Chris and I have been wearing our bleus de travail a lot recently. Our what? Our bright blue, tough cotton jackets that you see many workpeople wearing in France. It’s a distinguishing feature of the nation. We don’t have the matching trousers yet. We really only bought the jackets to annoy Caiti when we saw them in Gavroche, the secondhand ‘shop’ in Boussac, for a euro each. But we’ve since discovered that they’re brilliant and we’re on the wrong side of 49 now to care about looking naff. Caiti, however, is far more fashion conscious.
But why are these traditional, tough, practical garments such an eye-watering shade of blue? Well, the whole idea of work clothes began in the Industrial revolution. For whatever reason, in the 19th century the colour blue symbolised the workers. Superiors and office workers wore grey or white. So this is when the blue de travail first appeared. The new machinery that was coming in at this time often wasn’t too safe, so good thick material came in handy as extra protection against sharp edges or sudden gushes of steam. Heavy cotton was the fabric of choice, but today while you can still get that, there are bleus de travail in polyester and other synthetic material which are easy wash and quick dry. They’ll also often have company logos embroidered on, or reflective stripes, and they all come with useful do-uppable pockets. I imagine that as dyes have got better, the blue has got brighter over the years. The brightness today is another safety feature in itself.
We’re beginning to wonder how we managed without our bleus for so long. We’re in them every day feeding the livestock, moving hay, carrying wood and anything else that’s outdoorsy and messy. Formidable.
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