Blue collar or utilitarian chic is the name given to the fashion trend of work clothes becoming high fashion. Like blue jeans, painter's pants were discovered as a fashion item by those who never wore them for work. Originally designed to be worn by working painters, painter's pants have been sold by makers of work clothes such as Dickies, since at least the 1920s. Made of white canvas with heavily stitched seams, painter's pants are distinguished by their many pockets, some roomy enough to hold brushes and rags, others small enough to keep a putty knife or screwdriver close at hand. Painter's pants also have a hammer loop, a fabric strap sized to hold the handle of a hammer, on the right-hand leg seam. Many young women, energized by the Women's and Gay Liberation movements of the early 1970s, wore painter's pants as a political statement, often with work boots, because they were the clothes of skilled trades-people and had been formerly reserved for men.
However, painter's pants became especially fashionable during the late 1970s. The white pants were themselves a blank canvas, and soon both men and women were painting, spattering, and embroidering their painter's pants to make individual fashion statements. Bright, paint-splashed painter's pants were in perfect harmony with the florescent colors and vivid patterns that were popular at the time. Some people even made playful use of the hammer loop by hanging a toy hammer or bright bandanna there. Painter's hats and overalls were also decorated for street wear. Soon clothing manufacturers caught onto the demand for stylish painter's pants and began to manufacture them in pastels and bright colors, as well as the popular splattered paint design.
During the 1980s when many 1970s fashions were ridiculed, painter's pants had a slight decrease in popularity, but by the 1990s they had returned to favor again as high fashion. Several fashion designers, such as Victor Alfaro (1963–), featured clean, white painter's pants in their collections.
Romero, Elena. "Workwear Is Music to YM Market." Daily News Record (July 2, 1996): 8–9.
Vargo, Julie. "Dickies: Dressing Men at Work for 75 Years." Daily News Record (November 3, 1997):12–14.