From the first pairs of jeans donned by America's workers in the 1870s to streetwear brand Element's new collection with Timber!, workwear garments are a menswear style staple with history. Element's latest collaboration sees the LA-based artist (who has been teaming up with the brand since 2006) return to work on a line of denim pieces inspired by his own illustrations. Tying in to the clothes' blue collar origins, the collection includes a work shirt and jacket created with characters like Timber!'s Faller – a "rough and rugged" logger – in mind. To celebrate the collection, we chart our favourite workwear jean jackets on film: from ex-con Billy Brown in Buffalo ‘66 to cowboy lovers out in the wilds of Wyoming, the clothing’s iconic status has been continually cemented on the big screen.
As director, screenwriter and leading man all at once, Vincent Gallo’s portrayal of ex-con Billy Brown is one that doesn’t skimp on iconic visuals. Attempting to impress his parents, Billy kidnaps the sweet and placid Layla (played by Christina Ricci), forcing her to be his wife – all in an effortless uniform of faded denim. It’s so cool he even shares it with Layla.
JOHNNY DEPP IN WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993)
Set in backwater Iowa, Johnny Depp stars as the beautiful, long-haired carer of his disabled younger brother, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Gilbert navigates his dysfunctional life with a touching resilience, his brown denim jacket remaining a staple look throughout. Informed by the state’s agricultural history, it's a visual reminder of Gilbert's small-town claustrophobia.
RIVER PHOENIX IN MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)
In a film that documents the poignant journey of Mike – a gay, street hustling narcoleptic in pursuit of love and validation – River Phoenix dons jackets more suited to hard-labouring farm jobs than the streets on which he forges his living. Phoenix's wardobe points to his lower class roots – cord-collared wax jackets and a shearling number standing in stark contrast to the suits eventually worn by his rich-boy companion Scott (Keanu Reeves).
HEATH LEDGER AND JAKE GYLLENHAAL IN BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)
In Ang Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story, the traditional notions of gun-toting, hetero masculinity epitomised by the image of the cowboy are subverted through a heartbreaking story of forbidden love, which challenged gay stereotypes and recast the cowboy's image in our cultural consciousness forever. A reminder that classic American workwear can be much more than just a fashion statement.
MARTIN SHEEN IN BADLANDS (1973)
In Terrence Malick's directorial debut, Martin Sheen plays Kit, the bad boy seducer to Sissy Spacek's baton-twirling small town teen. It's not your usual tale of a good girl led astray by a wrong side of the tracks romance though – Kit's nature is a lot more murderous than that. But, despite his character flaws, it has to be said – he looks great in denim.