A Carhartt vest.
If you pay attention to fashion or what many people around you are wearing these days, you'll probably notice work clothes everywhere. Think Carhartt jackets, raw denim, Dickies, jumpsuits. It's a trend that's taking over the fashion world, but it didn't start in fashion houses and spread to the masses.
This is what Dennita Sewell calls a great example of “trickle down” fashion.
Sewell is the director of the FIDM fashion program at Arizona State University and is a professor there. She spoke more to The Show about workwear and what it says about our current cultural and economic state.
DENNITA SEWELL: The trend takes several names. Workwear and utility styles are just some of the most popular, but we see coveralls, cargo pockets, patch pockets, we see all these different variations of carpenter pants, khaki coveralls, vests, different types of articles that really started in the world of work.
Yeah, like blue collar workers.
SEWELL: The world of blue-collar work, yes.
Lots of Carhartts, lots of Dickies, things like that. ALL RIGHT. ALL RIGHT. So is this new? Like talking about the origin of some of these items, these have roots that go back quite a long way into American history.
SEWELL: They do it, they are iconic products. And right now, they're being reinvented in our times by fashion designers and brands who see a cultural trend toward highly practical clothing, practical clothing that offers functionality, comfort and style. And many of these pieces transcend seasons, too. And I think it's this blend of comfort and style that makes workwear a leader in our post-COVID world.
So during COVID, I think, you know, athleisure became the thing and we were all wearing leggings and sweatpants and all that kind of stuff all the time. So you're saying this is the next level.
SEWELL: Yes, it's comfortable but it's a little more suited to outdoor life, outside the house. And I also think there's a casual nature to dressing right now. You know, people were trying to predict what would happen after COVID was over, you know, was it going to be very dressy? But I think overall we are still being transformed as a society. We don't all go to the office every day, we have mixed lives. And I think this kind of casual clothing transcends that.
Yeah. So if we're talking about the fashion history of this workwear trend, we also have to talk about the 1990s and hip hop, right? Like a lot of things were important back then. And we're also currently seeing a resurgence of '90s fashion across the board.
SEWELL: RIGHT. Absolutely. Hip hop style was largely about adapting Timberlands, the different pieces of clothing from that workwear world that became cool because of their association with that cultural movement and music.
Yeah. Yeah. ALL RIGHT. There's also something so American about it, like, typically American about it. What do you think this represents in relation to American ideals?
SEWELL: Well, if you look at one of the first pieces of workwear to appear, it's jeans. And this comes from the American miner. And this idea of the miner and hard work, and its complete transformation as heritage workwear into a fashion expression, probably happened the most in that. And that really is an American ideal, and America is where ready-to-wear really found its sea legs and flourished.
You know, Paris is known for couture. America really developed the ready-to-wear system and a lot of these work clothes, classics, were born out of the functionality of work, and they grow in culture as style icons when they are worn by style leaders, there is a romantic image. of professional life, a romantic association with authenticity, with credibility. And I think culturally that's very relevant to our times.
So there's also a cultural aspect to this and I don't know where it's going to end up, but there's something interesting about high fashion appropriating the blue-collar look and brands. Like, what does this say about how we play with class or how we view class today?
SEWELL: Thus, the first theory of fashion spread. Where social class emulation would come from the upper classes to the middle classes to the lower classes. And then, you know, in our world of fast fashion, we're looking at spinoffs where a style appears instantly across multiple price points.
But the key factor that we are looking at with this trend is the trickle down, which starts in the lower classes and is copied up to the upper classes and the textiles are often changed in terms of volume, proportions. But it is a very interesting social phenomenon where the upper classes appropriate the ideals associated with these emblematic objects, their usefulness, their heritage, their style.
ALL RIGHT. So, last question for you, because there are kind of cycles for these kinds of trends. Do you think you can predict what comes next, if workwear is what we do now and if athleisure is what got us here?
SEWELL: I think we'll continue to see volume and comfort. I think people have become very nomadic and what technology offers us today, this mobility to work, to communicate from multiple locations, is very attractive to people. And even though we can return to work, people still want hybrid living. And I think comfort, style, functionality and performance fabrics will become increasingly important as durability and comfort remain top of mind for the consumer.
At the same time, last week was couture week in Paris. And one of the hit shows was John Galliano for Maison Margiela. And he presented corsets on many models. And this kind of swing from extreme comfort to restriction and style really exists in our time. At the same time, you still see a huge audience wearing comfortable clothes, and you see celebrities performing in a really exaggerated performance style and wearing costumes.
And there's a lot of independence right now, a lot of personal identity and a lot more freedom to be who you want to be, I think, than there ever was to adopt the style that we want to have. And the great thing about fashion is that there's always something to learn and that's why it's a multi-billion dollar business, because truth be told, even the biggest fashion designers fashion don't really know the future.
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