How mechanics became the biggest trendsetters of the season

It's safe to say that the boiler suit was not originally designed with the runway in mind. 

Plumbers and mechanics first wore this heavy-duty one piece because they wouldn't get snagged on machinery (unlike work-shirts and trousers). The suits were made baggy and unfitted so as not to restrict on-the-job movement and were cut from boring cotton fabric.

So far, so basic. Yet the humble boiler suit has lately been re-appropriated as an unlikely sartorial must-have – first by the fashion-forward women of the Northern Hemisphere and now, judging by the recent runways in Milan and Paris, by the arbiters of men's style, too.

Following suit

Fendi's open-air menswear show was packed full of short-sleeve versions of the mechanic's tuxedo in olive-green heavy cotton, classic blue-jean denim and dark blue cotton with indigo-suede patches. At Salvatore Ferragamo's show at Pitti Uomo in Florence, a rugged gentleman wore a baggy version with the sleeves rolled up, while another slouched down the runway with hands in boiler-suit pockets, looking like a plumber with a bad case of the Mondays.

The trend reached as far as venerable suiting brand Ermenegildo Zegna, which sent a pale-grey edition down the runway on a model wearing sneakers and sunglasses. Even outfits that weren't boiler suits looked like boiler suits: at Virgil Abloh's Louis Vuitton runway in Paris, a khaki two-piece with floral embroidery had that same billowy shapelessness.

On the boil

It's hard to say exactly how we reached this point. 

Certainly, the boiler suit shares traits with other recent men's style trends – from athleisure, with its focus on comfort, to dadcore, with its fixation on, well, clothes your dad would wear. There's probably also something mildly rebellious about spending an obscene amount of money on something originally designed for the working class.

The question remains, though: do you really want to be grappling with a boiler suit every time you visit the bathroom?

Rules of engagement

If you are going to take the plunge and test-drive a boiler suit, it's worth bearing a few things in mind. 

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Firstly, size does matter. Yes, the boiler suit is an intentionally shapeless garment. But it needs to fit you lengthwise and across the shoulders or you'll be tripping over yourself. 

Secondly, think very carefully about colour. Choosing a single colour for an entire outfit is a fraught business (unless you're donning a black or grey suit) – choose the wrong tone and your mistake is amplified from head to toe. The usual rules apply here: avoid warm tones if your complexion is pale and lean towards the more conservative of two options.

The right stuff

Finally, it's important to ask yourself the question: Do I have the necessary swagger to make a boiler suit work for me? This is not a subtle outfit choice, and no matter how big the trend grows, you're unlikely ever to find yourself in a room full of boiler-suit-clad gents. So be honest about whether you can carry the style with confidence.

And if you can't, there's no shame in donning a well-cut tracksuit or a dadwear ensemble instead.

Dan's writing on style, travel and more has appeared in The New York Times, the Australian Financial Review, Condé Nast Traveller and others. He is based in Sydney.

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