Whether you’re looking for clothing for work, or you want to be protected when you’re fixing up personal projects, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to mechanic’s clothing. The range of mechanic work shirts and mechanic work pants has exploded as manufacturers play with new materials and sewing techniques.
At the same time, work clothing has become fashionable as buyers want to look rugged or emulate old school blue collar workers. How do you separate fashion from function and get clothing that makes working on equipment comfortable and safe? Here’s everything you need to know, from getting the right fit to meeting work safety regulations.
Work Clothes vs Coveralls
If you’re looking for clothing to wear while working on machinery, you have two options: wear specially-made shirts and pants, or wear a set of coveralls over your street clothes. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each.
|Hot During Summer|
Coveralls are worn over clothing, which makes them the warmer option. This is great in cold weather, but it quickly becomes a problem when it’s hot out. However, they do make lightweight options. See my articles below:
You may want to partially unzip your coveralls to cool off, but that means the fabric can get hung up, or leave you exposed to burns and chemicals. Of course, you can always pair a set of overalls with work shirts and pants.
This is a great option if you’re working in extreme cold temperatures. Insulated coveralls may be a necessity for the extreme cold, but they can be a bit bulky and make it harder to move freely on the job.
Coveralls can have an awkward fit since it is trying to appropriately fit your entire body. If you’re like me and have a tall frame, finding coveralls that fit might be a pain. It’s also more difficult to go to the bathroom with coveralls, even if they have a fly zipper.
To read more, visit our article about the best coveralls for mechanics.
Work Shirts & Work Pants
|Easier to Mix with Summer|
|Not As Much Coverage|
If coveralls doesn’t sound like a good option to you, then wearing shirts and pants specifically designed for mechanics (instead of just wearing normal street clothes) removes the need to wear coveralls over the top.
A separate shirt and pants increases your flexibility, because moving a leg or arm doesn’t move around all of your clothing (like it does in a pair of coveralls). This also makes these pieces of clothing easier to fit, because one piece doesn’t have to work for your entire body.
Using work-specific pants and shirts, and forgetting the coveralls, obviously helps you shed a layer during the summer heat, but coveralls do offer better coverage. Shirts can become untucked, which leads to skin exposure. This might not be a problem for most mechanics, but it can be an issue if you weld.
Coveralls are meant to be a first line of defense to catch dirt, grime, oil and other debris. Not only does this help protect the skin, if you instead allow your work shirts and pants to take the beating, you will likely be spending money consistently to replace your shirts and pants with new clothes.
To read more about shirts, visit our article about the best mechanic shirts.
What Material is Best for Mechanic Clothing?
Even if they’re designed for warmth, mechanics pants, shorts and shirts are made from thin fabrics. Thick fabrics, like flannel, absorb fluids. This doesn’t just result in more stains, it could mean greater contact between your skin and irritants, like gasoline and parts-cleaner solvents.
For example, here is a close-up look at a Red Kap shirt I own. As you can see, the material has a thin, breathable design:
You’ll also see some mechanic shirts made with extra breathability for use in the extreme heat. This can be particularly useful for shops that aren’t climate controlled. Here is a look at a Red Kap shirt I own that has a breathable back:
Some shirts, like the one above, may have the entire material be breathable, while other shirts may just have breathable sections in the back. For example, the Red Kap shirt below has a paneled back for extra breathability and freedom of movement:
Because mechanic shirts and pants tend to use thin fabric, this is why you often see mechanics pair their clothing with coveralls or a mechanic jacket. The overall weight of these short sleeve work shirts is very minimal. For example, one of my size mediums photo’d below only weighs a half pound:
Regarding care, remember oil bonds easily to synthetic fabrics, causing hard-to-remove stains. However, new fabrics are entering the market that are treated to repel oil. These offer the durability and breathability of synthetic textiles with the petroleum resistance of cotton.
This also means you can buy work-ready clothes made from rip-stop fabrics, which will hold up better over time. Here is a close-up look at a ripstop fabric in a shirt I use. If you look closely, you can see the squared ripstop weave:
A small percentage of synthetic fiber will be added to some mechanic shirts and pants help give them stretch. Of course, you will always want to consider whether or not you need a flame-resistant material.
The main takeaway is this: expect most mechanic shirts and pants to be made with thin fabric. In most cases, mechanics prefer this type of fabric. But for more rugged environments, or winter, using coveralls can provide you extra durability and warmth.
For certain extreme cold, rugged environments, insulated duck coveralls might make sense. Photo above of the duck cotton fabric on my insulated coveralls. Buying coveralls with zipper legs will make it easier to get them on and off, but remember these zippers can damage a paint job.
The drawback also is that these types of coveralls are bulky, heavy, and make it much harder to move freely. Mine weigh over five pounds:
Qualities of Good Mechanic Workwear
When you’re working on vehicles, you need full freedom of movement, but clothing that is too loose can get caught on parts. Well-designed mechanic work clothing will stretch and fold to allow movement, while fitting snug around the waist, ankles and wrists.
Work shirts should have long tails, so they will stay tucked into pants. Gussets around the shoulders and arm pits increase freedom of movement.
Most work pants are boot cut, slimming down around the legs, then flaring out slightly, so they can slide over work boots. A crotch gusset adds flexibility.
Snaps and gripper closures are usually a better choice than buttons. If you get snagged on something, the closure pops open, while buttons will pop off or tear the fabric. These closures are also easy to cover with fabric, preventing direct contact with paint. That way, you won’t scratch vehicles when you lean against them.
It’s also much easier to deal with snap button shirts if you wear work gloves. Buttoning a traditional button while wearing your work clothes can be a chore.
Chest pockets are handy for carrying screwdrivers, flashlights and other small tools. Unlike pants pockets, you’re unlikely to lean against a chest shirt pocket when you’re working on a vehicle, so this is a better place to store small essentials.
The type of pocket can matter also. A pocket that has a top flap closure can deflect spills away from the pocket’s interior, while an open pocket makes tools easier to access.
Mechanic’s pants usually don’t have cargo pockets. This keeps the legs from snagging when you’re working under vehicles or in other tight spaces.
Clothing holds together longer with increased stitching. High quality work clothing uses double or triple stitching on large seams, and because mechanic work involves a lot of bending, stooping, reaching, and sometimes crawling, it is important to have seams that can take on extra stress.
Safety Options for Mechanic Shirts and Pants
OSHA requires Flame-Resistant (FR) clothing for workers in flammable environments. It is always best to allow your management team at work advise you on what type of safety wear you need for your job.
In general, listed below are some common scenarios where FR is used. Please understand there may be other scenarios that call for FR clothing also.
- Energized circuits at or above 600 volts, such as those used in electric cars
- Using torches and other open flames
FR work shirts and pants are made from natural fabric or specially treated synthetics. Keep in mind that fire retardant chemicals will degrade if exposed to bleach or fabric softeners.
If you wear bibs, overalls or other FR clothing when you’re welding, you still need to wear non-flammable clothing underneath. Don’t buy work shirts or pants made with synthetic fabrics, unless they’re fire resistant.
If you need FR clothing, you also need any patches you wear to be flame resistant. Insignia patches from organizations need to be fire resistant also. Keep in mind that FR clothing only protects areas that are covered, and should be combined with other safety habits to reduce risk.
If you regularly work outside, high visibility clothing is a must have for safety. You will need to work with your employer to make sure you have the correct type of hi-vis workwear to meet safety standards.