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A History of Carhartt - From Workwear to Styling Icon

Posted on April 06 2022

carhartt collage

 

Background on Carhartt

The iconic workwear brand Carhartt has been going since 1889 and was founded in Detroit, Michigan. Carhartt is known for their classic and reliable workwear with streamlined silhouettes and classic streetwear cuts. 

 

We love their pieces here at Thrifted but thought we would take a deep dive on the history and development of this much-loved brand. There is a reason why their pieces sell so well in a diverse streetwear category and why they have been going for so long.

 

Their designs and cuts are known for their heavy-duty overalls, vests, jackets, coats, shirts, jeans, dungarees and many more. The brand initially started out particularly aimed at men but in recent years there has been more development into their female workwear and collections.

 

We have seen the brand stay attached to workwear at its core but diversify into everyday classics that aren't as heavy duty. They began to gain traction in the late 1980s when many hip-hop communities adopted Carhartt as their own. Since then, it has stayed as effortlessly cool. It is still well-loved by many high-profile rappers, skaters, and streetwear lovers alike.

 

In more recent years, the Carhartt beanie gained traction on Tiktok. With high-profile celebrities such as Rihanna and David Beckham have been seen wearing these viral beanies. The Tiktok trend started to build in 2020 and then soon became a viral sensation with everyone from young kids to mothers all showing their Carhartt beanies.

 

 

How Long it’s Been Running For

 

Although this much-loved brand was started in 1889, they first began distributing in 1994. 

 

 In 1889, Hamilton Carhartt left school early to start his own business. This business began as a wholesale furniture business and quickly turned into a purely workwear apparel manufacturer. 

 

Determined to get the apparel right, Hamilton sought after the advice of rail workers and asked them what exactly they wanted in workwear. The key underlying message that he found was that they wanted workwear that was hard-wearing, reliable and fit for purpose.

 

Fast-forward to 1925, and after gaining traction and support for his workwear, this is when they first set up their plans for worldwide domination and to send the Carhartt brand global.

 

After setting up different subsidiaries and manufacturing bases across the world, they showed their first collection in New York in 1991.

 

By 1993, a “workwear” trend was gaining popularity and this is when the brand saw the hip-hop and street community adopt the brand as their own.

 

This rise in popularity saw the once humble apparel brand gain notable mentions in publications such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Soon after, this popularity translated to the European markets as “heritage garments” of the American workers.

 

Since then they have updated their style but still kept their ethos and values the same as in 1889. The adoption of the brand by the streetwear and hip-hop communities is still there to this present day. 

 

More recently, they have been consistently linked with the skater and skateboarding and BMX communities. They have also opened and developed skateparks with the help and involvement of the local communities.

Figure 1 - Carhartt’s classic workwear-inspired bib. Figure 1 - Carhartt’s classic workwear-inspired bib.

 

They extended their reach after the rise in popularity within hip-hop communities across America .They created “Carhartt Work in Progress'  in 1989 which was primarily targeted to customers in Asia and Europe. This heavily influenced who the brand is today as we would not have the diversity of pieces without this sub-collection. This sub-brand is still going in the present day and continues to offer pieces more suited to European and other markets.

 

Who Wore it - how it transitioned to becoming a fashion piece 

 

The workwear inspired pieces that started in 1889 have always been made with ultra masculine designs, with large and bulky pieces. Therefore naturally, these pieces lended themselves to the 90s hip-hop era. This connection of the two began in New York and some parts of Los Angeles. This also meant that these communities took on these pieces as their own and as part of their culture. Subsequently, Carhartt began to feature in many rappers’ and artists’ music videos at the time. 

 

This link to the hip-hop scene has continued into 2022, with Kanye West regularly wearing cargo pants and jackets as his everyday apparel. But also, the likes of Asap Rocky and Asap Ferg adopting the brand as a favourite. Therefore, naturally these pieces have become staples in fashion culture and key streetwear pieces for your collection.

 

Ever since Carhartt started to gain popularity among the different communities, it has stayed a firm favourite. Lots of high profile people such as Brooklyn Beckham, Kanye West, Bella 

Hadid and Kaia Gerber are all religious wearers of the brand.

 

Carhartt Collaborations

Figure 2 - Carhartt’s collection with WTAPS

Figure 2 - Carhartt’s collection with WTAPS

 

 

Since 2010 Carhartt has collaborated with many like-minded brands and still continues to do so to this day. Some of the most popular ones have been Adam Kimmel, A.P.C, Chipotle and Converse. These collaborations have widened their reach and refined their designs allowing the brand to reach more people without losing their classic “workwear” ethos.

 

A key collaboration took shape in 2015 with the brand WTAPS for a fall/winter collection in 2015. Both brands had history in American utilitarian workwear which made for a natural partnership. The Tokyo-based brand stood out amongst previous collaborations for its bold typography striped across the back of some of Carhartt classic and most well-known pieces. 

                            

One of their biggest collaborations was with the Paris-based brand APC. This collection led to four collections in total and both brands took on nods to the other in certain pieces. Whether it was swapping labels and logos to large prints on the chest, the collection was a great balance of rugged but refined pieces. One of the standout pieces of the collaboration was a clean cut grey knit jumper (more typical of APC)  but with added shoulder patches and a chest pocket as a clear nod to Carhartt. The pieces from this collaboration were quickly snapped up and is why it was such a stand-out collaboration for the brand.

 

Another collaboration that really stood out was with Japanese designer Watanabe.This collaboration took place in 2018 at Paris Fashion Week. In this collection we saw the classic Carhartt shapes reimagined but still in keeping their unique brown canvas material. In Watanabe's own words it was a “legit way to wear workwear”.

 

In 2021 the brand collaborated with classic American eatery, Chipotle, in order to shine a brighter light on the issues farmers are facing in the US industry. In true Carhartt style, there was a custom designed apron, hat, and other pieces with the classic Carhartt patch with the Chipotle logo.The profits from the joint collection were part of an initiative to go towards helping farmers and landowners. They particularly focused on younger farmers to make it a more sustainable process for the future.

 

Another recent collaboration that took place is with the brand Bodega in 2021.The aim of the collaboration was to create “reimagined classics and seasonal essentials”. The fall/winter collection took shape in the form of double knee trousers, a thick coat, vests, aprons, beanies and caps. This collaboration stood out through the use of reconfigured utility pockets on pieces like graphic tees and logos embroidered onto the pockets of jeans in the Bodega classic logo.

 

Overall, the way the brand of Carhartt has developed and reimagined itself over the years is one of the reasons we believe it to be such a staple to this day. The brand has stood true to itself and is largely why it is still a classic. From the communities that follow the brand religiously to the brand's humble beginning back in 1889, the brand continues to redevelop itself for both men and women in 2022.

 

Here are our classic Carhartt picks: 

These picks are some of the classic staples any Carhartt wearer needs. Whether it is one of their classic hoodies, gilets or sell-out jackets our vintage Carhartt pieces are always quickly snapped up. Alternatively, whether you need a staple durable jacket or gilet, our selection has got you covered for all weathers and needs.

1- Vintage Carhartt Hoodie - Small Yellow Cotton

2- Vintage Carhartt Gilet - Medium Red Nylon

3- Vintage Carhartt Jeans - Grey Cotton   

4- Vintage Carhartt Jacket - Blue Denim

 

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