Ratty jeans and old T-shirts are no longer your only clothing options when working around the house or building do-it-yourself projects. Proper workwear is durable, comfortable and safer to use than standard clothing. Here is what you should look for when selecting work apparel.
Sneakers are absolute junk for doing any type of outdoor project. They offer little traction which makes slipping a possibility, and they provide no support or protection for your feet. A basic work boot will outperform any standard shoe based on features alone.
Look for a 6" boot to offer the best combination of support and flexibility. A full grain leather upper is the most durable, but it is a heavier material and may not have the water resistance you require. A Goodyear welt constructed boot is a great benefit as it can be resoled numerous times which prolongs the life of your boot.
Steel toes are no longer de rigueur for work boots (unless you are on a jobsite that requires them due to safety> regulations), and there are plenty of boot options that include composite protective toes which are lighter than steel. Regardless of what type of protection you select, make sure your boot manufacturer meets the ASTM standards for protective footwear. A boot that doesn't may not be sturdy enough to withstand an impact or offer electrical hazard resistance.
Most of today's denim is fashion apparel and is no longer built to serve as durable and protective clothing, so you shouldn't wear it as such.
Canvas and twill work pants provide better protection and often include reinforced seams, extra pockets, and heavy duty buttons and zippers. Carhartt is a leader in this space and also offers flame resistant gear if needed. Look to Sweden for innovative work pants from Blaklader. Europe is ahead of the curve for technical work gear and Blaklader pants are a great example. They feature cordura knees, removable knee pads, and external pockets (like wearing an attached tool belt).
Shirts And Tops
100% cotton shirts are the most breathable and can be found in heavier knit for more durability. Like athletic gear, you can find work shirts with moisture wicking features. You can even find an extra long shirt that is specifically made to combat "plumbers crack".
The strongest shirts are poly/cotton blends. Many are treated for stain resistance and won't wrinkle, but they retain heat more.
Avoid shirts that are too loose fitting as they can drag across wet paint or get snagged in machinery or tools.
A baseball cap should be a minimum to protect yourself from the sun when working outdoors. Find one with extra flaps in the back to protect your neck if you are really concerned about sun exposure.
A wide-brimmed cotton hat will give you the most sun protection and also serves to keep sweat from dripping in your eyes while you are working.
Next to boots, work gloves provide the most obvious protection. Simple leather and denim gloves are available cheaply and provide a lot of protection but very little in regards to fit and comfort.
Invest in high quality work gloves that fit snug, and secure firmly at the wrist. A good glove will fully protect your fingers but allow some tactile sense. Klein Tools and Mechanix Wear are great places to start.
Cold weather shouldn't impede your desire to work outside, and with the proper coat, vest or overalls you'll stay warm enough to finish your task.
Avoid outerwear that is puffy or loose fitting. It should keep you warm and drape close to your body, but not impede your movements.
For wet environments, make sure the fabric of your outerwear is designed to resist water, or go with a full-synthetic material.
Lifehacker's Workshop column covers DIY tips, techniques and projects.