The French chore coat first emerged in 19th-century France, becoming the daily uniform for laborers, railroad engineers, and farmers. The blue color was mandated by the French government, making the chore coat naturally blue as a symbol of the working class. Considered an emblem of French workwear tradition, the chore jacket has been deeply ingrained in French culture.
The early iterations were known as “Bleu de travail,” translating to “Blue work.” They were primarily made of moleskin or drill fabric. Most jackets featured three pockets, although variations with two or four pockets existed. The oversized fit allowed ease of movement. For warmer months, workers could flip the generous collar to protect their necks from the sun and unbutton the cuffs to roll up the sleeves.
Apart from being a durable outer layer, the spacious pockets were used to carry a wide range of essentials, from tobacco to tools and food. The recognizable name “chore coat” emerged later in the United States, signifying its specific purpose for tasks like farming, labor-intensive work, and its association with the working class.
Different regions of France contributed to variations in the design, fabric, and construction of the chore jacket. Local textile traditions and craftsmanship often influenced the distinct characteristics of jackets made in specific regions.
Over time, the French chore coat transcended its utilitarian purpose and became an iconic piece of clothing appreciated for its timeless style, practicality, and versatility. Its association with the working class and utilitarian design elements contributed to its enduring popularity.
In the United States, menswear legend Levi Strauss & Co. had been producing its version of the bleu de travail since roughly 1880, appearing in the brand’s catalog as a “Sack Coat.” Although it’s not precisely clear who made the first iteration of the Chore coat in America, this is believed to be the closest version available at the time.
Written by Sammy Aronoff