Who are ‘white collars’, ‘blue collars’, and why are they called that?

Those who go to the office every day, and those who descend into the mines, those who master a new profession through computer courses and who, in the old fashioned way, take orders from restaurant visitors with a notebook; even those who do not think about career and work, preferring spiritual growth to professional self-realization, all were awarded one of the “colors” for the conditional “collar”. And it all began once with a simple division into manual labor and mental labor.

Everything is simple here – the work clothes of some were, most often, blue, while others, as a rule, came to the office in white shirts, by the way, and their collars were often removable – putting in order a small piece of clothing is much easier than washing a shirt daily entirely.

The number of those who are not engaged in physical labor, but in work with documents, are in charge of the office, are responsible for calculations and correspondence, increased significantly in the second half of the 19th century. This work activity was considered relatively easy, it allowed to start clothes of impractical white color in the wardrobe, and therefore at the beginning of the last century, clerks were increasingly called “white collars”.

Another thing is manual and manual workers. They preferred durable and inexpensive clothing, one that was less noticeable for dirt – denim, and cambric fabric were well suited for this purpose. Jeans, “denim”, began to be sewn from fabrics of French Nimes (according to another version, this material was imported from Genoa) back in the 17th century.

Blue collars worked in industry, transportation, renovations, and laborers — this continued until recently when a changing world forced sociologists to subcategorize the two main types of collars.

First of all, “pink collars” appeared – as you might guess, referring to those work duties that women traditionally performed. This is almost the entire beauty industry (except for senior management positions), professional childcare, the work of nurses, secretaries, and other specialties of the service sector.

For the needs of the sciences of society, it was incorrect to include these workers in the category of blue collars – due to the specifics of their work, therefore in the seventies, they started talking about “pink”. Over time, the term became more gender-neutral and included already everyone, both men and women, employed in the service sector, including salespeople and waiters.

Variations of white and blue collars

A separate term was introduced for some professions from the “white collars” list – “golden collars”. We are talking about workers who seem to be engaged in intellectual work but nevertheless use much more diverse skills in their activities, and also whose work is especially important for companies and for society. Gold collars pay handsomely. These are, for example, lawyers, surgeons, some engineers, pilots. The term first appeared in the mid-eighties.

Red collars are those employed in the civil service. For some time now, green collars have been called workers whose work is directly related to environmental protection or the use of alternative energy sources.

It is interesting that in the social sciences, in criminology, the concept of “white-collar crime” is primarily used – we are talking about those crimes that are committed in the economic sphere, concerning corruption, fictitious bankruptcy, tax evasion, and other offenses. These crimes are not associated with violence, but in the material sense, the harm to society from them is maximum – if we count it in monetary units.

There are several additional subtypes for blue collars. For example, workers in the mines and the oil industry are called black collars. And the term “orange collar” has stuck with those who work in prisons – since this color in many countries is associated with prisoners’ clothes.

It is clear that the palette is supplemented not for the sake of beauty, and collars are mentioned rather according to the tradition that has developed since the century before last. How comprehensive is the list of colored collars today?

Collars of the future

There are already quite a few colors of collars in sociology, but still, there is a chance, after reading such a list, you will not find your own version in it. The post-industrial world has already departed so far from the realities of the 19th century that it is no longer possible to reduce the diversity of workers to two, even six, or seven categories. At least a few more come to mind and require a separate mention.

For example, new collars are those who acquire the necessary skills not in the classical way, studying at universities and other educational institutions but receiving education and at the same time practical skills for future work through special courses and programs.

Digital industry leaders welcome this approach to staffing. Surprisingly, “workers”, who are not people at all, robots have not been forgotten either; their own term “steel collars” has already been coined for them.

There are those who, in the usual sense of the word, are not engaged in any kind of paid work, preferring personal growth and freedom of expression to it. They are collarless people who have excluded financial gain from their list of top priorities.

This picture of multi-colored collars will not remain static, of course. Typewriters once reduced the demand for well-written white-collar workers, and labor automation took away large numbers of blue-collar workers. All that remains is to speculate about which professions and their categories will soon become a thing of the past.

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