Carhartt History: From Workwear to Streetwear to Vintage

Carhartt History: From Workwear to Streetwear to Vintage

A Glass Onion Vintage best seller and favourite, Carhartt is a brand that has overtime been spotted amongst an array of fashion cultures; it has evolved from practical and durable to stylish and hype. Here’s a history of how Carhartt Workwear seeped into streetwear and continues to sell both as vintage and in the form of contemporary designs.

The Evolution of Carhartt Workwear

Carhartt was founded in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt & Company who began producing their overalls with two sewing machines and a half-horsepower electric motor in a small loft in Detroit, Michigan. Early stage failures led to Hamilton conducting market research with railroad workers, which was followed by the design of products that truly fit to their needs. Under the motto “honest value for an honest dollar”, the Carhartt Bib Overall was born and quickly become the standard for quality workwear. Carhartt has since been delivering quality products for 132 years, expanding from America to a worldwide audience. 

During its time, Carhartt has never failed to introduce new materials and manufacturing techniques, keeping audiences engaged. Key innovations led to the brand creating pieces that have become a fashion statement, worn by many outside the workplace. 

Carhartt History

Carhartt 1889 - 1890s

Hamilton Carhartt build his brand in 1889 by producing honest workwear that fitted all the requirements for the railway industry working men. In the early 1900s, Carhartt expanded its product line to include coveralls, jackets, and other work garments. The brand gained recognition for its exceptional quality and durability, becoming the preferred choice for workers across various industries.

Carhartt History 1920s - 1930s

By the mid 1920’s, the company had established a plant in Paris and opened a warehouse in New York. Carhartt continued to innovate and introduced new materials, such as the iconic "Hamilton Brown" duck canvas, which became synonymous with the brand. The introduction of the "Zip-to-Waist" overall design in the 1920s was a significant milestone, offering enhanced convenience and ease of use for workers. Carhartt also introduces the Super Dux and Super Fab hunting lines during this decade.

Carhartt History 1940s - 1950s

During World War II, Carhartt shifted production to support the war effort, providing uniforms and work clothing for the military. With the death of Hamilton Carhartt, and following the Great Depression in 1937, the brand continued to wholeheartedly support the rights of workers, and expanded to find new markets in Europe. Hamilton’s son Wylie became president of the company and truly pushed the brand while keeping its original and much loved DNA.

Carhartt History 1960s - 1970s

The 1960s saw the introduction of Carhartt's iconic "Arctic" and "Quilted Lined" jackets, which became iconic pieces and remain popular to this day. During the construction of the Alaska Pipeline, bulk orders and a quality delivery from Carhartt proved once again that the products were suitable for the most rugged conditions. Carhartt's reputation as a trusted workwear brand continued to grow, attracting a broader consumer base. 

Carhartt History 1980s - 1990s

The brand gained popularity in subcultures, including skateboarding, graffiti, and hip-hop communities, embracing Carhartt's rugged and utilitarian aesthetic. Influential hip-hop artists and rappers began wearing Carhartt in music videos and performances, propelling the brand into the spotlight of pop culture. In 1989, the iconic WIP collection (Work In Progress) launches. This instantly catches the eye of the European and Asian market, as this new division of the brand is more fashion-based, without taking away from Carhartt’s identity.

Carhartt History 2000s - 2010s: Streetwear

During this decade, Carhartt collaborated with prominent streetwear brands, such as Supreme and A.P.C., introducing limited-edition collections that further boosted its streetwear appeal. The brand's global reach expanded, and Carhartt became a staple in street style and urban fashion worldwide.

Carhartt Now

As Carhartt remains a prominent part of popular culture today, it’s important to notice how the brand has remained family owned, with Hamilton’s great grandson still serving as chief executive officer. Carhartt puts its heart and soul into the construction of a long lasting garments, the reputation of quality stands with its use of triple seams and tightly woven duck canvas fabric. They’re dedication to considering layering and a wide selection of sizes leads to the brand’s success amongst a worldwide audience. Carhartt continues to sell its garments and accessories, still very much inspired by its original workwear purpose. It’s now iconic yellow logo stands out on celebrities’ streetwear, in films, music videos and model off duty looks.

Carhartt Vintage

Carhartt’s undeniable quality has meant its pieces can be passed down and re-worn by generations, ultimately leading to the brand popping up in vintage stores. When thrifting for jackets, carpenter trousers or overalls, Carhartt will with no doubt pop into one’s mind when considering sturdiness and longevity. Here, at Glass Onion, we proudly stock an array of Carhartt vintage in our Stores and Pop Up events, a brand we trust to give our customers a forever piece. 

Carhartt Logo History

Today, Carhartt is one of the most successful and well-known privately owned brands. Although the roots of the brand have remained, the logos have evolved over time.

The original emblem for the brand between included a railway carriage with a red heart background. The “Car in Heart” logo is the first to appear in Carhartt’s archive records, and it was used from 1889 to 1990.

The following logo consisted of inscriptions from top to bottom - “Union Made” and “Pants overalls and gloves”. It is interesting to notice that the name of the company wasn’t used in the logo, but instead was symbolised by the ‘Car’ plus ‘heart’, equalling Carhartt.

The logo was modernised slightly between the 1940’s-1970’s, as so were the technologies. Carhartt kept its original logo imagery, this time including the brand name. Multiple slogans appeared within the heart over the years, including ‘Union Made’, ‘Master Cloth’, ‘Eight Hour Work Day’, and ‘From Mills to Millions’.

The logo recognised today has been around since the 1970’s, still nodding to their roots, the lettering emphasises working mechanisms and building materials. The lettering alongside the staple colours of black and yellow allows the logo to be instantly recognisable. Carhartt’s current logo doesn’t scream workwear, as did its predecessors. Its boldness however stands out on any shelf, reminding us of the evolution this brand has had over time, from functionable to fashionable.  

Carhartt Brands

Below you can find a list of the many Carhartt brands customers have been supplied with over the years. 

Carhartt Work In Progress (Carhartt WIP)

As Carhartt arrived across Europe, via Swiss designer Edwin Faeh, the All American concept became a success in his store. This birthed the license to sell across Europe in 1994 under a new label, Work in Progress (WIP). This was followed by the authority to manufacture Carhartt products outside of the US 2 years later. Carhartt WIP became a Europe exclusive, with modern adjustments transforming signature garments. New colours, tailored trousers and collaborations with other designers gave Carhartt a breath of fresh air, while purchases were made under the same name.

Carhartt Force

Is a version of Carhartt that exclusively focuses on providing maximum comfort and durability for working conditions. Advanced technology used in a line of shirts, trousers, jackets and accessories provides modern garments for those looking for extra flexibility and durability.

Carhartt Rigby

Includes a line of flexible and high quality dungarees for those working in tough conditions. Made from a blend of cotton and spandex canvas, this line of Carhartt focuses on its customers needs for outdoor premium gear.

Carhartt Full Swing

This line of Carhartt uses an exclusive technology with the purpose of a great range of motion. This is created by incorporating stretch panels into the workwear, allowing you to move freely and unrestricted.

Carhartt Flame-Resistant (FR) Line

That’s right! Carhartt also have dedicated time to developing a line specific for those who are in need of flame resistance. This is a brand that can be trusted to adjust to the needs of any form of workwear, while the original designs loved by all are kept classic.

Carhartt Rain Defender

A water resistant line made exclusively for “workers, doers and builders”. This line is popular for its qualitative jackets.

Carhartt Hip Hop and Streetwear Culture

As the brand evolved, so did the people who wore it. During the 80’s and 90's Carhartt quickly became a brand associated with the Hip-Hop scene with rappers such as Nas, Naughty by Nature, Tupac and Eazy-E regularly sporting the brand. The utilitarian look, tough fabrics and purpose of grit about Carhartt clothes gave artists of the time a chance to symbolise the steeliness of their music through clothes. Hand in hand with Dickies, Carhartt offered a space to channel hyper masculinity, to the point where these brands were sought by a whole new audience outside of physical workers. Workwear aesthetic had an incredible impact on streetwear, high fashion designers still take a lot of their inspiration from this era in their modern designs, something that has trickled down into many of our own wardrobes.

Who Wears Carhartt Now? 

Far from the original worker audience, Carhartt can now also be found in the wardrobe of celebrities, models, in the form of new or vintage.

The icons that have brought the Carhartt brand forward are the likes of Kanye West and Drake who are regularly seen in the brand. Not forgetting the iconic Weathered Duck Detroit Jacket worn by Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar in 2014 which became a huge talking point of the movie.

Vintage Carhartt JacketsMatthew McConaughey wearing the Weathered Duck Detroit Jacket in Interstellar (2014)

More recently, Bella Hadid has been seen in Carhartt and offers an on trend, streetwear edge to the brand. Although it has been pushed forward by influencers and celebrities, Carhartt still holds true to its workwear roots and holds staple pieces everyone needs in their wardrobes. 

Bella Hadid in New York City, September 2019 (taken by Tal Rubin).

Our Top Carhartt Picks

When it comes to vintage Carhartt, we have no doubt these garments will offer you years of quality and durability. Our personal favourites include the classic workwear pant and carpenter jeans, bottoms that can be styled with a plain tee and layered up with a leather or denim jacket. You can also go full workwear with a vintage Carhartt Canvas jacket. These are a staple for any wardrobe, and can be styled casually or have the purpose of dressing down a mini skirt, tee and a pair of boots.

Shop Vintage Carhartt

Constantly showing innovation and fresh looks, often improved manufacturing and detailed thoughts to the wants and needs of their customers, Carhartt are a brand that we are proud to supply you with. We offer Vintage Carhartt both men’s and women’s collections, an affordable option for that streetwear/ urban look. Remember, shopping vintage will offer you the same quality brands, while you also help saving from landfill! Don’t worry about small imperfections, workwear pieces have a story to tell and can offer your outfit some edge!  

Rosie Perez and Tupac Shakur at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, March 1993 (Taken by Ron Galella).

Thompson, H (Nov 2021) - The Hut
Jordan, C (Jan 2018) - Anotherman
Skid, N (Nov 2020) - CBNC
Ferrier, M (Nov, 2014) - The Guardian 
Carhartt (Unknown) - Carhartt
Another Mag