Fashion, Trends

Before Hypebeasts, Lesbians made workwear cool

Hot take!

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Apr 2, 2020

Just last week I was talking to a friend about how lesbians made Carhartt cool, and it got me thinking: how do trends burgeon and get re-purposed, and – most importantly, how did they become “cool” in the first place? 

When tracing the footprints of fashion, the path often leads to many sources: several of today’s trends originated somewhere or sometime in the past and boomerang back into the present, sometimes with little alteration. Whether it was the 90s coming back in the mid-2010s or how classic utility wear brands like Carhartt have resurfaced as a fad – the evidence is everywhere.

One might be justified in saying that trends resulting from certain social climates and cultural conditions will likely reoccur when similar social climates and cultural conditions exist; but this thinking is too linear and overlooks “trend pockets” or fashion subcultures (goth, steampunk, etc.) – that have not enjoyed a major mainstream resurgence after they initially showed up; and sometimes even the role of the ever-evolving queer fashion in making the industry what it is today.

We want to know how brands become “cool”, specifically the ones that were pushed forth by queer fashion, so we decided to look into two brands, Wrangler and Carhartt – originally clothing made for workwear – and attempt to trace their rise to popularity. 

If you’ve spotted visibly queer women wearing this jacket, then you already know the brand. Wrangler is an American manufacturer of jeans/denim and other clothing items, particularly workwear. The brands’ jeans were first made to be suitable for rodeo use. Bernard Lichtenstein (“Rodeo Ben”), a Polish tailor from Łódź who worked closely with cowboys, convinced several well-known rodeo riders of the time to endorse the new design.

In 2000, the “Whatever You Ride” television ad campaign was launched, focusing on core brand values of Wrangler, and establishing it as the brand for the “cool” man, who will always manage to evade any dangerous situation, and if found in one, to leave it unscathed (a burning house, a one night stand, devouring breakfast at a diner). A couple years later, The L Word’s Katherine Moennig more known as Shane, was spotted wearing a Wrangler jeans jacket, making the brand an immediate hit among the queer community and queer pop culture.

Today’s men and women alike can be seen sporting the jackets and jeans made by Wrangler – you can find them in almost all of the thrift stores in Brooklyn. We can’t tell for sure whether The L Word’s Shane is solely responsible for bringing Wrangler to the map of pop culture and fashion, but the timeline kind of adds up. Wrangler jackets and jeans have become a staple in queer women’s wardrobes, sending an immediate statement once worn.

On the other hand, Carhartt, has been slowly acquiring street cred since launching Carhartt Work In Progress in 1989.

In the heart of Soho, nestled between other high-end retailers on Crosby Street, sits the brand’s WIP boutique. A neon pink sign in the window displaying the name “Carhartt” in glowing script gives away the brand’s more humble roots. It’s the only Carhartt store in the US that sells upscale and tailored versions of the workwear they’ve been making for manual laborers since 1889. And there is something about this dynamic that made the brand very appealing to queer women in the early 2010s.

 

 

 

Self-identified dykes and queer women have been spotted wearing the Carhartt WIP’s Straight Pierce Pants coupled with the Great Master Shirt, as well as their work suits. Alex P, a 28 year old previously self-identified dyke, shared that they “started wearing Carhartt WIP in 2012, when no other brand was offering gender neutral clothing. It saved [them] many trips to the men’s section at department stores as well as blind Amazon shopping.” Perhaps it is the gender fluid nature of the clothing offered by WIP and Wrangler that appealed to women who did not want to be tied down to gender specific clothing, but what we can take away from this is the idea that queer hip women made Carhartt and Wrangler acquire some of the street cred and “Cool” brand aspect that they currently have.

Whether it is possible to accurately forecast fashion trends years ahead of time is anyone’s guess, however, it is possible to assess social conditions, popular culture, and queer aesthetics that contribute to any streetwear brand’s clout.