Workwear’s Influence on Sneakers
The worlds of workwear and sportswear collided long ago. Whether it be denim construction or gum rubber outsoles, workwear inspo has been a staple of your favourite sportswear giants for years now. The abundance of rugged sneakers seems to have increased lately, and for good reason: the same design cues that make workwear icons the everlasting classics that they are also do wonders for making footwear favourites indestructible in any season.
While the crossover from the worksite to the street has come in many forms, we’ve noticed two specific workwear icons that have had a big influence on footwear design in recent years.
The Original Yellow Boot
Timberland’s ‘Original Yellow Boot’ is the go-to when it comes to robust and durable footwear. Introduced back in 1973 by Sidney Swartz, the 6-inch boot was geared towards hard-working New Englanders and has long been the quintessential Timberland design. When you think of Timberland, you think of the ‘Original Yellow Boot’; it’s the design the company was built on.
While the kicks were originally ‘driven by form, function and craftsmanship, rather than the lure of fashion runways’, the boots quickly spread from the ‘hard, wet, snowbound winters of New Hampshire’ to the west coast, before eventually going global. Thanks to their padded leather collars, Taslan laces, rustproof hardware, seam-sealed waterproof construction, and signature wheat-coloured nubuck, the design quickly caught on as a symbol of American style. To this day, it remains a masterpiece of its kind.
The Traditional C001
What the 6-inch boot did for Timberland, the chore coat did for Carhartt. Tracing its roots all the way back to 1892, the chore coat has been the Michigan-based brand’s staple silhouette for over a century, and one that transcends trends thanks to its warm blanket-lined, wind-resistant, water-repellant construction.
Since 1949, the signature design has remained largely unchanged. A pleated bi-swing back was added in the 1950s to allow for additional stretch across the shoulders, but the rivet-reinforced pockets, corduroy-trimmed collar, and heavyweight duck all remain true to the OG.
Nubuck and Duck
When it comes to today’s workwear-inspired kicks, their designs — without fail — have one major commonality: heavy-duty construction to withstand the elements. And the two best materials for that construction? Nubuck and duck canvas.
Timberland and Carhartt’s beloved materials may be old, but they lend themselves perfectly to modern footwear design. Though similar to suede, nubuck is significantly stronger and thicker because it’s created from the outside, or grain side, of cattle leather (synthetic nubuck is also crafted to have similar properties). Duck canvas, on the other hand, is essentially just plain cotton fabric, but is much more tightly woven than your prototypical canvas. In both cases, the materials can withstand just about anything thrown at them; it’s no wonder that brands like Nike, Converse, Vans and adidas have been using them for years.
Modern sportswear nods to workwear classics don’t stop at the materials. While countless brands have offered up nubuck and heavyweight canvas construction, the recent trend has seen a more literal translation of the iconic boot and coat. Case in point? The infinitely popular ‘Wheat’ releases and Carhartt’s hotly anticipated WIP colab with the Swoosh.
In the last few years, the ‘Wheat’ look has seemingly known no bounds. Everything from the Stan Smith and the Air Force 1 to your favourite Air Max silhouette has received the golden treatment. In most cases, these not only opt for workwear inspo, but translate the full look to the silhouette. Kicks like adi’s Stan Smith, for example, don’t just come swathed in water-resistant nubuck, they also employ the 6-inch Boot’s brown leather, hexagonal gold eyelets, and Taslan lacing. Many are even capped off with gum rubber outsoles.
Carhartt WIP’s yet-to-be-released AF-1s, on the other hand, are essentially a chore coat for your feet. Multiple colourways are supposedly on the way, but the best of the bunch may be the ‘Ale Brown’ execution. Not only does it sport the classic coat’s duck canvas throughout its upper, it also comes with a corduroy collar, golden eyelets, and the distinctive Carhartt badge.
From Workwear to Sportswear to Luxury Wear
Sneakers set their sights on workwear long ago, and show no signs of letting up. The upcoming WIP AF-1s are sure to be a hot commodity, maybe even the most coveted workwear-inspired kicks yet. However, if the Vetements x SWEAR colab is any indication, high-fashion has the workwear x sportswear trend squarely in its sights — swooping in to ruin the mashups for us all.