Functional style has been making waves in the menswear world for a few years now but, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdowns the utility trend has officially secured its place as a style mainstay.
Focusing on practicality over everything, utility style could be defined as the middle ground between workwear and outdoor wear – but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s loose, it’s comfy, but it looks put together and fits perfectly. And as far as trends go they don’t get much more inclusive than this.
Here, we’ll explore exactly what utility style means, examples of how to incorporate utility menswear into your own wardrobe, and the best brands to look to as bastions of the style.
What is utility style?
If you love classic everyday pieces that feel functional and easy to wear, you’ll love utility style.
The look takes its name from the utilitarian pieces that make up the trend, often inspired by manual labor and army uniforms but with a streetwear twist.
From fly fishing jackets to cargo pants, chunky-soled shoes to many-pocketed vests, utility style at first glance doesn’t really seem like a style at all. The look is all about function over fashion – although when it’s done right, that does come as an effortless byproduct of utility style.
Putting the onus on practicality, utility style incorporates loose fitting clothing that feels comfortable and never restrictive. It’s often minimal, in terms of cut, color, and design, although many utility pieces incorporate belts, pockets, and straps as part of their functional appeal. Think light fabrics that are easy to layer, and simple staple pieces that can be worn interchangeably.
Textures like canvas, hemp, and even anti-stab style padding all have a place in utility wardrobes alongside camo prints and black, beige, and khaki tones. In fact, one of the things we love most about utility style is how the simplicity of the look allows men of all trends and persuasions to incorporate and reimagine it to suit their own interpretation, from subtle nods to whole-hog eccentricities.
How to incorporate utility style into your outfits
Unlike more specific trends that spawn from an obvious inspiration source or reference point, utility style is more open for interpretation. And though that might sound daunting if you’re not too sure where to start, it’s actually one of the things that makes utility style easy to wear – there are endless iterations for incorporating utility style into your wardrobe.
The whole point of the look is that it’s relaxed, pared-back, and the antithesis to over-thought ‘trendy’ outfits. Everyone from streetwear icons to dog walking dads can pull off utility dressing in their own way – stars ranging from Kanye West to Liam Hemsworth to David Beckham have been hailed as icons of the utility trend. So all you need to do is decide where your personal take on the look falls on the spectrum.
Keep it simple
The trick to nailing utility style is not to over-do it. If you’re totally new to the trend, ease in with a pair of work boots, straight-leg jeans or chinos, and a plain jacket or tee. If you ever feel overdressed or uncomfortable, you’ve taken the utility look too far. Swapping out a pair of your favorite J.Crew chinos for some OG-107 style fatigue pants is an easy first step.
Fall back on functional pieces
It’s easy to see how blending comfort and style has become such a huge trend in a post-pandemic world where we’ve all grown so used to our loose-fitting at-home pieces. So if you want to adapt utility style into your wardrobe for its effortlessly cool appeal, pulling on a utility jacket with a pair of cargo pants and a plain tee or shirt is an easy choice.
It’s not too scruffy when you need to step outside, but you don’t have to let go of your on-the-sofa comfort. And though this is, technically, a full utility look, each piece is so firmly secured as a wardrobe classic in its own right that it doesn’t look over the top or costume-like.
Layering pieces like fishing vests, overshirts, and hoodies with cargo pants and plain, chunky trainers or work boots brings utility dressing into any season. Since the look is designed to be layered, you can pick out as many pieces as you need to face the elements.
The key to utility style is lightweight and layerable, so even if you’ve layered up four pieces it should never look bulky or stiff.
If you’re ready and willing to take your utility style a step further, look to accessories like bucket hats, bullet vests, and bulky bags to complete the look. You can keep the palette earthy and classic, or add in eye-catching pieces like the iconic Off-White yellow and black strap belt. If you’re confident in your style and love to make a statement, the trick to making your mark on a utility outfit is to keep it subtle, or else you risk stepping away from the simplicity of the trend completely.
Examples Of The Utility Menswear Style Aesthetic
Base your look around a tactical vest that becomes the statement piece, despite its relative minimalism. Keep the rest simple and muted.
Layer loose fitting pieces over a white long-sleeve tee – just be careful not to go too oversized. The look should feel relaxed but still fit well.
Loose-fitting trousers with trainers are an easy hint to the utility look. You can go as loose in the leg and chunky in the shoe as you feel comfortable with.
Though utility pieces usually come in muted tones like beige or khaki, there’s plenty of room to play with the core shapes in brighter colors, if that’s more your style.
Camo print is a key player in the utility look, but make sure you pair it with muted colors to keep the look simple.
The heavier fabric of cargo pants gives them the structure and shape that works perfectly for the utility trend. To avoid feeling like a role play soldier, pair with chunky trainers rather than boots.
The best utility menswear brands to have on your radar
- Carhartt WIP is a classic workwear brand that incorporates the simplicity and loose cuts of utility style across most of its collections.
- Acronym is a German brand known for its innovative designs, technical details, and monochrome palette that embody the functional-yet-stylish elements of utility style.
- Armor Lux is known for its nautical appeal, but its fisherman’s jackets and smocks combine outdoor practicality with utility simplicity, often in a muted and earthy color palette.
- Beams Plus is a simple, laid-back, and stylish brand that hits the spot where utility style meets skate-inspired streetwear.
- Edwin is known for its workwear collections that are simple, timeless, and likely to become staples in your wardrobe for seasons to come .
- Stussy is best known as a skate brand, but the loose fits, long sleeve tees, and utility details like big pockets on its designs make it a perfect choice for those easing into the look.
- Albam prides itself on designing the best staple pieces around. Their plain white tee took 12 months to develop, so you can count on their utilitarian pieces to become long-time favorites.
- Engineered Garments focuses on texture and fabric to create hardy and long-lasting pieces that fit perfectly into your utility look and beyond.
- Urban Outfitters is a less designer-priced option for finding contemporary utility style.