Choose These Materials When Buying Work Shorts for Construction


The sweltering heat of summertime may create insufferable conditions on a work site, with some workers able to wear shorts. Many manufacturers offer options crafted from a variety of fabrics suitable for a range of working conditions.

Although shorts may provide significant comfort, keep in mind that skin exposure to factors such as UV rays or jobsite hazards may limit the instances in which shorts can be worn. Job conditions may necessitate fire-resistant or high-visibility materials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have any requirements as it relates to wearing shorts on construction sites. Regulation 1910.132(a) states protective clothing should be provided, used and maintained in sanitary and reliable condition when hazards are present in the workplace, including environment, chemical, radiological and mechanical irritants.

Common fabrics used in shorts include duck (canvas) fabric, cotton, polyester, denim, ripstop, elastane and material blends.

Styles may include carpenter, cargo, utility and general shorts that often accommodate tools.

Duck Fabric

Duck fabric – sometimes called duck canvas – is a weighty, plain, strong woven heavy cotton fabric. The ‘duck’ reference comes from the Dutch word "doek," a linen canvas once used for sailors' white trousers and outerwear. It is a popular choice for workwear and considered second to leather in its ability to block wind. It is considered burn-resistant, but not flammable. Initially stiff and uncomfortable, it becomes more comfortable after a few washes.


Cotton is a natural fiber free of chemicals. As it is hypoallergenic, it does not irritate the skin. It is thermal insulating, protecting against heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Its breathability makes it optimal for hot-weather use. It is stronger when wet. It absorbs moisture quickly – great for those who sweat but not so much so when working in damp or wet work areas. Cotton is a comfortable fabric that can be worn across a variety of weather conditions. It shrinks easily.


Polyester is an inexpensive synthetic material made from petroleum. The polymers used to create the fabric make it durable. It is lightweight, flexible and wrinkle- and shrink-resistant, as well as stain-resistant. Its versatility enables it to be blended with other fabrics such as cotton. Although it can be comfortable and moisture-wicking, it is less breathable than other fabrics and traps perspiration, odors and heat next to the skin, making it uncomfortable in humid weather. While it is flame-resistant, it does melt at high heat. Polyester is mildew- and chemical-resistant. Its weather resistance causes water to bead on its surface, although it is not waterproof. Polyester is UV- and light-resistant, although if the sun can be seen through the material, extra sunscreen protection is recommended. Polyester is nonhypoallergenic and lacks a soft texture. It is easily maintained and dries faster after being washed.


Denim aka “jeans” is a heavy-duty 100% cotton twill fabric woven with an indigo, gray or mottled white yarn. Some may not be 100% cotton and incorporate a material blend with polyester and elastane. Most work shorts will likely include dual utility pockets on the side of one leg, and a tool loop on the other leg. Some shorts will be a cotton/poly blend, making them more abrasion- and wrinkle-resistant. The inclusion of a gusset helps improve comfort and range of motion. A 1% or 2% stretch provides extra comfort. Denim ages and breaks in well, is low maintenance, but not flexible. Also, denim doesn’t easily absorb water. It may not be a good choice for high summer temperatures.


Elastane is a fiber also known as Lycra or spandex. It offers exceptional stretchiness, even when used in combination with other fibers, but can lose that quality over time when exposed to high temperatures. It is resistant to body oils, perspiration and sunlight.


Ripstop is as it sounds – it is designed to not rip or tear due to the use of thick threads of fabric such as cotton, silk, polyester or another material that are interwoven in special patterns to ensure a rip in a strand of fabric is “stopped” in place.


Material blends such as 60% cotton and 40% polyester can offer the best of both worlds, including as breathability, shrink resistance and water repellency. Other blends may include rayon, wool and elastane. 

To stay ahead of the heat this summer, be sure to pair your work shorts with a breathable top layer. Learn how cotton work shirts compare to — and differ from — polyester shirts.

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