Until the twentieth century, workers and their clothing were very different in appearance from the wealthy and the leisured. Costly outfits, unsuited to hard labour, were often symbols of conspicuous consumption, advertising money and inactivity. Working men and women of course wore much more functional clothing, intended to be robust and hard-wearing as well as warm and protective. Aprons, woollen skirts, short cotton jackets and bedgowns were worn by working women throughout the eighteenth century, whilst men often wore fustian or woollen jackets, and leather or corduroy breeches. Working women like mill girls in the nineteenth century had their woollen shawls, and male household servants might wear a very distinctive uniform or livery, just as shop or bank staff do today. Women and men serving their country during wartime also wear recognizable uniforms intended to signify clearly their role and function.
Above all else. work in the twentieth century has required a smart and practical appearance, with business women adopting the man's trouser suit and carrying a simple bag or briefcase. Corporate identities are also stressed so that public institutions, like banks, or retail organisations, like chainstores, impose a specific uniform, much as schools or hospitals have always done.