But what really sets Carhartt apart is an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy — and a confidence and self-belief — that distances itself from the talk (despite repeated requests to speak at the door -word of the brand for this article, they objected). Instead, Carhartt shoots a direct arrow at the heart of a streetwearhead. “The most successful items are timeless, so there’s no need to make them ‘new,'” says Leeb. “’New’ is not what the mainstream streetwear segment wants. ‘True’ is what they want.
King Adz, author of It’s not fashion: the past, present and future of streetwear, says that is why the servant Carhartt is, for him at least, the only choice. “I think the secret is that they haven’t changed. What they sell is what they sold before… It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing clothes in Hackney Wick or digging a ditch in an American town; the fact that you’re wearing these pants means they’re a must-have.
Carhartt started out making clothes for workers, transforming America into the superpower we know today. Founded in Detroit by Hamilton Carhartt, they first made coveralls for railroad workers and expanded into other professions. Many of their classics are decades old. The chore jacket was first made in 1917, the Watch Hat has remained the same since 1987, and the pocket t-shirt dates back to 1992. They keep their roots close; the Michigan headquarters will expand this year, creating 125 local jobs, and they still have factories in Kentucky and Tennessee.
If authenticity is part of what’s driving Carhartt traffic again, it’s also because the 90s are once again the center of attention and it’s probably the last time the brand had a ” moment”. Todisco cites this as a factor. He points to A$AP Rocky and Austin Butler as inspirations, but says those using Outfit Grid might as well be looking to archive references like Tupac Shakur and James Gandolfini.
The hip-hop connection dates back to 1990, when Tommy Boy Records bought 800 Carhartt jackets, added their logo, and gave them to artists like House of Pain who then wore them in their video for “Jump Around.” By 1992, the brand’s newfound status was on the mainstream media radar. “The old work jacket is fashion accepted,” wrote The Buffalo News. There is also the gravity of skateboarding. Those who know their flips from their grinds have been wearing Carhartt for a long time; the thick cotton canvas and the wide shapes of the pants made it so.
Alan Wright has been collecting Carhartt since the 90s. He noticed that “a lot of teenagers walking around looking[ing] like me and my friends” recently. He says it provides “the connection point. When I’m at work and a teenager comes in and he’s wearing Carhartt pants, I start talking to him.”
But while amorphous qualities like authenticity and nostalgia are fine, there’s a more practical factor that makes Carhartt appealing now: it’s tough and long-lasting. It speaks louder and louder to guys who think about sustainability and consumption. We want to buy once and wear for a very long time. The original motto was “honest value for an honest dollar” after all. “Carhartt retains its value in the resale market because of its quality, durability and functionality,” says Steve Dool, Depop’s Director of Brand and Marketing. “Buyers know they can still resell a Carhartt part if they have had enough.