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Heritage Workwear, Taking Notes from Marthe Armitage

The appropriation of traditional workwear garments into our everyday wardrobe is a trend that emerged during the second world war. As women took up roles in the factories traditionally run by a male workforce they also adopted the men’s workwear designed for practicality, comfort and safety. Following the war men took back their jobs and many women held on to their garments as a more practical alternative to the everyday clothing they previously wore. Since then the workwear aesthetic has been adopted by many, offering durability and function alongside leisure and design. 

Many artists and makers have a honed wardrobe of pieces that are as much a tool in the production of their craft as the brush or pencil they might use. Graduating from Chelsea College of Art following WWII, Marthe Armitage is a British wallpaper designer who prints her hand-drawn designs using lino blocks and a century-old offset lithographic printing press. The intricate and labour-intensive process of printing the designs gives a depth and beauty to the paper that could not be replicated by a digital machine. Shirts, aprons, sturdy knitwear and trousers then become part of the work, withstanding wear and tear and providing pockets and protection through the process of making. 

This workwear heritage stems from a strong desire for skilled craftsmanship and products that are made to last. ‘Sashiko’ is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching from Japan whereby a garment is repeatedly stitched and patched in worn areas to extend it’s life beyond what could be expected. Clothing that has been functionally embroidered in this way is lovingly referred to as ‘boro’ meaning ‘tattered rags.’ This respect of heritage and craftsmanship reveals itself through the garments as they morph over time through a life-cycle of use. 

Brands including Engineered Garments FWK, Kapital and OrSlow draw on this rich workwear heritage to inspire their collections. Collectively they create pieces of functional workwear made to be worn extensively and to wear well.

Marthe Armitage in her studio at home photographed by India Hobson
Engineered Garments, Olive Fatigue Pant
OrSlow, One Wash Denim Overalls
Kapital, Military Cross Apron Shirt
Traditional Japanese Sashiko Stitched Farming Jacket

-Envoy of Belfast