Thursday, October 1, 2009

Carhartt Clothing

Just as every affluent Londoner is likely to have a Barbour rain mac in the wardrobe and every retired Floridian is likely to enjoy a Tommy Bahama shirt or two, if you have lived in Alaska for more than three years, you are likely to own a piece of Carhartt clothing. Its distinctively disproportioned c-shaped logo is as recognizable as McDonald’s golden arches; its trademark rugged canvas cloth is woven into the fabric of our state.

If you don’t live in Alaska or don’t spend most of your day working outside for a living, you may not be familiar with the Carhartt line of clothing. According to the company’s mission statement, their clothing is designed for the “active worker.” The company has been dressing farmers, steel workers, welders, and linemen for 120 years. Its line of outdoor and indoor wear is extensive and includes fetching items such as camouflage coveralls, khaki cargo shorts, red cotton union suits (complete with rear flap), fleece headbands, knit hats, toddler's washed duck dungarees, flame resistant hooded sweat jackets, Class 3 high visibility rain jackets, and steel toe work boots.

The functionality, ruggedness, and durability of Carhartt clothing is legendary. The company's website is chock-full of testimonials from people with "rugged jobs" who love their Carhartts. There are also many reports about the clothing in both the blogosphere and traditional news media that sound more like tall tales and urban myths. Carhartt outerwear has saved the lives of people in bear and walrus attacks. A YouTube video provides a firsthand account a man whose life and limbs were saved during a meat grinder accident, all thanks to the durability of his Carhartt jacket. A news report tells of a Dillingham bush pilot whose plane crashed, leaving him with as many broken bones in his body as you can think of. In the end, he didn't freeze to death during his long wait to be found in the Alaska wilds because he was dressed head to toe in Carhartts outerwear and underwear. A 2002 Outside magazine article documents many more tales of near-death experiences from Carhartt wearers in Talkeetna.

In Alaska, you need not be a hunter, bush pilot, construction worker, or Deadliest Catch fisherman to enjoy the benefits of Carhartts. Alaskans young and old wear them as everyday wear. Most Alaskans sport some item of Carhartt clothing at least once a month. I took a look through our closets and counted a modest 42 Carhartt items for our non-fishing, non-hunting, indoor-oriented family of three. Carhartt is uniquely fashion-friendly to all walks of life in Alaska for all occasions. Are you a hard-working, Bud-drinking oilrigger going out for a night on the town? Why, throw on a dark red plaid shirt jac and pair of traditional fit jeans! Are you a Euro-philic, urban minimalist meeting friends for a cappuccino? Just don a dark brown pair of Carhartt bib overalls with a black turtleneck, scarf, and beret, of course! Or are you a Vice Presidential candidate heading to the polling booth on election day? Just put on a brown lined duck jacket for the perfect effect!

Like no other clothing line, Carhartt has a central place in the heart and culture of our state. Talkeetna hosts a Carhartt Ball in which formal wear is replaced by the grubbiest, grimiest, well-loved Carhartt items in your wardrobe. The Alaska State Fair holds multiple Carhartt events, including the Carhartt Fashion Show; the Crusty Carhartt Tales competition, in which you show the nasty beating your Carhartts have taken and tell the tale; and the Carhartt Relay Race, where eager competitors vie for valued Carhartt merchandise. Musical entertainment for many of these events is provided by Alaska's own Carhartt Brothers bluegrass band. You don't have to try very hard or go very far to be part of the Carhartt culture in Alaska, either. There are 32 retailers selling Carhartt clothing within 20 miles of my lovely little suburban town of Eagle River.

With our love of Carhartts, many mistakenly believe that Alaska is not a fashion-forward state. Au contraire!  Carhartt clothing is actually the timeless little black dress of construction chic, the new fashion phenomenon in which those who don't know a hammer from a hoe try to dress like an ice road trucker but end up looking more like one of the Village People. The Carhartt line is even being featured at a high end fashion show at the Detroit Zoo tomorrow alongside top line designers Kevin Christiana, Betsey Johnson, and Kid Rock. But as Carhartt becomes more mainstream and construction chic moves to the head of the fashion world, will we independent, anti-fashionista, rogue Alaskans turn away from our tried and true friend or will we stand firm, waiting for this passing fad to fade?  While we may flirt with Mountain Hardware, Helly Hansen, and Dickies, I believe that the deep and enduring love between Alaskans and their Carhartts will last for generations to come.

(Election day photo courtesy of the Anchorage Daily News and photographer Bill Roth. Thank you!)

1 comment:

  1. Carhartts will never go out of style.

    I didn't go as far as you and count every Carhartt item in the house, but will say all five of us have a complete winter outfit.

    One winter, my hubby was jumping a truck that had a frozen battery and it exploded just as he turned away from it. It splattered his Carhartt jacket, hat and pants. He's sure the Carhartt's saved his life.