The French Worker’s Jacket – From Bill Cunningham to Price Gouging

Bill Cunningham via Wrong Side of the Camera

There’s few men more respected in this industry than Bill Cunningham, and while I could go on for days about what the illustrious New York Times photographer has done for this industry, today I want to focus on one small attribute that I have always admired about Cunningham.  As he races around the city each day shooting street style, lead only by his eye and his enviable sense of what’s worth documenting, Cunningham has always kept his own wardrobe incredibly simple.  Cunningham’s remarkably stripped down wardrobe consists of nothing but khakis, a button up, and his now legendary French workwear jacket.  It’s been said that Cunningham buys his jackets at French hardware stores for dirt cheap, and while I’m not sure if they could still be found there, the story does check out, as the jackets really did begin as nothing more than inexpensive smocks for the working class.

The jackets first came about during the nineteenth century, and their distinctive blue hue was actually chosen out of mere necessity.  During that period, indigo was an incredibly cheap dye, and for the working class it was just dark enough to cover up any stains that would occur throughout their day.  The design itself was, and still is, loose and unstructured with numerous pockets across the front to stash whatever may be needed for a given job.

Over time what began as a practical top layer for the French worker became fashionable, partly due to Cunningham, but also largely thanks to the recent Japanese and American interest in workwear.  Deadstock, and even faded out blue French worker’s jackets have became more desirable than anyone could have ever predicted.  Stores in Japan now sell the jackets alongside classic Barbours, Levis, Aldens, and the ilk, while in America they can be found throughout various vintage resellers, as well as at stores such as Hickoree’s who sell deadstock models straight from France.  Granted, don’t expect to find them for lower-class prices anymore, as the hype has driven the cost of the jackets into territory that is borderline laughable.  They might’ve began as a cheap throw-on for the blue collar worker, but these days the cost of one jacket could certainly wipe out an entire week’s pay.  Guess that’s the industry for you.

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  1. Hi. I’m Natalia. The Bill Cunningham photo is from my blog. I just wanted to thank you for using the photo. The blue jacket is such a part of who Bill Cunningham is and it was nice to see my photo in an interesting entry about it.

  2. Great post. I really admire Bill Cunningham. Have you seen that great documentary on him? Well worth watching. I want that jacket….but not at the inflated cost. OH welll……

  3. andy said:

    Maybe Bill has a used one you could buy??

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