TikTokers, celebrities and your fashionable friends may all be rocking Dickies and Doc Martens, but that doesn’t mean these clothing items we consider stylish today were intended to be couture. From Carhartt to Levi’s, certain brands and materials have histories not steeped in fashion, but in sweat. These trends came from construction sites and hospital halls, not the catwalks and runways, but they are blowing up all the same. Built to be durable and functional, workwear lends consumers an authentic look that is made to last.
This brand, beloved by hard workers and hype beasts alike, began outfififitting Detroit railroad workers in 1889 and has been run by the same bloodline ever since, according to its website. Their inventory includes classic clothing items like sweatshirts, trousers, jackets and t-shirts, as well as boots and personal protective equipment like high-visibility gear, scrubs and flame- resistant fits. Carhartt has been heavily adopted by streetwear and hip hop culture moguls— in 1994 the Carhartt Work In Progress line became both the company’s European distributor and link to pop culture, producing trendier gear and sponsoring skate and BMX teams.
Denim jeans were first invented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davies in 1871, according to Smithsonian Magazine, because the pants Davies was making for miners at the time were not tough enough to withstand taxing conditions. He came up with the idea of canvas strengthened with rivets, and patented it with the help of Strauss. The first pairs were brown, but in the early 1900s the team started making blue jeans, which were eventually adopted by youth culture and gradually became a wardrobe must-have as the century wore on.
Flannel isn’t just a plaid-patterned shirt—it’s a tough fabric first created by the Welsh in the 17th century to provide better protection against their wet and windy Wales winters, according to gearpatrol. com. It rose in popularity during the 19th century, spreading across Europe and the U.S. in part thanks to an American entrepreneur named Hamilton Carhartt. Today, this durable fabric is a stable in both outdoor wear and grunge fashion.
Dickies originally started out as a small company making bib overalls in Texas in 1922. They expanded to making work pants, tops and other blue-collar necessities, and as the years went on the styles were adopted outside of the job site. Rappers in the 80s and skateboarders in the 90s, their site says, jumped onboard, and Dickies now serves this base by carrying a skate and streetwear collection.
Did you know that overalls first appeared in the British Army in the 1750s? According to the Kansas Historical Society, this garment was typically worn by miners and railroad workers in the early 20th century to protect their formal clothing underneath.
Corduroy dates back to ancient Egypt, but it didn’t become the fabric we use today until the 19th century when an updated version began being produced in England, according to gloverall.com. ThThe heavy material was ideal for factory and military use, and was adapted for use in many World War II uniforms. It’s popularity grew in the 1960s and 1970s as it was adopted by counter-cultural movements and worn by celebrities like Bob Dylan.
The trucker hat came about in its true form in the 1970s as a promotional give-away from U.S. feed or farming supply companies to farmers, truck drivers (hence the name) or other rural workers as companies began to realize the cap’s potential for advertising and promotional. Cheap to produce, they also became known as ‘feed hats’ or ‘gimmie hats,” According to sneum.com. However, today brands like Supreme have adopted and put their spin on this traditionally cheap accessory.
These sturdy boots have become a cultural icon, brought into the mainstream by British rockers in the late 1900s who emulated the style of the country’s working class, according to their website. While they were once a typical, albeit reliable work show, the brand has leaned into the youth culture that made it popular among the masses, producing styles like heeled, high knee and printed boots in addition to its classic work footwear.
words_navya kulhari. photo_julia dimarco. design_lauren maingot.
This article was published in Distraction’s spring 2022 print issue.