Construction Work Clothes: Rugged (& Sharp) Construction Outfit Ideas For The Office And The Job Site

by   |  in Smart Casual

You may work at a job that requires a good, well put-together office presence, while at the same time, be appropriate and safe while at a job site. Construction project managers and contractors come to mind: They need work clothes that make sense for both scenarios.

So when a reader emailed asking what to wear as a project manager (who also just graduated from college), I knew I had to help him out with some construction site-friendly outfit ideas.

two men in construction observing the ground
Photo by Pashminu Mansukhani

Here’s a snippet from his email (emphasis mine, btw):

I’m a relatively new grad working as a Project Manager for a large Mechanical Contractor trying to upgrade my wardrobe. My biggest issue is finding clothes that look good and fit well both in the office at meetings and also walking around active construction sites in work boots.

So far, I’ve been wearing a lot of straight fit khakis and company polo shirts or open collar button downs. Which is similar to what my colleagues wear but, almost all of them are significantly older and have been doing this for a long time.

Being younger and less experienced I would like to step it up a notch in order to make a better impression with our clients to make up for my young age and lack of experience.

Can You Look Good In Functional Workwear?

There isn’t a ton of info out there that talks about how to look good in construction work clothes or construction worker style in general… but that’s probably because safety, comfort, and durability is more important in this line of work than looking super handsome.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with wanting both! You can look sharp while wearing construction work clothes that are appropriate for the job site.

two men in workwear and tailored suit
Peter Z. is the perfect example of workwear and tailored clothing coexisting in one wardrobe. Photo @UrbanComposition on Instagram

There’s plenty of “how to dress business casual” style advice, and this would work perfectly if you’re staying in the office, but try stepping out on construction site in nice dress shoes and wool trousers, and things might not work out so well.

As a project manager working in construction, a smooth transition from the office to the construction site presents a major style challenge. The good news is, there are some simple steps to take that can greatly improve your look around the workplace.

Fit Is Everything (Workwear doesn’t have to be baggy and sloppy)

You hear that phrase a lot in menswear, “Fit is everything,” but here it applies tenfold.

Largely, it’s because you don’t have a ton of freedom of expression. Again, the clothing here is about practicality, durability, and safety—even if you’re in the office / on the management side of things—not necessarily style or good looks.

But since there’s a good chance your coworkers aren’t following that rule of good fit, this is an area where you can stand out.

profile of construction project manager wearing plaid shirt and hard hat
Photos by Tima Miroshnichenko

Where your fellow project managers are wearing sloppy, baggy khakis with excess fabric pooling at the ankles, you’ll be looking sharp as a tack in something fitted and tapered with minimal break.

When they’re wearing oversized company-issued polos with “short” sleeves that cover their elbows, you’ll be sporting a rugged work shirt made from fabric that can take a couple snags while still being sharp enough for an office meeting.

Simply following the rules of fit can make a huge difference, even with a workwear uniform.

Embrace the Functionality of Good Workwear

I’ll keep stressing this over and over.

Yes, Effortless Gent is a site about men’s style, and we want you to look stylish effortlessly.

But when you’re dressing for work, and your work happens to be on a construction site, it’s not just about looking good. It’s also about safety, freedom of movement, and durability. So construction clothing needs to play that part.

From this point on, I’ll be making suggestions for the original situation our reader asked about (see above) and I’ll be coming at it primarily from a STYLE perspective. Most of my suggestions will have a rugged aesthetic, which makes the most sense for this line of work.

three people overhead shot at a desk looking at blueprints
A Project manager’s Outfit needs to be appropriate for the office and the job site. Photo via Pixabay

Work Boots: Regular or Steel Toe?

The site you work may have specific rules as to what kind of boots you wear (steel toe boots are often required), whether or not you need safety glasses, or even a hard hat. You’ll have to be flexible enough to plan ahead for those situations.

But, from a style perspective, there’s plenty of legit workwear and workwear-inspired clothing available for men. You just have to know what to go for.

When it comes to boots, I’d suggest a tough, investment-worthy pair that looks great and is made from good leather. These will last the longest, will probably be the most comfortable, and you’ll actually enjoy wearing them, both in the office and at the job site.

I’ve owned a pair of Chippewa Moc Toes with a Vibram sole for a number of years. I wear them every fall and winter and they’ve held up nicely. I could see these working well for a construction project manager, and can easily transition between office and on-site environments.

Another classic that holds up in both situations is the classic Red Wing 6″ Iron Ranger. These feel a bit more tough, are triple stitched, with a Vibram mini lug sole and combo eyelet and hooks for easy lacing.

Chippewa Six-Inch Moc Toe Boot
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Red Wing Men's Iron Ranger Boot
$297.17 - $353.15

Handcrafted in the USA with durable stitch-down welt construction and premium quality leather, the Iron Ranger boot from Red Wing will offer years of comfortable wear. This robust boot is built on a non-marking, oil-resistant sole and handsomely detailed with contrast stitching, a cap toe, and high polish hooks and eyelets.

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07/23/2021 08:01 am GMT

I personally found the Chippewa Moc Toe boot with Vibram sole more comfortable right out of the box, while the Iron Ranger takes a bit of breaking in. Both boots are great options.

Safety Ratings and Leather Sealing

A note on safety-rated boots: EG reader, Tristan, pointed out that while lots of boots may look great, they may not be legal to wear on-site. Every situation will be different.

To quote Tristan:

A lot of us have to have a 6-inch height to the ankle for mandatory ladder and egress regulations. If you’re more on the management side though (…) you do not have to have the 6-inch.

A note on leather sealing: Tristan also pointed out that it’s a good idea to protect your leather boots with sealer because of all the puddles and dirt on the construction site. I’d even go further and do the full conditioning regularly, as Red Wing illustrates here.

Amazon has a ton of Red Wing boot care products, but you can also do a deeper search if you wanted to try another brand.

Work Wear Outfit Ideas: Apparel good enough for the office and the construction site

So we’re going with something rugged and durable, yet trim and fitted so as to keep that polished, put-together appearance. Here’s what I’m thinking for those more office-heavy days.

outfit flatlay tan pants, black polo, black jacket, brown boots
Let’s consider this the core outfit. We can swap out individual items later.

Khaki chinos and a dark polo with boots are the core of this uniform. The differentiating factor between you and your coworkers who don’t read Effortless Gent is fit, just like we talked about a few paragraphs above.

Your chinos should fit trim (straight leg or tapered is fine) with little to no break at the hem. I personally prefer a bit of stretch, though if you’re a purist, you may opt for no stretch in your pants.

The dark-colored polo is slightly more formal and less “middle-aged man on the golf course” vibes, especially if the shirt also fits trim with the sleeves slightly contouring your arm and ending at mid-bicep.

The Gibson jacket from Taylor Stitch is a solid sport coat-like option. It looks more formal than a chore coat, but still has that rugged look and aesthetic (the cotton fabric, patch chest pocket, flap pockets at the hip, functional cuff, button throat latch).

This jacket will fulfill that requirement of “stepping it up a notch” nicely without going full-on tailored Italian sport coat (which would not make sense for this environment).

There’s a chance that, at your specific job, a sport coat of any kind would be overkill. That’s fine. You can swap that out for a chore coat like this one from Carhartt, a rugged leather jacket, or a quilted vest and peacoat for colder days. Here’s a primer on the different types of coats for men.

On to the boots. These are one of my favorites, the Lakeshore Boots from Oak Street Bootmakers, which you could wear with suits and jeans alike. Oak Street’s Trench Boot is a great substitute with just a bit more heft.

And of course, the two boots I mentioned earlier—Chippewa’s Moc Toe and the Red Wing Iron Ranger—are also great options.

Flint and Tinder 365 Pants
$98

"Cut like a jean, feels like a chino, stretches like a performance pant." – Huckberry

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Polo Ralph Lauren Custom Fit polo
$95

This sporty Polo Ralph Lauren® Custom Slim Fit Mesh Polo shirt will infuse laid-back comfort with an air of refined tailoring to your wardrobe. Crafted from a soft premium-pique knit and cut in a modern tapered fit, this classic polo is perfect for any occasion.

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Taylor Stitch Gibson Jacket
$248

Drawing inspiration from vintage, occasion-agnostic 3-roll, 2-button military jackets, the Gibson features extra buttons and a removable throat latch which allows it to be worn and styled depending on the circumstance

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Oak Street Bootmakers Lakeshore Boot
$486

A unique combination of elements from service boots and dress boots. Hand-lasted. True Goodyear Welt Construction. Barbour® Storm Welt with wheeling. Full calfskin lining. Brass eyelets and speedhooks with waxed cotton laces. Fully recraftable.

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Use The Swap Trick To Get Variations Of This Core Outfit

The Swap Trick refers to my friend Peter’s method of swapping out one solid-colored item for something with a more defining characteristic—could be color, pattern, or silhouette—to get a slightly more stylish outfit.

Here’s how you can use that same trick to get different variations of this outfit.

outfit flatlay tan pants, blue shirt, brown boots, army green jacket
Here’s just one variation of the core outfit I put together from the options I mention in this section.

Options for work pants

Swap your standard khaki chino pant for a slim cargo pant or camp pant. They’re workwear friendly and make sense for this line of work. Stick with trim and tapered models so you retain your stylishness as well.

You could also wear a pair of heavier cotton chinos or carpenter pants, and wool dress trousers work on days you won’t be spending much time in the trenches.

And lastly, of course, a pair of mid- to heavyweight denim (preferably in a dark wash) is perfect for the project manager such as yourself. Dark denim in a trim, tapered or straight-leg fit works as well in a business casual office as it does on-site.

Todd Snyder Herringbone Camp Pant
$114

Featuring a Hollywood waist, reinforced knee, all patch pockets, melamine buttons, and button fly, the seasonal go-to is made from premium fabric from Italy’s renowned Tessuti di Sondrio mill.

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Flint and Tinder Mill Pant

Made from heavyweight cotton canvas with just a touch of stretch, these can stand up to a day in the workshop, while transitioning seamlessly for a night on the town. Featuring reinforced pockets and front panels for double-lined knees that won’t wear down, all combined with a tailored fit and a touch of stretch for a comfortable, durable pant that you can rely on in the workshop and beyond.

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Buck Mason Ford Standard Jean
$145

What goes perfectly with a Buck Mason tee? These jeans. They’re mid-rise jeans with a tailored, not overly tight fit. This makes ‘em all the better to wear with a Buck Mason tee or even a hooded sweatshirt.

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Shirt options

If a polo isn’t your jam, a rugged cotton twill shirt is a solid alternative. Chambray and denim shirts, while typically too casual for a formal office setting, is perfect for this work environment. During the colder months, flannel shirting can keep you warm and toasty.

J.Crew Chambray Shirts
$69+

Softer and lighter than denim (thanks to a different weaving process), chambray looks great no matter how you wear it.

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Midlayer / work jacket options

Sport coat doesn’t work for your situation, or a Carhartt chore coat is too rugged for your tastes? Try a slightly more elevated chore coat in a lighter-weight fabric. A dark denim jacket from Levi’s or canvas trucker jacket could also be an option.

American Trench Italian Seersucker Chore Coat
$249

100% cotton seersucker fabric with a rich color and a soft, supple hand from the Lanificio Subalpino mill, sustainably harvested natural Corozo buttons, three generous patch pockets... this chore coat is elevated workwear at its finest.

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Levi's Denim Jacket
$18.96 - $99.99
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07/23/2021 02:46 am GMT
Flint and Tinder Unlined Waxed Trucker Jacket
$168

"The Unlined Waxed Trucker Jacket is built from a hardy, waxed canvas that’s remarkably tough... weather-resistant in the rain but breathable in the heat." –Huckberry

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Outfit Ideas For the Construction Worker On Site All Day

Here are a few tips for the guys literally pounding the pavement. Sure, you may rarely (or never) step foot in an office, but that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to baggy Dickies pants or carpenter pants and random T-shirts.

You may have specific work-regulated gear (gloves, steel toe work boots, knee pads, high visibility vest, etc.) you’re required to wear. Fair enough. But your core outfit is fair game, am I right?

Here are two outfit suggestions for on-site work

Dark, raw denim as your go-to pants is the first thing that comes to mind. You’ll be wearing those suckers day in and day out, and over time, they’ll be so comfortable and broken-in, you’ll never want to wear anything else.

outfit flatlay dark denim jeans, black t shirt, black boots, black jacket

For warmer days, or if you just don’t want to wear dark wash jeans, try a lighter wash denim.

Just remember that fit is key and a trim, tapered or straight leg fit with no break (no fabric pooling at the ankles) will keep you looking sharp. A little bit of stretch in the fabric will help you move just as freely, if not more, than in their baggier predecessors.

Textured henleys are another solid option. Rugged in style and perfect for that workwear aesthetic, a henley can be worn on its own, over a T-shirt, or under a flannel or denim shirt as an insulating layer on colder days.

outfit flatlay - light denim, off white henley, tan jacket, brown boots

Quality workwear that fits well

So let’s wrap this up! I hope you got a few good ideas when it comes to construction work clothes that need to work for the office and the job site.

Keep in mind that fit is one of the most important things. If you’re struggling to step up your style, start by slimming everything down. Most workwear is worn too large and too long, so sometimes all it takes is choosing alternatives with a shorter, trimmer fit. You don’t have to re-write the book; minor edits will make a world of difference.

Finally, consider the overall style of your work clothing. Suits made from fine fabrics are too refined for this line of work and simply don’t make sense. Fashion-forward trends and runway looks are too rakish and again, don’t make sense. Clothes with a rugged, tough aesthetic are what you need.

That means fabrics like denim, durable heavyweight cotton, canvas, flannel, leather. Stuff that can withstand the elements and tough work conditions. Clothes that are built for heavy use and designed to last.

When you combine fit with the right type of clothing, there’s no reason you can’t be stylish, regardless of what line of work you’re in… yep, even on a construction site.

Want more in this series?

What other careers should we highlight in this series about dressing sharp for work? Share your ideas in the comments.