Great Depression and World War II, it became a symbol of the American working-class spirit. Hollywood played a significant role in popularizing the workshirt, with characters in movies often wearing them to portray the everyman.

In the 1950s, the workshirt made its way into casual fashion, influenced by Western wear and cowboy culture. By the 1960s and 1970s, the workshirt was embraced by the counterculture movement, with flannel and denim versions becoming popular among hippies and folk musicians. The 1980s saw the workshirt adopted by punk and grunge fashion, cementing its place in youth rebellion and alternative music scenes.

Early 1900s

  • 1900s-1920s: The workshirt becomes standard attire for industrial workers. Brands like Levi Strauss and Carhartt start producing durable workwear, including workshirts that cater to the needs of manual laborers.


  • Great Depression and WWII Era: The rugged, no-nonsense workshirt becomes emblematic of the American working-class spirit. The “Union Made” label gains prominence as a symbol of quality and American labor.
  • 1940s: Hollywood begins to shape the image of the workshirt through movies. Characters like Henry Fonda in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) portray the workshirt as a symbol of the everyman.


  • Post-War America: Workshirts start to appear in more casual settings, transitioning from purely functional to stylish. The Western influence grows, with cowboys in films and television shows like "Gunsmoke" popularizing the denim and flannel workshirt look.


  • Counterculture Movement: The workshirt is adopted by the counterculture as a symbol of rebellion against the establishment. Flannel and denim shirts become popular among hippies and folk musicians.
  • 1970s: The rise of blue-collar pride during this decade sees the workshirt being worn as a statement of solidarity with the working class. Bruce Springsteen’s album cover for "Born to Run" (1975) features him in a classic workshirt, solidifying its place in rock culture.


  • Fashion and Music: The workshirt becomes a staple in punk and grunge fashion. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam popularize the flannel shirt, often worn oversized and layered, defining the grunge look of the late 1980s and early 1990s.


  • Grunge Movement: Kurt Cobain of Nirvana epitomizes the grunge style with his frequent wearing of flannel workshirts. This period sees the workshirt becoming a mainstream fashion item, associated with youth rebellion and alternative music.

The Modern Era: Heritage and Revival

In recent decades, the workshirt has experienced a resurgence, driven by a trend towards heritage fashion. Vintage workwear styles have become popular, and brands have reissued classic designs while incorporating modern fabrics and cuts. The workshirt's versatility has made it a favorite in both casual and semi-formal settings.


  • Nostalgia and Revival: There’s a resurgence of vintage workwear styles. Brands like Levi’s, Carhartt, and Dickies reissue classic designs, and high-fashion brands incorporate workshirt aesthetics into their collections.


  • Heritage and Authenticity: The trend towards heritage fashion leads to a renewed interest in traditional workshirts. Workwear-inspired fashion becomes popular in streetwear and high fashion. The TV series "Mad Men" (2007-2015) and "Boardwalk Empire" (2010-2014) spark interest in vintage Americana, including workwear.
  • Pop Culture: Celebrities like Ryan Gosling in "Drive" (2011) and Chris Hemsworth in "Thor" (2011) don workshirts, blending ruggedness with modern style.


  • Sustainability and Fashion: The workshirt continues to evolve with an emphasis on sustainability. Brands focus on eco-friendly materials and ethical manufacturing processes. The workshirt remains a versatile garment in both casual and semi-formal settings.
  • Pop Culture References: Movies and TV shows like "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (2019) and "Stranger Things" (2016-) feature characters in classic workshirt styles, reinforcing their place in contemporary fashion.

Res Ipsa and the Workshirt: Introducing the Unconventional 

At Res Ipsa, we are proud to continue the legacy of the workshirt, offering designs that honor its history while adding contemporary twists with fabrics we collect from our travels of the world. Our workshirts are crafted at our Marrakech atelier by hand with the same emphasis on durability and functionality that defined the original American workshirts but are updated with our global story.

Explore our collection of workshirts here. Whether you're looking for a rugged piece for outdoor adventures or a stylish addition to your everyday wardrobe, we provide the perfect blend of tradition and innovation.

Shop Workshirts

    From its functional roots in the 1800s to its adoption by various subcultures and its resurgence in modern fashion, the American workshirt has continuously evolved almost 200+ years. It has been influenced by and has influenced pop culture, symbolizing different aspects of American identity and style over the decades. We are honored to continue adding to its legacy with our one-of-a-kind designs. 



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