It's no secret: residential construction is a male-dominated industry and so is the workwear category. But as more women enter the trade, their clothing options are expanding.
Women already face a number of hurdles in the construction industry, but finding workwear that provides safety, comfort, and flexibility should not be one of them.
The industry has made more progress in the past five years than it has in the past several decades when it comes to female representation. Female construction workers account for 10.3%—up from 9.9% in 2018—of the entire workforce, with just 3% working on jobsites.
“The biggest challenge of being a woman in construction is earning the respect of subcontractors,” Marnie Oursler, president of Marnie Custom Homes, told Forbes. “The industry is heavily male-dominated, especially out in the field. There are still a lot of people with the mentality that certain tasks are a man’s job, and I wouldn’t understand because I’m a woman. That has been the hardest obstacle to overcome.”
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Photo: courtesy Truewerk
The construction industry can be a lucrative field for women with an array of opportunities, whether it be in the trades or construction management. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working in construction make 99.1% of what men in the industry do—a large difference from the average of 81.1% in other sectors.
The demand for labor is there, and recruiting more women in the field can help diversify and strengthen construction, especially now amid high demand. Single-family starts dropped in April from March, largely in part to a lack of labor (in addition to persistent building materials issues).
“On the trades side, there has been new attention to attracting women over the last few years as studies have shown that skilled trades will have as many as 3 million unfilled jobs by 2028,” Wendy Zang, senior managing consultant for national recruiting firm Helbling & Associates, told Construction Dive.
Difficulty accessing workwear that fits and performs well can add to the stereotype that this field is not for women.
“When you're always pushing and pulling and fighting against your own clothes while you're working, and then you go into the farm and ranch store and see that men have thousands of options to choose from, and you look over and see one little shelf for you, what that says is that you're expendable and not worth paying attention to,” says Stacey Gose, founder and CEO of Tougher, a workwear brand for women.
But as more women enter the trades, clothing options are expanding and women are helping their peers source comfortable workwear options. More women in the trades—such as Lydia Crowder, also known as Drywall Shorty on Instagram—are connecting online, sharing their favorite workwear brands and where to get them. Crowder’s top spot for basics is Duluth Trading Company, she says.
“I love their 40 Grit line shirts and hoodies,” says Crowder. “They are great basic staples. I love their short sleeve pocket tee—great price and really comfortable. And then their Armachillo pants for summer [because] they stay cool during hot days and their NoGA pants for flexibility at work.”
Are you looking for some workwear for yourself or the female contractor in your life? We found 13 places to consider (and if you want even more options, check out these 11 popular women workwear brands):
Truewerk’s line of women's workwear features two types of work pants, three hoodies, socks, and two shirts. The T2 Werkpant comes in gray and brown, ranging from size 00 up to 18. It’s made of four-way stretch fabric, a durable water repellent that repels water, a durable double-stitched seam, and seven pockets.
Duluth Trading Company’s workwear aims to work for the wearer and make their life easier. The brand’s No-Yank line of clothing is made to stay put through work, while their Armachillo line of pants, bras, tops, and skorts are made to stay cool. The line of work pants features a crotch panel and articulated knees for full flexibility.
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Safety Girl sells products from several manufacturers, such as Liberty, Dickies, and Carhartt, but it also sells its personal brand of boots, painters pants, and safety gear. Safety Girl’s painter's pants go from size 2 up to 24 with petite, regular, and tall options available. Plus, they’re only $20.
Known well for its recreational outdoor clothing, Patagonia also offers a specific line of women’s workwear featuring shirts, coats, bib overalls, coveralls, pants, and work boots. Patagonia’s hemp canvas material claims to be tough yet lightweight without the need of breaking it. Their pants offer openings for knee pads and deep pockets with a high, adjustable waistband. Sizes start at 0 and go up to 18 in both short and regular lengths.
Helga Wear is designed for women, by women, plus the brand offers advice, insight, and motivation for tradeswomen through its blog. Helga Wear currently offers three products: the Idea overall, the Hilda high-vis overall, and Eileen Flyaways, a fire-resistant coverall. One of the most innovative features of The Ids is the discrete zipper design made to make using the restroom easier and a deep inner chest pocket to hold your phone.
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Arborwear’s workwear is made for arborists climbing, chopping, and sawing trees, which means its clothing needs to be flexible, durable, and safe. It sells a wide range of pants that feature articulated knees, pockets, enhanced breathability, and adjustable lengths. Arborwear’s tops also aim to keep the wearer comfortable and cool.
Crowder says her all-time favorite boots are Keen’s Cincinnati due to its comfortable wedge sole. “I wear these year-round, they're great on ice and snow and not too heavy for summer,” she says. Keen prides itself on offering work boots tested and approved by real tradeswomen. The brand offers several different styles of boot fits to meet different needs, such as aluminum toed boots, soft toe, and carbon-fiber toed.
Apparel brand Wildfang offers coveralls for women who want to show off their personality and style while earring fully functional pieces. The brand offers short and long-sleeved coveralls in corduroy, floral prints, bright colors, and classic black. Coveralls are made from soft brushed cotton with an abundance of pockets.
Helly Hansen Workwear offers a plethora of workwear for men but only a small selection for women. Its Lifa Merino Pant is leggings fit for staying warm while wicking away moisture. Its construction and service work pants have pockets all over with extra durable YKK zippers, a gusset in the crotch for easy movement, and plastic-covered metal buttons.
Designed for women in all industries, Xena Workwear sells scrubs, blazers, and riding boots, but it may be best known for its ASTM-certified, electrical hazard-certified, and OSHA-compliant leather steel-toed boots that can work in both everyday settings and on a jobsite. Xena safety boots are handmade in North America, come in both regular and wide, and go up to a size 12.
Blaklader sells high-visibility jackets and tops, along with three types of work pants, one of which is maternity pants. The maternity service pants gave four-way stretch panels on the rear, crotch, and knees with hidden magnetic buttons. The craftsman pant features extra-durable Cordura fabric with two attached nail pockets.
Rosie’s sells coveralls, overalls, and accessories in sizes up to XL. Accessories include a pink tool belt, pouch, and work gloves in three sizes. The brand’s overalls are made from cotton twill fabric that is durable, stain-resistant, and breathable, the company says. It features 11 different pockets and adjustable side buttons. The bottoms of the overalls can even be unzipped and removed to become overall shorts.
Kuhl creates clothes for hiking, meaning its clothing features high movability and weather resistance. For jobs requiring the harshest conditions, the brand suggests its Rydr pant that offers articulated knee and thigh, an internal drawcord, wide bottom leg opening, and a reinforced bottom cuff.