A work shirt is a dress shirt with a job to do. Accordingly, it is designed with buttonholes on its double pockets, stitched with an emphasis on strength and constructed from a sturdy material like khaki or covert or, most classically, a cotton called chambray. You can have a chambray shirt in any color you want, and if that color is blue, you also have a social construct and a rhetorical device: The shirt’s blue collar is a mass-produced idea as durable and versatile as the garment itself. With blue-collar identity now more a matter of cultural style than of occupational history, the term is perfectly slippery, such that the assertions that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has “blue-collar appeal” and an “anti-union agenda” are not fundamentally incompatible. The phrase “blue collar” has flourished precisely because it is concrete in its imagery and vague in its connotations, vividly conjuring a labor-class scene while sidestepping such a nasty word as “class”.
Troy Patterson, “On Clothing”, The New York Times Magazine (6 September 2015), 14.