Urgent! Men of the universe, we are teetering on the brink of new irony levels when it comes to the notion of a fashion emergency. This is not a drill. It is a trend: in fashion-aware urban enclaves, men are wearing hi-vis workwear. These are not people – builders, airport staff, police officers – who need to be seen for safety. These are men wearing hi-vis for its aesthetic value.



Burberry show, London fashion week, 2018. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

Hang out near London’s Central Saint Martins and you’ll spot neon vests layered over Off-White sweaters or Vetements tops artfully swished into eye-popping protective trousers. At Paris fashion week in June, I clocked fashion director Marc Goehring in a security guard-like fluoro tabard, while Virgil Abloh was rocking a next season Louis Vuitton neon utility holster of his own design.

Undercover show, Italy, 2018.



Undercover show, Italy, 2018. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

At the AW18 shows, there was so much hi-vis, attendees might have thought they’d wandered on to a construction site. Fire brigade jackets in banging shades and coats with reflective hems marched down influential runways. At Calvin Klein 205W39NYC there were flight suits in hi-vis orange, and rubber boots. Backstage, Raf Simons talked about heroes, namechecking firefighters and Nasa as inspiration. At Burberry, highlighter pen orange popped on a utility coat, while Junya Watanabe’s Functional Decoration collection’s reflective moments included a North Face collaboration using remodelled sleeping bags.

Undercover show, Runway, Paris Fashion Week, 2018.



Undercover show, Runway, Paris fashion week, 2018. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

Of course, fashion has appropriated manual workers’ uniforms in countless ways over the decades, from designers playing with military kit to hospital scrubs. Craig Green is a glorious example of one of our brightest stars uniting these seemingly contrasting worlds. The hi-vis trend might teeter on the brink of awkwardness around class issues for some, but designers seem to be referencing safety wear with reverence.

Burberry show, London Fashion Week, 2018.



Burberry show, London fashion week, 2018. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

San Francisco-born Heron Preston, for example, has in the past collaborated with the New York City Department of Sanitation to rework their uniforms. Those, he says, “need a hi-vis factor so the employee can be visible for their safety. In fashion we don’t need to be seen, but we want to be.” For autumn/winter, Preston has camouflage, logos and hi-vis details, along with Nasa’s 1976 logo and an interpretation of astronaut suits. Fashion’s adoption of hi-vis, he says, “is to me rooted in a desire to connect to authenticity and the real world, but elevate it to the next level”.

Walter Van Beirendonck show, Paris Fashion Week, 2018.



Walter Van Beirendonck show, Paris fashion week, 2018. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

Industry insiders are convinced this is a trend that will work IRL. “It didn’t come as a shock when hi-vis began to appear on the runway,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear for matchesfashion.com. “It feels like a natural progression from the trend for technical outerwear which is a perfect hybrid of performance wear and streetwear. Plusit ‘pops’ in photographs, for the Instagram generation.”

There are other theories. Catherine Hayward, fashion director of Esquire, feels hi-vis is about more than peacocking. In unsettled times, she says, “fashion often references the mundane to confer meaning that runs beyond the frivolity of trends”. She cites Calvin Klein as underscoring a sense of “safety”, notes how Lucas Ossendrijver at Lanvin paired grey suiting with hi-vis-decorated quilted gilets, and says the subtext is that “we’re all under attack from the political establishment and must protect ourselves”.

Junya Watanabe Man show, Paris Fashion Week Men’s, 2018.



Junya Watanabe Man show, Paris fashion week men’s, 2018. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

The trend also speaks volumes about where masculinity is right now, argues Jonathan Heaf, features director of British GQ, who compares it to the recent popularity of beards and lumberjack shirts: “The rationale was, if you dressed like a gnarly woodsman, no one would notice you couldn’t put up a shelf.”Hi-vis is an extension of that, “workwear for men whose idea of physical labour is posting a selfie as part of a ‘paid for partnership’ with Leyland building supplies,” he says, with an arched eyebrow. “Contemporary though it looks, the closest anyone who actually wears a Burberry jacket in ‘hazard orange’ has got to a building site is while making their way through Glastonbury car park to the hospitality bar.”

Calvin Klein 205W39NYC show, New York Fashion Week 2018.



Calvin Klein 205W39NYC show, New York fashion week 2018. Photograph: Angela Weiss/habitat.co.uk

But what of the men who wear hi-vis at work, for their own safety? I showed photographs of the Burberry, Heron Preston, Junya Watanabe, Calvin Klein and Undercover catwalks to Scott Magdalani, who works with the fire brigade. He is not surprised: “I’ve seen military and biker trends on catwalks, so why not the manual worker look? I think some of these hi-vis outfits will catch on.”

Reflective details offer an interesting dimension to an otherwise standard jacket or shirt, Magdalani says – so much so that he doesn’t view wearing hi-vis out-of-hours as a busman’s holiday. “Though there are some things I don’t think I’m edgy enough to wear,” he adds. “Like a bright orange coat.”

Electrician Gary Wisdom is less convinced. “I don’t mind the more minimal designs,” he says, “but some of these looks are just far too over the top.”

More bemused still is tree surgeon Gareth Davies, a former landscaper and model who wears hi-vis when working near roads or rail tracks. “In my younger days, I might have considered wearing hi-vis to go clubbing,” he laughs. He can see Heron Preston’s designs working for the cool kids of east London but thinks other outfits look a bit too convincing and wonders if their wearers might be mistaken for bin men or street sweepers.

Davies can imagine people buying high-street versions – “I’ve noticed men embracing boiler suits and dungarees, so hi-vis will work in that context” – but adds, “The high-end stuff doesn’t seem luxurious to me. Maybe people want to seem more down to earth now, less dressed up?”

Either way, he won’t be going for a directional take on hi-vis up a tree any time soon. “I could see some of these clothes getting caught in things,” he says. “Like your chainsaw.”




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