At a recent machinery review, as the test panel donned their work clothes, I asked them what they expected of their workwear.
"It's got to be warm in winter," says one female worker, shivering in an easterly breeze. "Thermals are a real problem. If you order ladies', they fit okay but have lacy bits that just aren't necessary - in fact, they can be a weak point. Men's thermals are much better but are usually too big and a hideous fit."
Another notes: "I have trouble staying dry in wet weather gear. If the clothing keeps the rain out, it usually keeps the sweat in - if you are working hard you soon drown in your own moisture. But the really good breathable stuff is too expensive for working in."
"I'd just like it in my size," says a petite female worker as she gathers the waistband of her overtrousers into pleats and secures them with a belt. "I have a 20in waist and wear size 3 boots. It's a nightmare for me."
The lads on the test panel seem a little more relaxed about workwear. "It doesn't really matter what it looks like - it's not like I'm going to go clubbing in it," says one. But another adds: "Workwear needs to be tough. It's expensive to keep replacing trousers because the knees or seat wear out - and the missus likes clothes that are easy to wash."
In truth we all have our likes and dislikes when it comes to work clothes. But the bottom line is that workwear should be the right size, fit for purpose, comfortable to wear and easy to maintain.
The good news is, whether you are looking for general work gear, protective clothing or something a little bit different, there is now more choice than ever before. There are also more outlets. Branches of the tools supplier Screwfix are now stocking a dedicated workwear collection called Geared Up. Leading brands are represented, including CAT, De Walt, Dickies, Makita, Gore-Tex and Regatta.
There are traditional items of personal protective equipment, such as steel toecap boots, protective gloves, high-visibility jackets and safety eye wear as well as cargo trousers, body warmers, fleeces and other general workwear. An 84-page catalogue is available or you can browse online at www.screwfix.com.
The latest items from Dickies include the Dickies 22 collection, designed to meet the demand for more fashionable work clothes. In the collection are 100 per cent cotton canvas work jackets, zip up sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans and trousers that incorporate knee pads and cargo pockets. The range features a modern "washed out" look with distinctive branding and contrast stitching, and a combination of Cordura and stretch fabric for comfort.
Also from Dickies is the Eisenhower Multi-Pocket trouser and bomber jacket. The trousers feature two back patch pockets, one with a stud fastening, a multi-sectioned cargo pocket with stud fastener, rule pocket, hammer loop and tool pouches. The material is 65 per cent polyester and 35 per cent cotton canvas. Waist sizes 30in to 44in are available. The matching bomber jacket has a zip plus Velcro-fastened stormflap and elasticated hem. A standard jacket is also offered, made from Oxford polyester with a PVC coating and a fleece lining.
New from Severnside Safety of Cheltenham, and reportedly already proving popular, are the Lyngsoe Fox softshell jacket and Lyngsoe Fox Winter Coverall. The coverall, with 3M reflective stripes, is made of 50 per cent polyamide, 50 per cent Oxford nylon. It features a two-way zip, multiple pockets, detachable hood, elasticated waist, wrist and ankle adjusters and underarm ventilation zips. The knees are reinforced with Cordura. Sizes small to 6X are offered in grey/black or red/black designs. The softshell jacket is wind and waterproof, breathable and fleecey on the inside. The hood is detachable.
Designed by women, for women, Garden Girl is a new range of practical clothing specifically for female gardeners. The main products in the range include dungarees and trousers made from 100 per cent 300g/sq m cotton to make them flexible and light but durable. Both are supplied in full and three-quarter lengths in sizes 6 to 22. Adjustable ankle straps ensure clothing is suited to women of most heights.
Intended to better match the female shape, the trousers have Wonderfit stretch side panels so the waistband stays around the waist, even when bending. The garments, with polyeter reinforcement to the knees, also have insertable knee pads and feature a range of pockets to provide plenty of storage for small gardening tools, seeds, string, pencils and - of course - your mobile phone. HW will bring more news of the trousers, currently being tested in a working environment, in the future.
In addition to the dungarees and trousers, Buckinghamshire-based Garden Girl also supplies a softshell jacket, polo shirts, gardeners apron, scarf, hat, gloves and wellington boots.
Selecting the right footwear can make all the difference to your safety and comfort. When working outdoors it is important that footwear helps prevent slips and falls by having a slip resistant sole, but it is also essential to have toe protection and ankle support as well as keeping your feet dry and warm.
Making a return to the Severnside Safety Catalogue, and updated with the inclusion of Vario weight dependent heel cushioning, the Steitz Bergen Gore-Tex zip and lace safety boot is intended for tough outdoor conditions.
These boots have waterproof leather uppers and a Gore-Tex lining. In addition to the steel toecap and scuff caps, they also feature a steel midsole. The soles are made of Perbunan Alpine rubber and have a new pattern for good grip. They are cut, scuff, heat (220 degsC), acid and alkali resistant. Price is £143.99 ex VAT and the boots come in Euro sizes from 38 to 48/49.
Severnside is also offering a water resistant midsole safety boat in a wide fit - just £30.15 ex VAT - and Redwood Brown leather safety boat shoes, with waxy leather uppers and padded collar, for £39.58 ex VAT.
Whatever clothing you choose for work, it is worth remembering that most suppliers offer a service to embroider or print logos and names onto garments. For a small extra charge your corporate identity can be promoted through the workforce.
For chainsaw users
Developed for the comfort and protection of chainsaw operators, the Stihl HiFlex Design C trouser has six layers of protective material for all-round chainsaw protection and, according to the manufacturer, is already established as a high-quality, high-style, high-comfort choice in the Stihl PPE range. This autumn Stihl extended the HiFlex range to trouser available with Design A protection.
Using advanced fabric technology, the Stihl HiFlex trouser combines approved chainsaw protection with practicality, comfort and style. Using just six layers of protective material ensures the trouser is lightweight and cooler to wear, while the breathable and stretchable outer, with Kevlar reinforcements, is seen as a giant stride in wear comfort.
The original design C trouser with all-round protective is suitable for persons who do not normally use chainsaws or for those working in exceptional circumstances, such as arborists. The new Design A trouser features protective blocking material around just the front of the leg, making it suitable for professional foresters, loggers and woodsmen who are thoroughly trained and instructed in chainsaw use.
The high-tech fibres used in the six layers of chainsaw blocking material mean the trousers not only meet the standards of EN 381-5 class 1 cut resistance, they are also thinner, cooler and lighter than conventionally constructed protective trousers. The trousers' elastic properties ensure their shape is retained after wearing while still promoting freedom of movement.
The outer material - Schoeller dryskin - is constructed using a high-tech four-chamber fibre, characterised by a clever combination of low moisture absorbency, rapid evaporation and high breathability. It should keep the skin cool and dry for longer, but is also water and dirt resistant. The hard-wearing textile surface and durable fibres provide a high level of rub-fastness, while the Kevlar reinforcements on the lower front leg are intended to give further protection in tough working conditions. A matching jacket is available.
Featuring among the recent additions to the Husqvarna collection of chainsaw protective gear are the Design C Light 20 Pro-tective trouser and Light 20 chaps with saw protection.
The trouser is made of 100 per cent polyester and has two front pockets plus one back pocket with zip. The one-size chaps, also made of 100 per cent polyester, are intended for occasional chainsaw users. Easy to adjust for height and waist size, the chaps also have elastic ankle ties. Both garments meet the requirements of EN 381-5 and EN 340 class 1, 20m/s.
Added to the Severnside Safety catalogue this year is the Sevsafe Design C Hi Viz orange bib and brace. Meeting EN 381-5 class 1 standards - and also EN 471 high visibility - the garment is from Severnside's own top-value range and provides all-round protection in a bib and brace format. Waist sizes from 31in to 43in are available. Price is £106.34 ex VAT.