The History Of Carhartt WIP

An image from Carhartt WIP's Autumn-Winter 2023 Lookbook.

Image from AW23 Carhartt WIP lookbook.

What is Carhartt WIP?

Established in 1994 by Edwin Faeh, Carhartt Work In Progress (WIP) is a European sublabel modelled on the rich heritage of Carhartt’s Americana workwear origins. Showcasing a vast collection of tough utility fabrics each season, Carhartt WIP reconstruct workwear archetypes, refining shapes and details to fit effortlessly within modern styling. One of Carhartt WIP’s greatest achievements is its steady rise to become synonymous with casual lifestyle clothing. Minimalist, functional and versatile, in the past decade Carhartt WIP’s workwear-streetwear fusion has made it the brand of the moment.

Although its cult appeal transcends popular wardrobe staples – the label explores the subcultures that made Carhartt such a phenomena, placing the brand in new contexts and creating its own classics. Through prominence within music, skating and art, and a string of collaborations with high-profile brands, Carhartt WIP’s clothing feels as contemporary as any, yet is underpinned by rich craftsmanship and heritage.

Vintage photo from Carhartt WIP archives.
Image from The Carhartt WIP Archives.

Carhartt’s 20th Century Workwear Origins

The aesthetic we have come to know and love with Carhartt WIP was born over a century earlier when Carhartt was founded in 1889. With the industrial revolution in full-swing, Hamilton Carhartt has a vision to supply America’s blue-collar workers with hard-wearing gear that could withstand the rigours of steel, oil, construction and railway jobs. Early failures led Hamilton to engage directly with railroad workers, designing a product that that served their needs. Under the iconic motto “Honest value for an honest dollar,” the Carhartt Bib Overall was created and soon evolved into the gold standard of workwear.

Carhartt WIP In Popular Culture

Carhartt WIP’s legendary subcultural status can be traced to stateside rappers in the U.S ’90s hip-hop scene. The likes of 2Pac, Eazy-E and Nas wore Carhartt, reinforcing the hyper-masculine look of the time defined by oversized cuts, tough fabrics and imposing jackets. Functional characteristics meant workwear infiltrated city streets as each Coast carved out their own styles. A 1992 New York Times article quoted Albee Ragusa, then director of Rap Marketing for Tommy Boy Records, noting that in New York rappers “prefer their Carhartts mustard brown and hunter green with baggy corduroy pants stuffed into Timberland boots. Moving to the West Coast, in Los Angeles the look is more “chain gang – Carhartts in darker colours with shirts worn underneath and buttoned to the neck”.

U.S hip-hop rappers wearing Carhartt WIP.
Image from The Carhartt WIP Archives.

The workwear trend soon spread to Europe, where Carhartt WIP became ingrained within underground music and cultural scenes like rap, skateboarding and street art. A cult moment came in the 1995 French movie La Haine, which recounted a whirlwind 20 hours in the life of three friends from Paris’ banlieues. The story was of three children of immigrants, suffering poverty and unemployment and without prospects for the future. The movie was highly influential and pictured one of the key protagonists wearing Carhartt WIP. Clothing was an integral part of the characterisation and captured not only the feel of the urban depths of ’90s Paris, but the way clothes can be a powerful form of expression. The brand even released a bespoke collection to celebrate the film 20 years on, collaborating with director and created Matthieu Kassovitz.

Carhartt WIP worn in film La Haine.
Image from The Carhartt WIP Archives.

Carhartt WIP Collaborations

Collaborations see Carhartt WIP channel its creative energy and showcase cultural inspirations far and wide – a canvas to explore the unique exchange between identities and styles. Seeing the brand’s aesthetic be reimagined against the backdrop of shared avenues of interest or unique cultural touchpoints, is a refreshing change amid the current of collaborations being presented to us left and right in the fashion world. The brand has connected with a number of like-minded collaborators, including A.P.C, Converse, Fragment Design, Junya Watanabe, Nike, Patta, New Balance, Underground Resistance, and Motown. As you can see, Carhartt WIP’s collaborations are truly visionary – whether it is delving into the brand’s roots in the Detroit techno scene or ’90s N.Y hip-hop, or foraying into unexpected realms and products, the brand’s cross-field connections epitomise storytelling and are always something to keep an eye on.

Carhartt WIP’s Contemporary Style

Worn by celebrities, skaters, musicians, artists and virtually everyone else in-between, from downtown New York to London boroughs, Carhartt WIP has ushered a new era of low-key workwear functionalism. The label mixes this contemporary utilitarian style with comfort. The aesthetic has a vintage charm – reinforced by Carhartt’s authenticity – making the style appealing and timeless.

Carhartt WIP AW23 lookbook.
Image from AW23 Carhartt WIP lookbook.

Photo from Carhartt WIP campaign video.
Image from The Carhartt WIP Archives.