Worked Up About Workwear

Fashion watchers keeping an eye on what’s happening on the runways have highlighted workwear as a notable trend in this year’s fall and winter collections.

The segment long ago expanded beyond traditional workwear purchasers. Starting in the late 1980s, workwear became associated with rap, street, and skate culture. Celebrities began wearing workwear and posting the proof on social media, and designers of luxury wear and other categories began integrating workwear pieces into their collections. The workwear industry now caters as much to young adult consumers who have never been in a factory or on a farm as it does to laborers.

As a group, these young adults are attracted to the look of workwear styles, of course, but many also like the authenticity of the classic brands and the element of nostalgia they bring. They also often love the versatility of the pieces, which can be worn during leisure activities and, in many cases, at the office. And the long-lasting, functional quality of the clothes increasingly appeals to their desire to make purchase decisions with sustainability in mind.

Not surprisingly, workwear brands have become prolific collaborators, not just with streetwear labels (which remain frequent partners) but also with properties of all types. Here are a few of the many recent examples involving some of the leading traditional players in the workwear segment, some of which have been highlighted in their collaborators’ runway shows this year:

  • Carhartt was one of the first U.S. workwear brands to be established and one of the first players in the workwear segment to be embraced by celebrities and to wholeheartedly move into collaborations. In 1989, 100 years after its founding in Detroit, it launched the Switzerland-headquartered Carhartt Work in Progress brand to cater to its then-new audience in the hip-hop, skate, and cycling communities. Since then, Carhartt WIP has worked with labels such as A.P.C., Neighborhood, Patta, Vans, Junya Watanabe, and many others, with recent examples including Palace, Sacai, New Balance, Marni, and Awake NY. Meanwhile, the core Carhartt brand recently launched a partnership with Lowe’s for classic workwear styles aimed at professionals in construction and other fields; other collaborations for the core brand have ranged from Guinness to Batman.
  • Dickies is continuously dropping new collaborations and has been associated with streetwear labels including Supreme, Lurking Class, HUF, and Neighborhood; other design labels from Gucci to Willy Chavarria; artists such as Estavan Oriol; and brands such as Jameson and Traeger Grills that are looking to emphasize an old-school workwear vibe, among others. This year it created a sell-out collection with actress Sydney Sweeney for a Ford x Sydney Sweeney collection of women’s pants, overalls, bandanas, and baseball caps. Sweeney restored a vintage Ford Bronco, which inspired the partnership.
  • Timberland, positioned as an “urban workwear” brand, has collaborated with a variety of designers and artists, covering streetwear, performance wear, and other styles. Most have centered around footwear, but the label also occasionally enters the ready-to-wear space. Its Future73 initiative this year, which celebrates the brand’s 50th anniversary, has included collaborations with Samuel Ross, Christopher Raeburn, Humberto Leon, Nina Chanel Abney, Suzanne Oude Hengel, and Edison Chen; other partners have ranged from Vans and Bee Line to Icebreaker and Supreme.
  • Wrangler’s varied collaboration partners have leaned into its western heritage as a workwear brand initially focused on cowboys and ranchers. The Kontoor Brands-owned label has paired with a diverse roster of designers, including Sandro, Staud, and Mini Rodini; entertainment/character IP such as Yellowstone and Barbie; and corporate brands including Fender.
  • Levi’s has also teamed with a wide variety of collaborators, including streetwear brands such as Awake, Beams, and Bape; other design brands, such as women’s labels Ganni and Farm Rio, emerging designer Marissa Wilson, and upcycler Bentgablenits; bands including Wasted Youth; artists such as Brema Brema; and character properties including Universal Monsters, The Simpsons, and Mickey Mouse (with and without artist Keith Haring).
  • Lee, also part of the Kontoor portfolio, has been expanding its partnership activities into new sectors, launching its first women’s collaboration with Daydreamer and its first unisex collaboration with Chinese streetwear brand Roaringwild. Other partners include California streetwear brand The Hundreds; The Brooklyn Circus, whose collection focused on western workwear and celebrated Black cowboys; and the London-based Turkish chef Sertaç Dirik for a collection called Workwear is Our Soul.

Other workwear brands have dipped their toes into collaborations but in a more conservative way; Stan Ray, for example, has not been involved in many partnerships but has paired with PS Paul Smith Happy. Others have stayed more consistent with their workwear roots when collaborating. Duluth Trading, for example, has remained focused on its midwestern worker customer base, aligning with partners including camouflage brand Mossy Oak, the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, and Adam Turman, a designer who specializes in imagery inspired by Duluth’s Minnesota home base.

Meanwhile, there are many new entrants into the workwear space that reside on the fashion end of the spectrum rather than the purely functional side. A few include Au Boulot, SkyHigh Farm, and Darkpark. And many brands, non-fashion licensors, and retailers are entering into collaborations that include or are inspired by workwear styles. Recent examples range from Highsnobiety’s partnership with Coca-Cola Zero Sugar to pastry chef Paola Velez’ collection with Urban Outfitters.

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