Decline of the Blue-Collar Working Class, Rise of the Fluro Collar

Has anyone else noticed the trend in worker’s uniforms away from the traditional blue-collar shirt to the fluro yellow/orange polo-style shirt? Maybe it is just australia? I may be imagining things and the traditional blue collar shirt may very well be as ‘popular’ as ever, but everywhere I turn it seems as if fluro is in. Dismissing the question of fashion or taste, what is interesting about this shift — if it exists, which I think to a certain extent it does — is that the durability of denim/cotton blue-collar shirts in the production industries has been replaced by the visibility of fluro-collar shirts in the measurement and circulation industries.

Part of the mythology of the ‘blue collar’ of the working class can traced back to the interwar US depression (via):

“As the country recovered from the Depression, work clothes became something more; they fathered a style and a desire to belong to that working class. Denim began to stand on its own with the power to transform one’s life simply by wearing those magical blue garments.”

See also this brief history of Dickies clothing in the US, which can be traced back to this period. The wiki entry for Blue Collar worker makes the well-known connection between the labour of industrial workplaces and the nature of the clothing:

“A blue-collar worker is a working class employee who performs manual or technical labor, such as in a factory or in technical maintenance “trades,” in contrast to a white-collar worker, who does non-manual work generally at a desk.
This term has a stereotypical connotation in American English, based on historical perspective. Originally it referred to the dress codes of workplaces. Industrial blue-collar workers formerly, and to a large extent still, wear “work clothes” with the shirts of a navy blue color. The clothes are more durable and may be scraped or soiled at work. The dress code may also feature protection from work-related injury, such as hard hats and heavy work boots or steel-toe boots. In contrast, white-collar workers were wearers of the traditional white, button-down shirt; they were not intended to do physical work.”

The ‘fluro’ is short for fluorescent, which is not a colour but an intensity. Fluorescence is an optical phenomenon produced by the heat generated by a change in the energy level of photons within molecules. Fluro is not the same thing as fluorescence, as there is not ‘heat’ generated by things described using the vernacular of ‘fluro’. Fluro pertains to a brightness or hue of colour. It makes one ‘stand out from the crowd’. It is a variation which energises a given population.

The visibility of fluro-collar workers relates to safety. A genealogy of the fluro-collar shirt would have to be traced back to the fluro bibs and waistcoats that various workers have worn to make sure they are visible in the particular context they are working. Such bibs are only ever worn if working in the field. As a safety measure the fluro clothing works as a buffer between a ‘user’ and a ‘technology’. The ‘field’ is normally somewhere in ‘open’ space. The principle danger faced by fluro-collar workers is from technologies of circulation, ie getting run over. it is the insertion of people within the technologically mediated mobilities of heterogeneous populations that has produced the fluro-collar working class.

A quick think about the sorts of jobs that require workers to wear such ‘fluro’ clothing can all be defined by the principle task of either measuring something or controlling the circulation of something. Or another way to think about it is fluro-collar workers either quantify or ‘stratify’ physical reality (a volume of liquid, a breadth of space, etc) or control the rhythms of movement or capture a smooth space for the sake of dromocratic mobility. Here is a list:

1) Sureveyors = ‘measure’ the landscape
2) Servo dudes (haha) = ‘measure’ how much fuel is left in the underground tanks
3) Couriers (and pizza delivery boys, yeah!) = control their own rhythms and the movements of the commodities which they circulate
4) Roadside Assist = Help standed motorists get ‘on the move’
5) Various ‘lollipop’ people (school crosswalks, roadwork ‘stop/slow’, etc) = control the movements of people and cars across certain thresholds

A shift from the production of commodities to a manipulation (either measurement or control) of the localised global flows of commodities, information and people is an interesting shift. This rise in ‘visibility’ and increased distribution across various domains has only happened over the last couple of years. The fluro-collar worker is the working class compliment to the new ‘information technology’ white-collar classes who work on the ‘global side’ of the global flows of commodities, information and people.