Whether it’s Anderson Cooper sporting a spiffy storm jacket or a suburban skateboarder in a pair of rigid Klondike pants, Carhartt is busy expanding its tough, working class appeal to a much broader base.
His baseball cap was about as used-up as could be and still claim the dignity of being called headwear. It was torn up and brown with dried sweat, a workingman’s crown of thorns. Above the brim it said “Carhartt.”
“I started buying Carhartt clothes when I moved to Montana and took up trail work,” said Dustin Gaines, 35, of Livingston, sitting in a coffee shop in Raleigh, N.C., with his wife, Shannon O’Malley. “I think their clothes are really well built.” Mr. Gaines, now a carpenter, was wearing scuffed-up canvas Carhartt “logger” pants, the kind with a double layer of fabric riveted to the leg fronts. “He got married in these,” Ms. O’Malley noted.
In my perfect and naïve universe, where brands have meaning and meanings matter, only people like these should be allowed to buy Carhartt, from the Dearborn, Mich.-based manufacturer of sturdy work clothes. As one blue-collar brand after another—Levi’s, Wrangler, Dr. Martens—has descended into galling hipsterism, co-opted by soft-handed college students who wear their irony like John Deere baseball caps, Carhartt has managed to stand apart, the secret handshake of the American yeomantry.
My own Carhartt jacket, a tan hooded “Detroit” model, was forever my sartorial entrée to the working class. Whenever I needed to pass among them on some journalistic assignment or other—sprint car racing in Knoxville, Iowa, sand dragsters in Oklahoma—I’d shoulder on the Carhartt and begin speaking in the hard, flat drawl of my youth. For me, Carhartt was camouflage, but not the deer-hunting kind.
That jacket, pale with age, is gone now, I know not where. And as I considered replacing it recently I had to recalibrate the meaning…
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