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Dickies Are Again on Top of the World

During a recent family visit, my pants triggered an interrogation. My uncle, who loves cargo shorts and owns a window-washing company, noticed the Dickies tag on the back of my pants. I wear Dickies at work! He explained. A fair question. I, together with folks such as Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky, and Kaia Gerber, now reach for the very same trousers as my middle-aged window-washing uncle says a lot about where style is in 2018.

Dickies pants are fashion’s ultimate Rorschach test. You might see a rugged item intended to be worn day in and day out to a blue-collar job. Or maybe you see a pair of pants which, with just a little tailoring, fit perfectly in 2018’s weird-pants second . That side you land on reveals an awful lot–regarding the implications of fashion’s workwear fetish, how the line between what is cool and what is whack is indeed often dictated by circumstance, and how heritage brands capitalize on fickle trends.

Perfectly representative of this dichotomy is Dickies’s lead archivist Ann Richardson. When we met at a Manhattan tradeshow, she wore glasses in front of eyes that are, I swear, the colour of worn-in navy 874s, along with a chambray shirt paired with a necklace which appeared to be fashioned from shoelaces. Richardson is the company’s longest-tenured worker. She began in 1970 in the new merchandising section, however, the project has changed rather significantly from the 50-odd years because. Now, she’s helping steer a brand that has become inseparable from today’s odd fashion moment.

As the lead on Dickies’s archive-inspired lineup Dickies 1922, a lineup named for its year the brand was set up, Richardson is charged with creating something fashionable out of Dickies’s history. Dickies, you may not recall, was so busy producing uniforms for soldiers during World War II it needed to stop accepting orders from regular customers who desired the brand’s famous, rugged 874 work pant. That might seem a bizarre way to think about World War II, but as Dickies’s archivist, Richardson sees everything through the prism of Dickies –and also that she’s not alone in caring about that history partly explains the brand’s popularity.

At the show, Richardson walks me through the racks of new garments, mentioning inspiration that just Dickies can assert: coveralls left abandoned in coal mines, trousers found under homes and in munition dumps, and vague designs on switches even Richardson had never seen before an expert garment hunter handed them together. It’s history, but it is also marketing. Dickies is success in 2018 precisely because of the patina it’s built up over its nearly 100 years in business.

The brand was in a position to capture multiple waves over the years: preferred by both coal miners and skaters because of their ruggedness, the pant spilled over into the world of rock, rap, and even to’80s discoheads, who wore the loose-fitting bottom in vivid colours. Each of those worlds Dickies has a hand in today seem to be colliding at once, at least when it comes to style.

Section of Dickies’s success is simply luck: lots of men now want their pants to fit just enjoy the sorta-loose, straight-legged, high-rising 874. The lanky jean died and went to heaven, and Dickies discovered itself in the ideal place at the right moment. “One reason I visit [to get Dickies’s increased prevalence ], from a fashion perspective of a view, is a backlash against very slim pants,” states Chris Gibbs, the owner of LA streetwear mecca Union, and the mind of Dickies’s more fashion-forward Build line. “People are gravitating towards what I would call a normal match, and Dickies has had that regular classic right fit”

Insert in the trousers’ association with skaterats, groups like N.W.A., and rappers like Tupac and you get a foolproof plan for one of 2018’s hottest styles. Think about the way the 874 has wormed its way during civilization. The trousers turned into a portion of the stereotypical Southern California”cholo” and spread across the region, to skaters in Venice and the above rappers and eventually local rock bands like No Doubt–Gwen Stefani was among Dickies’s best advocates from the’90s. Not coincidentally, dressing like’90s rock stars that are dressing like rappers who are dressing like skaters is peak style in 2018.

It might have been hard for Dickies to screw up this moment, given everything trending in its direction. However, the company did not need to just ride the tide. “You want to control your destiny a bit,” says Sheedy. That means ongoing a collaboration with Opening Ceremony, working with Union, and tapping the shop’s owner Gibbs for Construct. While Dickies is not scared of playing with others–it is collaborated with Urban Outfitters, Stussy, and even Converse over the years–Construct is a means for the brand to permanently offer its workwear principles into the fashion world. It is the same strategy used successfully by brands like Carhartt, with its Work In Progress arm, or Levi’s and Made & Crafted.

As soon as Dickies achieved to Gibbs about Construct about a year ago, he says, he wanted the gig poorly. He began wearing the trousers practically every day in middle school in the’80s–a practice he has continued into maturity –he worried somebody less infatuated with Dickies’s history would stretch the brand too far. “I damn near forced myself ” he informs me. “You could go to a whole bunch of people and they are likely to want to take Dickies and make this crazy thing–add the bedazzled blossoms to them. It would be a simple play…But that’s not what is going to work. That is the reason why I was so irresistible that they give me a opportunity.”

So Gibbs designs Construct with a gentle hand. Sweatshirts and work jackets come in colours such as pink and a verging-on-gold yellow. These colors may be out Dickies’s ordinary color wheel, however they aren’t zany, either. Some pants are striped down the side, and many others are slimmed, but many are merely tailored to just the way Gibbs likes them. “There’s a definite way I enjoy my Dickies to match, so for ten plus years, even when I bought my Dickies I would then take them to my tailormade,” says Gibbs. “I get them hemmed to a particular elevation. I get them slightly.” It was the first change he made when appointed at Construct. Dickies is playing the influencer game differently than its competitors. The brand doesn’t seem interested in letting someone like Justin Bieber tool around with its layout –but the pants commerce in possessing and capitalizing on the new celebrity-approved silhouette.

However, Dickies walks a delicate line in regards to incorporating Gibbs’s more fashion-friendly tweaks, no matter how tame they are. Sheedy claims that Dickies believes of its economy in just two phrases: off and on the job. Obviously, the on-the-job part is much larger business, whereas the very nature of style means that, eventually, the Dickies wave will crest. Sheedy says Dickies is careful not to alienate its core customers. “Regardless of who it is and just how big the opportunity is, we need to be certain our DNA and values come just as loud and clear about our collaborations.” Sheedy factors to Opening Ceremony as the apex of this philosophy: the company is ready to put Dickies in a high-fashion environment, but limits changes to colors and fabrications. The second changes make the relationship between Dickies’ two viewers even thornier: that all a designer must do to elevate Dickies from the work site and into a style boutique is tweak colors and fabrics–and, crucially, add an approved logo–states rather a lot about what the fashion crowd seems as cool.

Dickies’s patient expansion strategy has paid off over the past year. The brand was acquired for $820 million by VF Corp at August, slotting it together with North and Immunology Face–that the parent firm has found a way to find every hardscrabble American brand folks care about under a single roof. Uncoincidentally, VF Corp posted double-digit growth in the latest financial quarter. And while the resurgent Vans was cited as the largest contributor to that expansion, Dickies, also, added to the better-than-expected outcomes.

During my conversation with Gibbs, he explained growing up, he felt compelled to make a choice between different worlds he bounced about: skating, listening to rap music, hanging with all the jocks and playing basketball. From the’80s, Gibbs says, these worlds didn’t intersect. But it’s difficult to think about something more 2018 than the usual basketball-obsessed skater who enjoys rap music. Especially if he’s sporting a pair of Dickies.