Construction Chic

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      Workwear has that undeniable masculine-rugged thing going on—so lace up some big-lugged boots

      Regular guys need a style muse just as much as fashion designers do. And this season, as yard work, roof shingling, and painting projects beckon, who better to inspire us than construction workers and tradesmen?

      Battalions of them have been marshalled for the city's building boom, and they're everywhere—laying the foundations of our future megacity. Their ubiquity makes them somewhat invisible, but take the time to really look at them (yes, gentlemen, check out the construction workers), and you'll see that their clothes are accidental works of art boasting the creases, stains, and holes that some people are willing to shell out big bucks for when they're found on a pair of premium jeans. That rich texture combines to make something timeless, authentic, and thoroughly tough, and it's a style that's worthy of emulation.

      Try it and you won't be alone. A workwear street trend is burbling out there. Army & Navy menswear buyer Leah Young, speaking at the Vancouver store, said: "It started to get big when Avril Lavigne wore Dickies [workwear] pants. Now I've got a thousand different Dickies styles in our stores."

      Out on the floor, Chris Goddard, a shipyard worker with a busted foot, was wearing a Dickies hoodie.

      "Yeah, I mostly wear Dickies overalls just on the job these days," he said, "but I used to wear them all the time."

      And the hoodie? "Well, you know, it's just that this hoodie is so comfortable."

      Uh huh. Work clothes requires plausible deniability—you need to work in them to wear them. Otherwise, you may be called out as a skater-boy poseur or, even worse, a faux proletarian.

      Men and their reputations. By phone, John Mozena, spokesperson for utilitywear giant Carhartt, claims, "Honestly, we just keep doing what we've been doing since 1889, and if people buy our clothes for their own reasons, that's great."

      But when confronted with the fact that fashion genius Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garí§ons has taken a stab at modding Carhartts, Mozena replies: "That was Carhartt Europe. Now obviously, we pay attention to who's buying what, but we focus on not changing what we do. We make tough clothes with triple-needle stitching and strong zippers."

      That said, why is it so hard to find well-worn Carhartt bib overalls with just-right weathering at the vintage store? According to Gary Morgan, a Carhartt-wearing subcontractor I met on the SkyTrain, the work is too punishing to allow for resale. "Nothing lasts longer than six weeks," he said. "After that, it's just shredded."

      So building a sharp, utilitarian wardrobe with a perfect patina will take, appropriately, a bit of work. If you choose to make the effort, here are a few tips.


      > Go postmodern Younger trades workers are beginning to fill the ranks, and they're more fashion conscious than the boomers they're replacing. On one job site, I found a crew wearing jeans by Abercombie & Fitch and FUBU, and I've even heard of a steel contractor who likes to break in a pair of raw A.P.C. denims from Eugene Choo on the job. You may try Lee 101 Cowboy jeans found at City of Pula. Recently reissued, the style is a 1930s classic that has gone high fashion.


      > Accelerate the distress The waxed-cotton jackets in the Australian Outback Collection, made in Vancouver, use oilskin from the same mills supplying world-class outfitters Barbour and Filson. The fabric is oil-impregnated and stiff, and easily develops whiskering lines and other markings that just make it look better. Plus, it still keeps you dry. Their traditional Field Jacket features brass zippers and wide side pockets that are just right for reaching in and grabbing your shotgun shells or, uh, your cellphone.


      > Mix and mismatch It's not okay to gear up head-to-toe unless you're on a job site. The point is not to dress like a carpenter but to feel like a steel-driving man. One element that will help is a pair of two-textured mocha boots made by Viberg Boots of Victoria. The boots have big lugs and brass fittings, and yet still have enough confidence in their masculinity to boast a frilly fringe at the toe.


      > Chambray This denimlike farmery shirt looked good on Steve McQueen and Jimmy Carter, and it'll look good on you, too. Now get to work.