They say, “The clothes make the man” because what you wear to work can often be an indication of your status. It also makes for some handy labels for different categories of work. As dress codes have relaxed, the workplace looks less uniform, but the idea of sorting people by colors associated with their work has picked up steam.
White collar is likely the oldest designation, with the first recorded usage in 1910.* Collars were a relatively new invention, having come about in the previous 100 years. As a bit of sartorial luxury, white collars came to represent the newly burgeoning middle class of bankers, merchants, and office workers. Often associated with wearing a tie, being a white-collar worker usually means managerial or administrative work in an office for a pretty good salary.
Blue collar first came up as a counterpoint to white collars as early as 1924.* For blue-collar workers, think of the blue jumpsuits or denim work shirts often associated with mechanics or factory workers. Blue-collar jobs tend to be jobs that demand less education and more physical labor. They don’t pay quite as well but were historically considered jobs to support a family with, hopefully so the kids could grow up and get white-collar jobs.
Although blue collar and white collar reflected the actual predominant color of the clothes of earlier workers, the rise of pink-collar workers in the 1970s was about gender. Women were flooding into the workplace, mostly in service jobs, and pink was associated with femininity. Pink-collar workers tended to work in retail, administrative services, education, and customer service, but the term is falling out of favor because of its sexist connotations.
Green collar was yet another evolution—and we are not talking 1970s lime green leisure suits. Green is associated with the environmental movement. As that sector has grown with a variety of industrial and technological branches, the professionals in those areas have become known as green-collar workers.
The collar designation makes for an easy shorthand, so many more have been coined, although they are not used nearly as widely:
- Grey collar: These jobs fall somewhere in between white and blue, such as firefighters and police officers, but the term is also often used to represent older workers and workers who are underemployed despite having specialized skills, such as healthcare workers and IT technicians.†
- Gold collar: Workers in specialized fields such as law, engineering, or finance.*
- Chrome collar: Jobs that can be automated or done by robots.*
- Open collar: If you work from home, you don't have to button up that collar.‡
- No collar: As the name implies, people not bound by the usual work world, such as artists and volunteers. It is also sometimes used to refer to tech-industry people.*
Regardless of what color collar your job or industry might be associated with, there are always opportunities for professionals with strong business skills and knowledge. You may wish to consider a BS in Business Administration or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to take your career—or collar—to a new level.
*Wickman, F.; Working Man's Blues: Why Do We Call Manual Laborers Blue Collar?, on the internet at www.slate.com/articles/business/explainer/2012/05/blue_collar_white_collar_why_do_we_use_these_terms_.html.
†Khalid, M. S.; "White, Blue, Pink or Grey: What Colour Collar Are You?" on the internet at www.linkedin.com/pulse/white-blue-pink-grey-what-colour-collar-you-jobs-khalid.
‡Choughari, H.; "Types of Collar Workers!" on the internet at www.linkedin.com/pulse/whats-types-collar-workers-hassan-choughari.