It’s been a weird year for getting dressed. If you’re shaking off the style cobwebs, breaking free of your sweatpants, and need some pointers on where to go next, we’ve got you. All week long, GQ Recommends is exploring What to Wear Now: the clothes, designers, bold moves and big vibes that matter at this precise moment.
The very best thing about workwear? It’s unchanging, steady, reliable. You can throw on a heavy Carhartt jacket or a pair of stiff Dickies pants in 2021 and look every bit as handsome and ready to take on the day as your grandpa would’ve in the ‘50s. But what if we changed it…a little? That’s the question a whole new generation of designers are wrestling with right now. How do you take something as age-old as a duck canvas chore coat and make it feel braver, brighter, fresh? How do you honor the foundations of something inherently practical, while also making it a little less practical and a little more fun? How far is too far?
The 14 labels we’ve assembled here have each arrived at their own answers. Some of them are visionary innovators, some of them are staunch traditionalists, some of them are total wildcard radicals. But all their clothes share an essential DNA of function and durability, and all of them are ripe for rocking as soon as physically possible. If you’re looking to get dressed for the express purpose of getting shit done—and looking cool as hell in the process—this is the place to start.
Bay Area native Heron Preston came up designing merch for Kanye West and running Been Trill alongside Virgil Abloh before striking out on his own in 2016. The workwear influences have been present from the jump: his label’s inaugural collection, in fact, was a collaboration with New York’s Department of Sanitation. Preston’s latest drop for spring includes his most faithful interpretations of construction-site classics in a minute—built-tough chore jackets and carpenter jeans—only doused in deep purple for a hype-inciting kick.
Heron Preston denim shirt
Heron Preston carpenter pants
Heron Preston short chino trousers
A lot of brands pay lip service to “doing the simple things right,” but James Coward—founded by a trio of friends in Vancouver—actually walks the walk. Their signature Mari jacket, for instance, is like the classic Dickies Eisenhower taken to its logical extreme: the silhouette is tailored and refined, the cotton is sourced from a historically-relevant mill in the UK, the zipper is a Japanese YKK, and the whole thing is constructed in Canada in a limited edition of 16. To most onlookers it’ll just look like a simple navy jacket. But the folks that get it? They’ll really get it.
James Coward “Mari” jacket
James Coward pants for Pierre Beauger
James Coward moleskin jacket
Eight years ago, the folks behind Knickerbocker took the reins at a decades-old manufacturing business in Queens, and began turning out timeless, utilitarian duds: crisp chambray shirts, perfectly-washed herringbone chore coats, period-accurate 1920s tweed caps. They’ve since transitioned production to a handful of carefully-selected suppliers around the U.S., Portugal, and Japan, but the relentless quality and baked-in New York-ness that made their early stuff special remains very much present.
Knickerbocker compact knit quarter zip shirt
Knickerbocker four pocket chore coat
Knickerbocker patch pocket denim trouser
Sneakerheads likely best know Sacai for its Frankensteined flips on classic Nike kicks, but founder Chitose Abe has built a cult following for the off-kilter vision she honed while training under the likes of Rei Kawakubo and Junya Watanabe. Lately, Abe’s directed that incisive eye toward traditional workwear forms: barn coats and baggy double-knee trousers, all paneled in vivid technical nylons.
Sacai patchwork-print zip-up jacket
Sacai Oxford cropped trousers
Sacai multi-pocket panelled jacket
Oil / Lumber
Oil / Lumber’s Ethan Kiyoshi Summers crafts all of the label’s impeccable Japanese-inspired workwear himself in his Nashville studio, and then puts its function and wearability to the test while constructing the company’s other main offering: gorgeous wood furniture.
OIL / LUMBER noragi work coat
In the five years since he launched his eponymous brand at the age of 18(!), Reese Cooper has racked up a sparkling CV: his first full runway collection debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 2018; he became the youngest-ever finalist for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund a year later; and his clothes have shown up on the backs of everyone from Travis Scott to Idris Elba. He’s gotten there by following a pretty steady formula: hardwearing, deeply American clothes—flipped in wild prints and offbeat tones with perfectly boxy, pocket-happy silhouettes—all produced in Los Angeles.
Reese Cooper brushed cotton canvas work jacket
Reese Cooper ripstop cargo shorts
Reese Cooper cotton-flannel shirt
Craig Green became a star in London’s fashion scene on the strength of his quilted nylon workwear—arresting and elevated but still highly practical, like a toughened-up take on Issey Miyake’s pleats. More recently, Green has been unafraid to take his understated signature fabric in more, uh, stated directions, as proved by the trippy floral jacket below.
Craig Green x Browns 50 vibrating floral jacket
Craig Green fitted quilted panel trousers
Craig Green floral diamond hooded jacket
London’s Satta specializes in a breadth of crisp, tasteful essentials, all bound by a couple of excellent defining qualities: muted tones and very good pockets.
MAN-TLE’s Larz Harry and Aida Kim, leaders of the hard clothes movement, fashion simple clothes—old-school parkas and zip-up vests—from crunchy, impenetrable fabrics capable of withstanding the kinds of intense conditions they often face in their native Australia.
MAN-TLE O3 snap hood parka
When you read Darryl Brown’s resume—former Kanye stylist and railroad engineer—his cropped, comfortable, highly functional aesthetic makes immediate sense. “If Dries and Carhartt had a baby” is how the designer describes it himself. Thankfully, his tasty clothes lean closer to the latter in affordability, while still delivering all the artful consideration of the former.
Darryl Brown military work shirt
Darryl Brown Japanese cargo pant
Entirely made and designed in California, Imperfects inflects all its hardy goods with a laid-back, surfer-y energy: everything looks and feels washed, worn, and perfectly broken-in straight off the rack.
Imperfects Courier pant in hickory twill
Imperfects “Benny” jersey in olive twill
Imperfects dungarees in raw Japanese canvas
You used to scoff at your dad wearing zip-off pants on family vacations, but Tombogo’s updated takes on convertible clothing—built with heavy-duty details like reinforced knees in wavy, mind-bending colors—will give your pops the last laugh.
Tombogo convertible double knee pants
Tombogo convertible half zip work shirt
Graziano and Gutierrez
Graziano and Gutierrez began life as a university thesis project in 2018, when founders Alejandro Gutierrez and Samuel Graziano traveled to Mexico to spend time with traditional textile artisans. The duo decided to turn the exquisite fabrics they were finding—generally used for furniture upholstery and tablecloths—into the stuff they liked to wear: trucker jackets and work shirts, pleated trousers and loose shorts. No word on their final grade, but for what it’s worth? We’d give ‘em an A+.
Graziano and Gutierrez red diamond trucker jacket
Graziano and Gutierrez
Graziano and Gutierrez black striped work shirt
Graziano and Gutierrez
Graziano and Gutierrez natural work pant
Graziano and Gutierrez
Rising Dutch designer Camiel Fortgens’ easy-wearing clothes are cut flowy and raw, with the occasional jagged, unfinished hem that ratchets up their unaffected appeal.
Camiel Fortgens 11.08.04 worker jacket
Camiel Fortgens 11.05.09 worker pants
Camiel Fortgens 11.05.12 knee shorts
Photographs by Martin Brown
Styled by Jon Tietz and Liz Serwin