From Corsets to Pockets: Women’s workwear that works
In 1903, Mary Halliday’s autopsy revealed that two pieces of corset steel had wedged their way into the 42-year-old’s heart, contributing to her death.
Unfortunately, corsets are only one item on a long list of lethal fashion garments that women have been subjected to throughout history, and Mary Halliday was only one of many victims.
In 1858, the New York times shared that an average of three deaths were taking place per week from women catching fire in their highly flammable crinoline hoop skirts. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mercury used in the hat-making process caused mental disorders and even death. And the “hobble skirts” of the early 1900s—skirts with narrow hems that impeded a woman’s stride—directly caused several deaths and many injuries.
Doesn’t exactly make for a joyous dinner conversation, does it?
In 2022, we’re (hopefully) well beyond fatal fashion trends, but that doesn’t mean women’s fashion is always created equally to men’s.
One of the most obvious examples of this is women’s utility clothing. Having worked in various occupations that required sturdy work pants, I can personally attest to how challenging it is to find quality, rugged pants that are not only created to fit my body, but are also able to withstand outdoor labor like farming, trail work, or carpentry.
I can remember waddling around in giant Carhartts made for men while doing trail work in the White Mountains. The pants were baggy and way too long for my 5’4” frame. Not only did this pose a tripping hazard, but I also looked ridiculous.
And let’s face it: wanting to look good is about more than just vanity. In fact, dressing well and looking good creates a positive feedback loop that increases confidence—and when we’re more confident, we perform our jobs better.
You know what they say: “clothes maketh the (wo)man.”
Women already face plenty of barriers in male-dominated work environments; we don’t need ill-fitting clothing to endanger us in the process!
Dovetail to the rescue
After years of difficulty finding quality workwear that *actually* fits AND holds up equally to its counterparts in the men’s sections, I’m hoping to look no further than Dovetail Workwear, a company that makes utility apparel “by women, for women, and with women” that is “all weather, all season, all reason.”
Consider me intrigued.
With some big-name utility apparel brands, the women’s clothing feels a bit like an afterthought—especially when my women’s work pants fall apart within two years, but my husband's pants from the same brand lasts easily twice that (what gives?!)
But one can immediately get the sense that Dovetail Workwear means business. Their women’s workwear isn’t an afterthought—it’s the main affair.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Dovetail Workwear was founded when landscapers Kate and Kyle Marie teamed up with apparel industry expert, Sara, to create rugged utility clothing that actually fit. They wanted to design something that was tailored to women’s bodies and offered more beyond the stereotypical colors and patterns often marketed to women.
The result was the Maven Slim Pant, the precursor to the highly reputable Maven X Pant that I’ve recently been drooling over.
My mourning period for my last work pants might finally be over.
Durable—with the data to prove it
When my big-brand work pants fell apart, I was bummed. It had taken a journey and then some to find a pair that actually fit, and when I did, their lifespan left something to be desired.
The simple truth is that this particular big-name brand was making pants that fit women, but they weren’t making them with nearly the same level of care, integrity, or durability that they put into their menswear.
I was faced with a bit of a conundrum, just like many other women I’ve worked with who have been forced to choose between durability or fit.
Which is why I love that Dovetail is transparent about the durability of their pants. The integrity of the fabric they use is field- and abrasive-tested. Consumers can even take a quick peek online at the results from two different abrasion tests, both which demonstrate formidable, above-industry standards.
But they don’t just rely on these textile tests. Their original pants were “extensively field tested on real women from bike mechanics and construction workers to artists and firefighters.” A quick perusal through their company’s “Sweaty, Greasy, Grimy Blog” showcases real women at work sporting Dovetail apparel, including ranchers, artists, ecologists, anthropologists, distillers, furniture makers, ceramic artists, fisher(wo)men, and more.
Beyond durability, Dovetail focuses on fit and function. Their products “work as hard as you do,” with gusseted crotch panels, deep and bountiful pockets, stretch fabric made for bending, a contoured waist tailored to the female body, a range of inseams, and a cut designed to fit women of all shapes and sizes.
Even when I did have work pants that fit, they lacked utility features like hammer loops or hip slots. One summer, this meant awkwardly juggling my tools while re-shingling a roof (even my toolbelt was too big because it was made for men!) Meanwhile, my male colleagues moved easily and efficiently because their pants weren't just pants—they were important, functional tools made for working.
My lack of access to adequate workwear put me at risk and interfered with my work environment.
As women, our clothing should empower us, not hinder us, which is precisely why a quick glance at all the features one has to look forward to with Dovetail pants gets me pretty excited:
No more scrambling dangerously around on rooftops trying to keep up with male co-workers who don’t even realize that their clothing gives them an advantage.
At least my giant hoop skirt isn’t catching on fire, right?
“But Quinn,” you might be thinking, “I’m not a carpenter. I’m not a bike mechanic. I don’t even garden. What would I need ‘utility’ clothing for?”
If you think workwear is just for, well, working—you can think again. According to The Citizen, workwear is the top fashion trend of 2022, and it’s not slowing down (last month, the hashtag #workwear had accumulated over 150 million views on TikTok.)
For what it’s worth, this trend isn’t even new. L’Officiel reminds us that the “ongoing love affair” with workwear started as soon as someone donned camo off the battlefield (and then was even more solidified when Rosie the Riveter put on her iconic work outfit.)
Workwear—including pants, overalls, and vests—proves to be an incredibly versatile type of clothing that can effortlessly glide into a number of different styles and aesthetics (just type in “overall outfits” on Pinterest to find inspiration ranging from casual chic to punk rock to sophisticated glam.)
Dovetail workwear seems to have it all—and socially conscious fashionistas and women at work will be pleased to know that Dovetail Workwear “works with suppliers and factories that adhere to the company’s values,” as they relate to:
- human rights
- labor standards,
- the environment
They require the factories that they work with to be in compliance with the UN Global Compact in order to address the multi-faceted impacts of the apparel manufacturing industry.
Okay…so what is the UN Global Compact?
The United Nations Global Compact is a pact to “encourage businesses and firms worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.”
Some of the compact’s guiding principles address things like:
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and Wellbeing
- Quality Education
- Gender Equality
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- And more.
Dovetail also works to reduce their carbon footprint and resource usage by taking actions such as using recycled or biodegradable materials, and doing low-water rinse finishes. They also have plans to reduce the use of plastic in their shipping processes as well as incorporate a garment reuse or repair program.
The garment manufacturing industry can take a heavy toll on resources, so it’s refreshing to find women-owned companies willing to walk the talk.
Icing on the cake: Don’t forget the pockets
Let’s be real: how many times have you reached to casually put your hands in your pockets, only to find that they can barely fit a quarter, much less a hand (or worse, they’re entirely fake!)?
Pockets on women’s clothing have a long and winding history. In 1905, Charlotte P. Gilman wrote in the New York Times, “One supremacy there is in men’s clothing… its adaptation to pockets.”
Thanks to organizations like the Rational Dress Society, which was founded in the 1800s to advocate for more practical clothing, womenswear saw a revolution in the functionality of their garments. This has included things like phasing out corsets in favor of safer, more comfortable substitutes, and wearing loose trousers or other apparel that allowed for full movement and mobility.
The journey of pockets onto women’s clothes has had its ups and downs, though, and the women’s pocket evolution has been far from linear.
But at least Dovetail Workwear can boast that they’ve put over 1 million real pockets on working women across North America—and they’re just getting started.
“Never put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.”
Thanks to Dovetail, I can fit it in my own!