David Lockwood, an English sociologist, came up with the phrase “Black-Coated Worker” to refer to ordinary clerical and office employees back in the days when a black suit was considered to be appropriate attire for the workplace. As suit fabrics evolved to have a wider range of colors, more women joined the workforce, and workplaces increasingly became heated to the point that suit coats were removed upon arrival, this term was replaced by “white-collar worker.”
Black-Coated Worker is a typical office or clerical employee. The white-collar worker is the sociological term that is more often used to describe this kind of employee. A historical account of a group of these workers, Currency by Lockwood (1958), also serves as a refutation of straightforward proletarianization theories.
Lockwood made a distinction between “labor,” “market,” and “status circumstances.” Office employees and the majority of the working class have always been clearly divided by position, pay, and working conditions. The market conditions for regular non-manual employees and manual workers have become closer over time.
However, there were still noticeable disparities between the work- and status-related events. Black-coated employees maintained a higher level of prestige than manual workers, among other things, and manual and non-manual workers were physically separated at the workplace. This accounted for variations in political opinions and class awareness, with black-coated employees more likely to identify as middle class and support the Conservative Party. In a new edition of the Black-coated Worker, Lock Wood disputes any claims that office workers have undergone radical deskilling or proletarianization in a postscript to the study.