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An Ode to Carhartt’s Signature Brown, an Iconic Shade for Workers, Rappers, and Skaters Alike

The new Converse x Carhartt drop inspired us to reflect on how Carhartt's signature mustard-brown became so iconic in hip hop and beyond.
Photo: Getty Images

To the glee of sk8r boi starter packs everywhere, two of our favorite Hard Chiller brands have once again united: Carhartt WIP X Converse. The fruits of this union would entice us even if they looked bonkers, but we had a feeling they would bring us a true neutral-good sneaker in Carhartt’s signature shade of Very Nice Dirt: 

Carhartt X Converse WIP

Photo: Luisaviaroma

Carhartt WIP x Converse Chuck 70 Hi ICONS, $163.50 at eBay

Brand collaborations give us the same cheap thrill of hearing that two celebrities started dating. But, as with every PR-orchestrated romance, sometimes the chemistry gets cringe. (RIP, Shell + LEGO®.) In recent years, the fashion industry has started to use the word “collab” like a dirty word

But we must admit that Carhartt X Converse hits right. The brand aesthetic pile-up doesn’t feel forced, largely thanks to the shining moment it has given to aforementioned Very Nice Dirt, a.k.a. Carhartt Brown, which has been gracing our coveralls forever:

Carhartt Coveralls

Photo: Etsy

Vintage Carhartt Coveralls, $76.49 at Etsy

Sure, those Chucks also come in camo, but what is it about the appeal of that murky mustard? It’s technically known as “Hamilton Brown” in an eponymous nod to the company’s founder. But given that it’s a color that has accompanied us (as well as Daniel Day Lewis?) throughout life, we prefer pet names like “mustard brown,” “cardboard Dijon,” or just, “that one color those Carhartt jackets are.” 


It’s long been a staple of the brand, which was founded 132 years ago in Detroit, Michigan by a dude named Hamilton Carhartt, who expanded his biz in tandem with the need for US railroad workers who needed less sucky clothes. 

Turns out, that shade of humble mustard was of thee most spreadable calibre, stretching all the way from the closets of a handful of working class folks in the late 1800s, to a cherished place in a contemporary lesbian archive.

In 1992, The New York Times published a response to the brand’s then-blooming love affair with 90s hip-hop label Tommy Boy Records gear, recalling how Carhartt first marketed itself as “just what a man needed for homesteading in the Oklahoma Territory, hunting deer in Michigan or stoking the fires of Mr. Carnegie's mills." In essence, the Sam Elliott of clothing. But now, the NY Times article noted, Carhartt was becoming an equally (note: not overridingly) sought-after “fashion accessory for rappers, club kids, preppie hangers-on and the otherwise chronically cool,” adding, in regards to that signature color's regional appeal, "in New York, hip-hoppers prefer their Carhartts mustard brown and hunter green with baggy corduroy pants stuffed into Timberland boots." 


Another article from that same year in The Buffalo News also addressed Carthartt's breakout in popularity as streetwear, stating, "It happened with Levi's and Dickies. Now it's happening with Carhartt. The manufacturer's classic mustard-brown canvas coat is not the utilitarian garment it once was." A testament to the dynamic nature of Everyman Brown. 

‘Tis that iconic, and comes in so many forms:

Carhartt Beanie

Photo: Slam Jam

Carhartt WIP Acrylic Watch Hat, $22 at Slam Jam

Carhartt T-Shirt

Photo: Zappos

Carhartt Workwear Pocket Tee K87, $16.99 at Zappos

Carhartt Pants


 Carhartt WIP Single Knee Trousers, $113 at SSENSE

Carhartt is still a family-owned business, and in both keeping in the times and being way ahead of them, is proud of its very involved pro-worker, pro-union history. The company has long operated in a way that teeters on the definition of a co-op, and in by 1905 Mr. Carhartt had implemented a “profit plan” to “make those who have helped me to build up this tremendous business partners in it and sharers of its profits” (as seen in the pamphlet below) by providing them with preferred stock:

Carhartt Archive

Photo: Carhartt

In 1911, Carharrt even wrote a poem in support of his workers’ calls to lower the 10-12 hour workday—one that is now proudly hung on the website’s refrigerator: “Eight hours means higher wages / More hours of blissful pleasure / Less robbery of school and playground...”

Carhartt Archive

Photo: Carhartt

Almost like a sea shanty, but about manufacturing durable pants. He made good on his word and continued bringing the killer brown fits. 

Today, Carhartt has worked with the likes of Vetements, A.P.C., Junya Watanabe, and others under “Carhartt WIP” (Work in Progress), the company’s style and streetwear-centered label whose looks simultaneously cater to two different energies: “Follow me to the tractor pull,” and, “Has anyone seen my Iced Lychee Mylé?” 

Carhartt Fairmont Jacket


Carhartt WIP Fairmont Jacket, $160 at SSENSE

Even at its most self-indulgent, Carhartt Brown feels sensible. Of course our dog needs a chore coat!:  

Carhartt Dog Chore Coat

Photo: Cabela's

Carhartt Dog Chore Coat, $39.99 at Cabela’s

Yes, we want our hound to be Peak Barn Boi-core, and that’s chiefly thanks to the reality of the shade as a time-tried reflection of Carhartt’s brand ethos: practicality and versatility. As we similarly saw in Comrade Sanders’ oatmealy Presidential Inauguration mittens, brown is for the people. Carhartt’s shade stays with us, because its primary goal is to work for us—wherever that work may be. 

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