Practical and powerful: the rise and rise of the boiler suit

The latest star of the utilitarian workwear genre has been embraced by top independent British labels

Spry Workwear cotton twill boiler suit, £160
Spry Workwear cotton twill boiler suit, £160

“The boiler suit encapsulates one side of what’s going on in fashion today,” explains Daisy Bridgewater, founder of Spry Workwear, on the current popularity of this utilitarian overall. “It’s almost a reaction against the amount of choice we have online. It’s not about newness and fast fashion, but buying one piece that is flattering and practical.” Her label Spry Workwear started out when Bridgewater – a journalist – moved to the East Anglian countryside. “Ending up in a mucky old fleece has always been my greatest fear,” she laughs. Of her town-to-country transition she says, “I live very rurally and wear a boiler suit most days; I just want to get dressed and get on with it, and I like the sturdiness of it.”

From left: LF Markey cotton denim Francis boiler suit, £160. MC Overalls polycotton overall, £150
From left: LF Markey cotton denim Francis boiler suit, £160. MC Overalls polycotton overall, £150

Bridgewater is not alone. Several independent labels are embracing this new form of power dressing. Music industry professional James Scroggs recently revived MC Overalls (Morris Cooper Overalls) – an east London workwear business originally founded in 1908 – and now has a shop on Brewer Street in London’s Soho. The label will go on sale in Harvey Nichols’ womenswear department in April. “It’s quite zeitgeist-y,” he says of the boiler suit, citing the rise of the portfolio career. “Whatever you buy has to work for the various compartments of your life – and the overall is the ultimate emblem of that.” His signature overall, and a bestseller, is a unisex dusty-pink zipped model (£150).

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LF Markey, specialising in “beautiful clothes for practical women”, is another independent label with boiler suits at its heart. Designer Louise Markey studied for a master’s degree in fashion at Central Saint Martins and worked at Burberry before realising her passion for the traditional French work jacket. “My love affair with utility wear developed because I am a practical sort of person; I cannot function without pockets – and lots of them! I started collecting vintage bleu de travail, boiler suits and dungarees and referencing these in my design work.” Her eponymous collection, initially a side hustle, became a fully formed business in 2013 and is now available online, at various independent boutiques in Europe and the US, and from the LF Markey store in London. Her signature Francis boiler suit costs £160.

Spry Workwear corduroy boiler suit, £220
Spry Workwear corduroy boiler suit, £220

As well as its inherent practicality, there is also the matter of the boiler suit’s empowerment, says Bridgewater, who launched her label with a classic boiler suit (£160) by reworking a vintage mechanic’s overall in a traditional navy cotton twill before adding new editions in needlecord (an olive-green corduroy boiler suit costs £220) and denim. “A boiler suit says, ‘I’m in charge’. It’s quite powerful. I like the idea of clothes designed to protect you. The idea of a woman squeezed into a pencil skirt and heels feels quite dated now.”

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Alyson Walsh is the author of Know Your Style, published by Hardie Grant, £12.99. She blogs as That’s Not My Age. To read more of her How To Spend It columns, click here.

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