The blue singlet, for decades the favoured sartorial item of the Australian working man, is in danger of being replaced by fluorescent polo shirts.
Health and safety authorities have ruled that the singlet, worn by labourers, truck drivers and sheep shearers, is not sufficiently striking in colour. Instead, they want workers to wear brightly hued shirts. "It's a safety issue," Mark Crosdale, an official with the Transport Workers Union, said.
Mr Crosdale said it was important to "visibly enhance" truck drivers (known here as "truckies") when they stepped out of their vehicles at building sites. "It is not actually a law, but over the past couple of years many major companies have phased in bright shirts for drivers."
The dark blue singlet - usually stained with sweat and teamed with rubber flip-flops and ill-fitting trousers, was popularised by Jackie Howe, a circus acrobat turned stockman. Howe became an Australian legend after shearing 321 sheep in just under eight hours, all with hand shears, on a farm in 1892. His record still stands, and his trademark blue vest, worn by many rural workers, is still referred to as a Jackie Howe singlet.
Many Australian men are reluctant to change. Wayne Thornton, a 46-year-old truck driver, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper that he felt ambivalent about the polo shirts. "It was slightly embarrassing at first," he said. "Because they are so bright, I felt a bit silly."
Mark Hall, another long-haul truck driver, said nothing could beat his old blue singlet. "When I started driving, I was transporting meat," he said. "I used to wear the blue singlet under a shirt to keep my kidneys warm while I was in the freezer."
Mr Crosdale said mainly short-haul drivers had switched to fluorescent shirts. "The long-haul drivers, particularly the interstaters who are in their trucks for long periods, tend to stick with the blue singlet," he said.
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