What Does Blue Collar Mean?

Blue Collar Meaning

Definition: A type of worker who does manual labor.

Blue-collar work is defined by hourly rates of pay rather than a salary, and it is usually in the fields of mining, manufacturing, sanitation, custodial work, oil field work, construction, warehousing, firefighting, or technical installation.

Blue-collar work is usually, but not always, something that is being built or maintained physically. Light and navy blue shirts hide dirt more easily than white, for example, and appear cleaner than they are. This is convenient for people whose typical workday gets them dirty, but they still need to interact with customers.

Origin of Blue Collar

definition of blue collarIn the early 1900s, manual laborers primarily wore blue shirts because they could be dirtied without being as noticeable as, for example, a white shirt.

In 1910, there was the first reference to white-collar workers, and already by 1924 blue collar was used in opposition to white collar.

The Alden, Iowa Times said,

  • If we may call professions and office positions white collar jobs, we may call the trades blue collar jobs.

By the 1930s, the phrase stood on its own, and it was printed on its own merits in The New York Times for the first time in 1945.

As mentioned in the preceding sentences, blue-collar work contrasts white-collar work.

meaning of blue collar definitionBlue-collar workers are those doing manual labor, and these workers usually work on an hourly basis. If you can imagine a factory, these are the workers on the shop floor.

White-collar workers are those doing administrative or managerial work, and these workers usually work on salary. If you imagine the same factory, these are the workers in the offices generating orders and sales for those on the shop floor.

They each get their name from their respective collars. Blue-collar workers wore blue collars to hide dirt and stains from their clothes. White-collar workers did not have this concern since much of their work was done in offices.

Examples of Blue Collar

It is common to see the phrases,

  • blue-collar worker
  • blue-collar job
  • blue-collar neighborhood

At one point, there were real implications of social class in these phrases,

  • He’s just a blue-collar worker; I can’t marry him.

As both the importance of skilled labor and the number of low-paying white collar jobs have gone up, however, the scales have been somewhat evened, and the distinction is less severe.

More Examples

  • The decline of traditionally male blue-collar work like manufacturing has left many men adrift. –Bloomberg
  • Montreal’s blue collar union and its president were sentenced to pay the maximum fine allowable on Tuesday for having called an illegal one-day strike more than a year ago. –Montreal Gazette

Summary

Blue collar is a description of manual labor, usually some form of construction or skilled trade. It is used to distinguish between white-collar clerical and administrative work.

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