Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 1

Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 1

In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.

One might think that a geek, a techie, a maker, might not be that particular about what he or she wears. We’re certainly not likely to be paying attention to what the latest fashion crazes are or what’s sashaying down the runways of Paris and New York. But ask said maker/geek about what he or she is wearing and carrying in his or her pockets, and you’ll likely get a very long, precision rant on the functionality, durability, and methods of everything. Geeks might be no less particular about clothing, accessories, and personal items, they’re just likely more focused on substance than style (or have a very unique take on style). We asked a bunch of folks in the maker/hacker community to tell us something about what they wear and carry and why. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.

We got such a tremendous response that we’re going to split this Toolbox into two parts. Part 1 will cover clothing, shirts, pants, footwear, and outerwear. Part 2 will look at bags, pouches, and cases, pens, notebooks, and other carried items.

Shirts (with pockets!)
One of the first things we noticed as a trend was makers telling us they only wear shirts with pockets (so they can carry pens, small notebooks, etc.). This is a particular obsession of mine. I don’t want to wear anything that doesn’t have a pocket (including my T-shirts). It so bums me out that, even geek-targeted T-shirts don’t have pockets! Hey geek/maker/hacker community (and that means you too, Maker Shed!) — industrious, creative, big-brained people want to carry pens, 3×5 cards, and other tools that don’t live so well in pants pockets. Give us pockets in our T-shirts — and not those matchbook-sized ornamental pockets — real pockets!


Keith Hammond, MAKE’s Copy Chief, recommended Ben Davis shirts. Jeff Casimir, of HacDC and Jumpstart Lab, also recommended these shirts. Keith Hammond writes:

I’m a longtime fan of Ben Davis short sleeve shirts, 1/2 zipper front — bombproof, grease-resistant work fabric (great for workshop or bike commute), cut loose (that’s why hip-hoppers love ’em, also great for bike commutes), and not one but two shirt pockets, with a pencil slot on the left one. Plus, the ape logo, evoking our tool-using primate superiority.




Not surprisingly, a lot of people said they’re fond of cargo pants, but they didn’t give specific brand recommendations. That’s what I frequently wear. I especially like them when I travel because you can easily access the lower pockets from a plane seat (and there are plenty of pockets to hold all of your carry-on gear). I buy a lot of my cargos from Old Navy. For the spring and summer, I wear their thin, light cotton cargos. In the fall and winter, I switch to a thicker, more rugged fabric. Prices run from $20 (on sale) to $40.


MAKE pal Kent Barnes swears by BlÃ¥kläder pants. “They take knee pad inserts, which is very important to me.”


Tom Georgoulias swears by Dickies work pants, specifically Dickies 874s ($13-33):

They’re super durable, have nice sized pockets, come in all sorts of colors, and are cheap and easy to find in local stores and online. I’ve been wearing 874s for over 20 years and don’t really have any other brand of pants in my wardrobe. I’ve tried painters pants and other pants with lots of side pockets and loops, but it always seems like stuff falls out of them when I squat down, climb a ladder, etc. Having two front and two back pockets is still the best.


Earlier this year, MAKE contributor Todd Lappin published a review in Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tool newsletter about these “beat cop” staples, the DutyPro Uniform Trousers ($25). Todd said:

Until someone sees fit to design a proper pair of dress pants that can accommodate a mobile phone, I found an acceptable solution in the pages of Galls, my favorite law-enforcement catalog. Beat cops wear dress-style slacks as a basic part of their uniforms, and some of those slacks come with a “sap pocket” — a small pocket built into the rear of the leg that’s used to hold billy clubs, blackjacks, or flashlights. For civilians, however, a sap pocket is also great for holding cellphones.


Mark Adams, of Dorbot DC and HacDC, loves his military fatigues. He told us why:

For pants, I like M-1951 fatigue pants (or the equivalent cold weather shells when it’s cold). They have a ton of pockets, including cargo pockets that can carry an enormous amount of gear, and snap closures on all the pockets — even the ones in front. They last an eternity and wear like iron. I’ve been wearing a pair of them that I bought (surplus) in college, around 1985. They have finally worn enough that I bought a new pair. (I have mended them, of course, replacing buttons, etc.) This includes various long-term backpacking trips to Central America and elsewhere for weeks at a time. Solid. You can get them at a number of places that sell military surplus, but they are getting harder to find. Expect to pay about $35-40/pair. During the summer, I like the lighter “quick-dry” nylon fatigues, but they don’t last as long. The local mountaineering store used to sell a pair that zipped into shorts, which is nice.




Kent also recommends the New Worker Twin Fisted Fleece Vest. It sports a zipped breast pocket, two zipped front pockets, phone pocket, tool loop, sturdy zip reaching up to collar, a drawstring waist, reinforced front sections, and is windproof. It retails for $70


Boots on the ground (and shoes)


You’re likely to find Caterpillar Alaska FX Steel Toe boots on Kent Barnes’ feet. These rugged, lace-up work boots feature a Nylon mesh lining, a removable “PU” sock liner, a T15 rubber outsole, and Goodyear welt construction. They are slip and electrical hazard resistant and meet all steel toe ANSI/ASTM standards. They retail for $130.


Also not surprisingly, a lot of people recommended black, military-issue combat boots.

Mark Adams confesses:

I like standard Marine-issue black combat boots. I have only owned two pair in my life — the first bought surplus in high school (and they were not in the best of shape even then). And, another pair bought new when I was living in Boston in the mid-1990s. I still have and wear those. Indestructible, and really, really comfortable. With a good pair of wool socks and a cotton pair as a liner, you can withstand the cold, and walk forever. You have to take care of your boots, but they last forever (can you tell I grew up in a military family?).

I have a trusty pair of Doc Martens myself and they’ve become a central part of my (non-desk) work (and play) outfit. They’re the original 8-eye cap-toed black boot. They retail for $120. I got mine, new, on eBay for $99 with free shipping.


In summer, Mark Adams swears by his Converse High Tops (black, of course). Me too! I’ve worn black high top Chucks since I was a teenager. And it seems like they’ve been $40 retail forever.




Our very own John Baichtal recommends the Scott eVest Hoodie ($70):

It has 11 pockets, special channels for gadget wires, loops for earbuds, magnetic pocket closures, a secret pocket, and a lot more!


Mark Adams again:

My bother and I also have matching Scott eVest Tactical jackets (~$230), in black of course. He put an arm-patch on his from the BPRD (see the Hellboy comic) so we can tell them apart. It has a zillion pockets and has the really interesting feature of cable routing between pockets. My brother and I were really into wearable computing a while back, so this was very handy. 9/11 kind of put a damper on this type of clothing, since he and I kept finding ourselves having to empty out all of our pockets when going through metal detectors. (An occupational hazard when you do a lot of work for the government or travel a lot — and I do both.)

It appears that Scott eVest no longer carries the Tac jacket. Here’s a link to their current jacket line.


And then, there’s Collin


Our very own Collin Cunningham gets the “Own Drummer” award for his maker sartorial. He doesn’t wear cargos and geeky shirts with special pockets — he wears a natty coat and tie… and a crisp white shirt. In answer to my query, he wrote simply: “No question: suit jacket/blazer.” And added: “Maybe a lab coat … do they come in velvet?” Collin in a crushed velvet lab coat? He’d look like a cross between a science nerd and Elvis after-dark. Somebody, get this man a velvet lab… stat!

In the next Toolbox, Maker Sartorial Part 2, we look at bags, pouches, cases, pens, notebooks, and other carried items. In the meantime, tell us what you wear, and why, in Comments.



24 thoughts on “Toolbox: Maker sartorial, part 1

  1. Becky Stern says:

    I’m singing Bowie’s “Fashion” to myself over this, and I wish we could get vogue-y pictures of Makers in their favorite duds. *swoon*

  2. Gareth Branwyn says:

    “We are the geek squad and we’re coming to town. Beep. Beep.”

    >I wish we could get vogue-y pictures of Makers in
    >their favorite duds. *swoon*

    Yeah, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Keith Hammond working one of those black Ben Davis shirts!

  3. Darren Landrum says:

    We should totally have a fashion show at Maker Fair Detroit. :)

    “And here comes Phil in his Old Navy cargo pants, showing off their versatility by whipping out his Pocket Ref…”

  4. Inventorjack says:

    The only jeans I wear are Carpenter style. I don’t care which brand. I like the style because it’s usually loose fitting enough to actually do some work in, the pockets are a bit bigger than other jean styles, and the extra little side pocket makes me happy. It can hold a cellphone or any other gadget, which I find VERY convenient.

    I do with I could find some ESD safe clothes other than lab coats. I mean, lab coats are cool, but sometimes when I’m in my own personal lab at home, I’d rather wear something a bit more casual when I’m handling expensive FPGAs, etc. The closest I’ve found so far are…
    … but I’ve not tried them yet. Anyone have any suggestions or tried any products like this and have recommendations? (I’m not associated with that company, but it’s about the only place that seems to have ESD clothes that look ‘normal’)

    And I have to say, I’m a bit jealous of Collin’s lab fashion. I’m not sure I could pull off a blazer at the workbench nearly as well.

    – Jack

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      hey Jack – you’ll never know until you try!

  5. says:

    I sew, so whenever I make pants, shirts, or even corsets for myself, I am perpetually adding pockets to them. My last shrug had upper arm pockets to fit a small screwdriver, and flashlight. I have a small pile of things I like to cart around with me, which include tools sometimes, and instead of using a bag, I just pocket-ize everything I own. I thought it was my own weird eccentric habit, now I find it’s rather common in the tinkering crowd.

  6. Rik says:

    I’m a big believer in the cargo pants too. I’ve worn UK-style combat pants for years, in relatively anonymous black. They’re made by Thatchreed uniforms and have a NATO sizing number on them. They call them “OG” or “Olive Green”, regardless of colour – makes them hard to search for …
    They’re great, but you can’t get them in the US – sorry Americans.

    Recently I decided to finally take the jump and get myself some non-black pants. I saw a deal on 5.11 gear, and got myself a set of their CAMS pants. I’ve only taken them off to wash them since. Double material on knees and other hard-wearing areas. Stain/spill resistant material. More pockets than any other pants I’ve worn. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it, in my opinion.

    A quick run down on the pockets – hip pockets are large enough to fit your whole hand in with the fingers extended and completely conceal your watch. The lowest point of the opening on the pockets is reinforced with an extra layer of material so that you can clip you pocket knife/pen/multitool there without causing excess damage.

    There are pockets on the front of your thigh large enough to hold an iPhone easily and comfortably. For the shooters out there they will apparently take an M16 magazine.

    The thigh pockets have two pockets on the outside of them – one for cellphones with a velcro flap that covers it, and the other it just open. The main section of the thigh pocket has dividers inside that will take another M16 magazine each according to the product photos, and the divider itself has the soft side of velcro on it so that you can velcro more accessories on. The storage room outside of the dividers is quite huge. The rear pockets have a velcro closure and will also entirely conceal a hand, carry a water bottle, etc, and also have the clip-protecting corners like the hip pockets.

    They’re smart enough that I can wear them in the office. They’re room enough that I can carry all my stuff. That’s what the name stands for – Carry All My Stuff.

    And no, I don’t work for the company – I’m just enthusiastic :)

    For a jacket I wear a tadgear stealth hoodie classic. It again has a lot of storage area, but there’s no inner pockets on the newer versions. I’m tempted to add them myself, but we’ll see. Features are big pockets on the chest high up, pockets on each sleeve and an ID pocket on the forearm, and zipper that’ll cover your neck. The hood rolls away, and there’s drawstrings to pull the neck closed around you for warmth. For cooling there’s under-arm zippers and a duck pocket at the back. For a thin, light jacket it’s quite impressively warm.

  7. tmfark says:

    I recently discovered and will be saving up to really check a pair out. Big fan of cargo pants. Besides tools and just STUFF I hate sitting on a wallet.

  8. Mike M says:

    I found these suspenders that work great, clipping to the sides of the pants, rather than the front and back.

    I prefer the Undergarment Hip-Clip No-Buzz which goes under the shirt and does not set off the TSA security devices. They would work great with the Ben Davis shirts.

  9. CptofMySoul says:

    What!?! No votes for the Utilikilt (

    1. Jack says:

      Nope. No votes.


  10. Norm says:

    I took a trip to Africa a few years ago, and bought one of these to keep emergency funds in:

    I liked it so much that I wear it all the time now – it’s nice to have a stash of emergency funds handy, and the plastic buckle does not set off the metal detector in the airport. The thing was cheap, and has lasted longer than most of my other belts. The pouch is long, and could certainly be used for other things, as long as they could flex.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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