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Essential Workwear for Construction Professionals

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Construction workwear not only enhances comfort and performance but also helps keep workers safe

Construction workwear needs to be as practical, functional and hard-working as the people wearing it. Builders’ apparel essentials typically consist of pants, shirts, jackets, boots and safety gear with the largest difference being that industry apparel is made to withstand way more than the average wear and tear.

Thankfully construction workwear has evolved substantially over recent decades with advances in material technology and more online shopping options. Fit has become more streamlined too, and it’s easier to find clothes that are rugged without being clunky.

When it comes to what footwear and workwear are best for residential building sites, workers should, of course, always shop for the big three: safety, durability and comfort. But with more options available than ever these days, the smaller details matter too.

What to consider before purchasing workwear

Colorado-based home builders have the added pressure of dealing with nature’s often harsh elements on the job site. Whether work is going to be performed mostly indoors or outdoors will weigh heavily on what workwear and boots to put on. Our state’s weather can also change drastically within the day, ranging from heavy rainfall mixed with sleet to dry sun-drenched afternoons, so layering is usually necessary.

Related: Building a Safer Job Site

Construction apparel should fit for mobility and flexibility. If pants are too snug, it’s the makings of an uncomfortable workday. Equally so if they are too loose or long, which makes them prone to snagging on equipment. Breathable work shirts are important in hot weather while long-sleeve shirts can help protect against cold, wind or long bouts of sun exposure. Jackets might provide protection from rain or worksite liquids, extreme heat and more. Some workwear can have important high-visibility features added in for additional safety.

Materials and design are important too. Heavy-duty canvas and reinforced knees can help clothes last longer. Internal pockets can keep workers organized and their mobile devices safe, and elastic or velcro cuffs can help ensure a more secure fit.

Work boots must be able to adhere to job site safety standards while upholding the pressure of rugged use day in and day out. However, it’s more than just about feeling comfortable on your feet all day. Improper workwear and footwear can lead to a whole host of issues. Jordan Anderson, director of product development at Rocky Boots, says, “Wearing the incorrect footwear on a job site can lead to broken toes, severed toes and many other severe foot-related issues.”

Working from the ground up

Nothing beats a good pair of boots. For workers on their feet all day, safety and comfort are paramount. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all or “perfect work boot” that can serve all the different job site elements. Workers must determine what type of shoe is best for their environment. Knowing the hazards of the job site will point employees in the right direction. For instance, if workers are hosing down homesites frequently, they may opt for a fully waterproof boot with slip resistance.

Jordan Gottke, vice president and general manager of Georgia Boots, says when it comes to boots, it depends on what type of work is being performed. “If you are climbing or doing outdoor work, a logger heel (scalloped or low heel) works great,” he says. “For indoor work, you would want a boot with good slip resistance. Generally, this means an outsole with a lot of surface contact. For those who work in settings in which you do not want to track, a wedge sole is great.” Gottke says that wedge soles work well for those who are also on their feet for long periods.

Related: Employers’ Labor Responsibilities in Winter

While it varies from builder to builder, some larger operations provide vouchers for items, like new boots one to two times per year. Gottke thinks that a new pair of boots each year helps ensure the employees are as safe as possible on the job site.

Advances in shopping

“While some builders might provide boots for their teams, it’s more common for workers to purchase their own based on recommendations,” says Andrew Estey, co-founder and CEO of QLTY Work Boots. His company recently launched the Mobile Fit Unit, a Denver-based portable retail store that offers job site group fittings, ensuring team members get the proper boot and fit without having to go shopping after a long day on the job. He notes that workers will want to try boots on with the type of socks they plan to wear and “ensure there’s a thumb’s width of space in the toe box and that there’s no heel slip.”

To find the best fit with other brands, customers can often refer to sizing charts. “Measuring your feet and comparing to the size chart can be very helpful,” Anderson says. “The most trusted method is simply trying them on in stores to see what feels best, as sizing from brand to brand varies.”

Important features to consider

Whether choosing footwear or workwear, several of the same features are worth considering. Having the right material for the job, like a protective toe and proper outsole, or heavy bib insulation to keep bodies warm on cold days, is the best place to start. For warmer seasons, dressing in layers, when one can remove or add on depending on wind, rain or sun, will keep body temperatures regulated and workers safe. It’s also helpful to look for fabric that’s more resistant to tearing, which prevents skin from being vulnerable to sharp materials or hazardous chemicals.

Construction apparel should consist of quality material. Items with double stitching tend to hold a longer lifespan than single-stitched counterparts. Consider accessories like safety glasses, gloves, and tool belts too. While highly efficient items are often more expensive, cheaper clothes can often mean builders have to replace them more frequently due to substandard materials or craftmanship. Quality matters—down to the fabric in socks. “Like anything else, you get what you pay for. Cheap socks are going to not be as comfortable or perform as well as more expensive socks,” Gottke says.

New technologies in workwear

For footwear, Estey says, “Memory foam insoles and ergonomic designs can improve comfort, while innovative compounds for outsoles offer better grip and longevity.”

For apparel, new, exciting technologies are unfolding like smart clothing that includes reflective heated jackets, cooling vests and smart glasses that combine technology and workwear, letting wearers combine hands-free voice controls for certain tools.

Related: Implementing Lean Construction Principles

When it comes to footwear, Anderson says Rocky Boots Rams Horn options are “loaded with technology. Our outsole/midsole combination utilizes a directly attached midsole that allows the upper to be permanently bonded to the midsole, creating a very secure platform.”

Impacts on health

Clothing with built-in performance materials is akin to using the right tool for a job—but for the body instead. From tear-proof stretch fabric that protects against rain and wind to base layers with moisture-wicking capabilities that keep workers comfortable and dry, clothes should be designed for durability and wear.

“The wrong boot or a boot with inadequate safety features can lead to serious injury,” Gottke says. “It is very important to treat your work shoes like you would any tool and make sure it is the right one for the job.” He says the ideal scenario is owning two pairs of boots. “Rotating boots every day can extend the life of your boots. Allowing them to fully dry after each day is a major component of this. If two pairs are not possible, regular boot care can make up the difference, and as long as the safety features (safety toe and outsole) remain in good shape, you can continue to wear them. However, when your boots are worn out you should get a new pair. Worn-out boots can be a safety hazard.”

Breaking in boots

Estey cautions that wearing the wrong work boots can “lead to a range of issues from blisters and calluses to more serious conditions, like plantar fasciitis, back pain and joint stress due to inadequate support and cushioning.” He suggests wearing boots for short periods and then gradually increasing wear time to break them in. He says that some customers apply leather conditioners or use boot stretchers for a more comfortable fit.

Anderson says, “We do offer many boots that have little to no break-in time. This is because of the soft leather used on the uppers.”

Knowing when to replace items

Finding the right clothing, accessories and workwear can lead to better days. While workers don’t need to reinvent the wheel with each purchase, paying attention to fit and quality should never be underestimated. Minor edits can make a world of difference. (Anyone who has ever spent the day in too tight boots or a too large coat can pinpoint this immediately.)

Wearing the right gear is just one aspect of job safety. When items start to show signs of wear—pants that are starting to tear or shoe tread that’s worn thin—it’s time to start considering replacement options. When in doubt, check online reviews or ask for referrals from workmates.

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Author

  • Emily O'Brien

    Emily O’Brien is a regular contributor to several news, lifestyle, and entertainment websites. Throughout the past decade, she's worked on numerous magazines, serving as the senior digital editor of Old House Journal, New Old House, and Period Homes, and as the managing editor of Traditional Building. She’s also the former editorial director of Boulder Lifestyle and Cherry Creek Lifestyle. Whether she's interviewing Olympic athletes, small business owners, dessert cookbook writers, or world-renowned architects, she's passionate about shining the spotlight on good people doing remarkable work.

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