Carhartt hats take over farms and fashion

Kirsten Clark wears a Carhartt beanie, a current trend in the fashion industry.

The four blonde Clark sisters pose for a family picture Christmas morning with their new matching beanies on. “You look so cute!” the youngest squeals in delight as they snap selfies, edit their newly taken pictures for Instagram and start planning their outfits revolving around their latest trend item: a Carhartt beanie.

A quick Google search for Carhartt reveals the homepage with the byline: “Carhartt | Durable Workwear, Apparel & Boots for Men …”

So how did this construction workwear company find its way to young high school and college girls’ Instagram accounts and college campuses across the U.S.?

Celebrities such as Kanye West, Harry Styles from OneDirection, Rihanna, Ryan Gosling and Jamie Foxx set the stage for Carhartt’s dual functionality and fashion presence. Then the trend trickled down from the A-listers to fashion bloggers such as Chictopia, Lookbook and Ink361.

It was only a matter of time until the brand that “revolutionized the construction of premium workwear with the toughest materials available: denim and brown duck fabric” made its way to college campuses.

“I like the way they fit on my head,” said UVU student Kirsten Clark. “They are cheap and they have great colors. The little logo adds a little something, makes them not so boring.”

So where does a young college girl go to buy such a fashion item? The tractor store in Heber … or a C-A-L Ranch store.

“I saw people wear them before I started wearing them,” Clark said. “I don’t just go to the tractor store on a regular basis.”

She started noticing the trend last winter when she purchased her first Carhartt beanie. “I’m pretty trendy — not the trendiest, but still trendy,” Clark said.

Although the Clark sisters may have their fingers on the pulse of trends that are in or out, Chris Stevens, a BYU–Idaho student who labels himself as a six on a one to 10 scale of “trendiness,” has also picked up on the style.

“Carhartt makes some good beanies,” Stevens said. “Good quality, they’re thick, keep your head warm, tight-knit, which tend to stay warmer and last a little bit longer.”

As a lift operator at Sundance Ski Resort, Stevens is well aware of any winter apparel trends, because he sees them come through his line every day.

“I started noticing them when my friends started wearing them a lot last season and I have definitely seen them this season more than less,” he said. 

Stevens buys his beanies at Sportsman’s Warehouse or Cabela’s.

For BYU student Mitch Hatfield, the trend has not sunk in as much.

“I think it’s so dumb all these girls are running out to find these beanies at stores they would never even have stepped foot in otherwise,” Hatfield said. “Carhartt is some trend that people are trying to catch on to, but they are just normal.”

An avid skier, Hatfield said he has noticed Carhartt beanies more and more but will “stick to brands that actually specialize in snow gear.”

Carhartt’s Amazon description says the brand “brings its rugged-as-all-outdoors construction to everything from moisture-wicking T-shirts and arctic-quality outerwear, to socks and hats.”

For BYU student Isaiah Bryson, the whole fad is surprising. He has owned Carhartt for the last several years. He wore it when working at his family’s cattle ranch riding horses or doing any kind of outdoor work. Bryson recalls his shock when he saw a Carhartt retail store in New York City among other high-end stores.

“I was in New York City with a friend and we were shopping in Soho when he took me to a Carhartt Work in Progress store,” Bryson said. “I was really shocked to learn that the same clothing brand that holds the loyalty of so many redneck ranchers and farmers also has a fashion line.”

The store Bryson referred to is the Carhartt WIP (Work in Progress) retail store, which is one of 80 retail stores worldwide and the only one of its kind in North America. During the late ’80s, Carhartt products began popping up on the streets and were quickly adapted by hip kids striving to increase their street style. Slowly trickling their way into the closets of rappers and hip hop stars, Carhartt’s hats especially became a staple of the urban subcultures connected to these artists’ music.

Carhartt WIP got its start in 1994 when Edwin Faeh began customizing the classic Carhartt clothing into slimmer, more tailored looks and importing them to Europe. It grabbed hold of the European street style and soon made its way into urban areas of Asia, Japan and Australia.

“The best part is that a lot of their WIP stuff looks pretty similar to the stuff you could buy at the farmer’s association,” Bryson said. “I actually like a lot of the WIP stuff.”

According to the Carhartt WIP official website, “Carhartt Work In Progress (Carhartt WIP) is the avant-garde way of living the Carhartt brand, reshaping the outstanding Carhartt legacy.”

And the legacy runs deeper than a few hats spotted on celebrities. In 1889, Hamilton Carhartt founded the Carhartt company in Detroit. Recognizing the strong demographic of blue-collared workers in the area, Hamilton singled out the workman’s overall as one of the most essential commodities every worker would have.

With only four sewing machines and five employees, the first overalls were produced in a small attic, unaware of the success that was to come. Hamilton used denim fabric and duck (canvas), the tightly woven cotton fabric used to make tents or ship’s sails — perfect to withstand any extreme wear and tear of a worker in the tail-end of the second Industrial Revolution.

Despite Hamilton’s excitement, the product did not take off. The lack of success brought Hamilton back to the drawing board, asking for the help of a local railroad engineer to tailor to the needs of the railroad workers.

The overall made its debut with pockets for rulers, pliers, watches and even a hammer loop. The denim and 12-ounce cotton canvas are designed to be snag-proof and extra-durable: they have triple-stitched seams, copper rivets at stress points, strengthened buttonholes and wide legs for comfort and the iconic form-fitting bib and suspenders.

To emphasize the fact that all of his products were made under humane conditions, Hamilton added a Labor Union Label to each pair that went out. With the slogan “Honest value for an honest dollar,” the Carhartt brand was born.

“(It’s) crazy to see Carhartt being worn on the front row of Warriors games and on the streets of Paris,” Bryson said.

Though the family-owned company has made its way around the world since its late 19th Century humble beginnings, Hamilton Carhartt’s descendants have lived up to the original slogan: honest value keeps its customers returning 127 years later. Now that’s some good advertising.

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