The other day I was on the prowl for the perfect denim jacket. In the past year, I have been through 3 different ones, all procured from thrift stores or vintage stores, and though there have been pleasing elements to all of them, the fit was always just a little off. I wanted something that felt tailored, but strong-willed, wrought from a good stock of material. I decided to search at the other end of the spectrum: Barneys. From across the well-manicured aisles a sign caught my eye: Adam Kimmel for Carhartt. This brought to my attention the increasing trend of workwear collaborations in menswear.
So really, this is nothing new. Clothing lines bring in new designers quite frequently, right? But one thing that makes this trend different to me, is that the previously monolithic brands I have sought in thrift stores and vintage stores are adopting new captains to steer their ship and new waters to set sail in. Carhartt at Barneys? Color me surprised! I had just complimented a friend of mine on his Carhartt overalls a few days before, and he told me he bought them for a mere $60 new at an actual workwear store here in Seattle (and I’m keeping the name a secret). The jackets in Barneys were well over $300. The same with Pendleton, Levi’s, Woolrich, Gant: all brands I still find in the thrift and vintage world because of their undying style, palette and strong fabrics.
What gives? Am I ready to throw down $300 for a vintage throwback from a brand that still lives in the rummage bins at Goodwill, where clothing is sold by the pound? The answer: yes/sometimes/no.
Last fall I became enamored with Levi’s. They had their finger on the pulse of the workwear trend far before most other brands, mostly because that’s what they evolved from. There is something intrinsically American and industrial about that brand. But they were also doing something I thought was extremely interesting: collaborations with other workwear and classic American entities. Mainly, Filson and Pendleton. FILSON and PENDLETON. As in, Filson’s fucking gorgeous waxed canvas and Pendleton’s American-made Navajo-themed wool in bold, boner-delivering color palettes. The pieces were pricey but not too bad, and I walked away with a Filson-quality garment in the silhouette of the classic Levi’s trucker jacket, at a fraction of what it would cost to buy a brand new Filson piece. I was ecstatic.
So what is going on here? Well, as many other bloggers have noticed on IBC, we are ridiculously nostalgic for the past. A return to when men actually physically worked for a living, when they needed beards or their faces would turn gangrenous from chopping down trees all day in the winter in the PNW, when a single piece of clothing had to last for years and years and function in different settings, both socially and industrially.
Well here we are in the present, where most of us sit in front of a computer all day. I am currently bundled up in a burnt orange and cream 1940s Pendleton cowl-neck sweater as I type this, which I got from an antique store in Florida four years ago. I made an old lady climb up a tall ladder to fetch it from a mannequin bodice that was clearly being used for window-dressing purposes. She wanted people to buy her old plates and dog figurines, not that gorgeous old sweater. I don’t sweat much from physical labor. I want my clothing to remain intact not because I fear winter’s chill or having enough money to purchase another sweater, but because I want my damn sweater to look pretty for longer.
These new collaborations offer the story of the brand, with the freshness of new trend. They aren’t just reproductions without thought to current fit and style, though many of these brands do offer complete reproductions of their clothing from the earlier part of last century . I recently had the joy of staying in the room of a man who works for the Levi’s vintage reproduction department in San Francisco, and you bet your ass I played dress-up and walked up and down the streets of the Castro in clothing tailored to the specifications of the 1920s agrarian. What we are seeing currently though, is not so extreme, because it wouldn’t sell as well. We are a society hungry for history, but also for the new experience offered by consumption. Hence these successful collaborations.
Regardless of why we want these workwear throwbacks, or feel so drawn to the brands they spring from, these pieces are quite beautiful. Most at Barneys were in the $100 -$600 range for a single item, which further distances them from their workwear origin. They are well-designed though, and the Carhartt jacket was entirely what I expected it to be: well-constructed, warm, full, but with an attention to tailoring and fit. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something true. Or at least as true as can be these days in the fashion world.
Alright folks, I hope you are enjoying your autumn. Outside my window, the most ridiculously gold maple shakes her leaves down endlessly. It’s a season where it’s easy to imagine yourself in America’s past, harvesting the root vegetables of your summer crop, truly wearing your dark denim down to a cornflower blue.