When I buy workwear, I expect it to fit well and feel good. To find the best apparel currently on the market, I tested more than 30 pieces of women’s workwear for six months last fall and this winter. I wore the gear for wood cutting, splitting, and hauling, as well as trail building, raking my yard, repairing my trailer, chaining up my plow truck, waxing skis, working on bikes in my garage, clearing storm damage, and building a friend’s garage. These were the pieces that stood out for their comfort, functionality, durability, and good looks, whatever the dirty, muddy, or sweaty task at hand.
Dovetail Workwear Maven Slim Jeans ($99)
I want my work pants to fit like my favorite jeans but with more functional pockets. And they should last for years, not months. Dovetail’s Maven Slim checks those boxes. Sewn with a denim-Cordura-blend fabric, they’re formfitting, not skintight, and have a midrise contoured waist that wasn’t revealing when I was benching trail or clearing yard waste. I’m not usually a slim jeans girl, but these had room for athletic thighs and calves and ran true to size. Double fabric on the thighs and knees is riveted to prevent it from ripping out at the corners with hard use. The left hip tool loop was easy to reach and held a hammer or wrenches, while spacious outer thigh pockets stashed a phone, gloves, a bar, a set of hex wrenches, and more. The no-fade black version felt softer than Dovetail’s other work pants yet was just as wear- and tear-resistant—it’s made from a blend of 11-ounce modal, polyester, nylon, and spandex.
Patagonia Women’s Farrier’s Shirt ($89)
When I put on this this shirt, I knew it wasn’t just another button-down. Made from industrial hemp and recycled polyester, the Farrier’s shirt resists abrasion yet is gentle against the skin. The details are all business, including four-hole buttons that never loosened or stretched the buttonholes during months of daily wear and regular washing. Pleated chest pockets held my phone, lip balm, a pencil, and a small notebook. They’re the first chest pockets I’ve ever found useful on a women’s shirt; most others are too small and/or placed in ways that let the contents fall out because of the slope of breasts underneath. The hem is long enough to tuck in or leave loose, and thanks to the shirt’s roomy cut, it didn’t gape at the chest. To top it off, the collar folds up and kept my neck warm on windy days.
Ariat Rebar DuraCanvas Insulated Jacket ($120)
This heavy-duty canvas jacket is on the heavier side—around 2.6 pounds for a women’s large. But its weight, plus the shearling-lined hood, quilted lining, and broad-ribbed cuffs, give it warmth and comfort that I’ve never felt from other outdoor-focused tops not made for work. The burly but flexible nine-ounce stretch canvas is triple stitched for durability. After six months of daily use, it shows no wear, the quilting is as warm as the first day I put it on, and the water-repellent finish continues to keep me dry even when snow turns to rain. Ariat added features like fleece-lined hand pockets, which were a welcome feature when I wasn’t wearing gloves, and guesseted armpits that allowed me stretch and reach to set up a winch or load a log without exposing skin. It’s no surprise the Rebar earned the stamp of approval from Maine lobster boat captains, Nebraska farmhands, and other working women.
Cat Excavator Superlite Boot ($155)
Whether I’m splitting wood or chopping roots, I want my feet protected—that’s why I like the Cat Excavator Superlite. Under the beefy rubber toe bumper of this waterproof nubuck leather boot hides a composite toe protector that’s lighter, thinner, and more comfortable than steel. It still meets safety standards for protection against impact or compression, as well as electrical hazard protection against open circuits up to 600 volts in dry conditions. It’s running shoe–like midsole kept my back from hurting even after being on my feet all day, and the slip-resistant sole kept the rubber side down on wet roots, a slippery deck, and in the mud. The fit cushions my Achilles and gives me a blister-free experience each time I slip them on.
Hestra Duratan Gloves ($19)
The Duratan looks like a gardening glove meets fancy driving glove—soft, supple, and super lightweight. But Hestra sewed these from suede that’s ten times more durable than leather and reinforced them to hold up to benching trail, bucking logs, and tying down a load. They were protective, not restrictive: the breathable mesh back stretched, and the slip-on cuff was easy to get in and out of. They’re unisex but come in a broad range of sizes to fit most hands. They do wet out, so these are best for dry projects.
Sealskinz Waterproof Cold-Weather Work Glove with Fusion Control ($95)
In cold and wet conditions, these gloves are a lifesaver. Waterproof and breathable, they’re as dexterous as many non-weather protective leather gloves, but they don’t get sweat saturated or soaked with precipitation. Goatskin leather on the outside is bonded to a 100 percent waterproof membrane and merino layer on the inside. Because the layers are bonded, the gloves don’t bunch. I had to take off other leather gloves for precise tasks. Not these—with them on, I could feel my tools and use my fingers for picking up dropped screws or nails. They’re also more breathable than other waterproof options I tried. When I had to chain up my plow truck or tighten my saw blade, I was able to get it done without fumbling. These Sealskinz also quickly became my new favorite ski touring gloves. They’re touchscreen-friendly and have bash protection on the knuckles, a pull tab to ease them on, and a finger loop for clipping them to my pack.
Dickies Women’s Performance Workwear Full-Zip Fleece Hoodie ($60)
Taking the sweatshirt to new heights, Dickies’ full-zip fleece hoodie is made from sustainably sourced cotton with a dash of viscose and a water-resistant DWR coating. It quickly became my go-to for projects and chores. With a brushed fleece lining, it looks and feels as comfortable as any medium-weight sweatshirt that’s shapely, not tight. But its details differentiate it from the fold: a three-piece contoured hood, thumb loops that extended the warmth, and eyelets at the armpits for breathability. This sweatshirt’s zippered pockets are another big plus. Standard pockets on other tops sewn along the front zipper are prone to snagging and ripping, but these are out of the way—they’re stitched into the side seams and have zippers to keep contents safe. A reflective sleeve pocket adds visibility, which is ideal if you’re working in the dark.
Lead Photo: Mint Images/Cavan