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The OG Workhorse: Dickies Wraps Up Centennial Year

Dickies is one of the few apparel brands that can say it has been “on the job since 1922.” 

Established by cousins C.N. Williamson and Col. E.E. in 1922 as Williamson-Dickies Mfg. Co., the Dickies brand found its footing a decade later when its matching twill tops and bottoms became the de facto uniform for workers in the U.S. Wartime production in the 1940s followed by international expansion in the ’50s, evolved Dickies into a globally recognized brand owned by VF Corporation since 2017. Worn by skaters, teens and generational icons like Tupac and Snoop Dogg, the brand has earned its place in the annals of pop culture, while maintaining its core audience—workers in fields as varied as landscaping, construction, mechanics, health care, hospitality, farming and manufacturing, to name a few.   

Dickies pays homage to the workers that helped build the brand in its centennial campaign called “Made in Dickies.” Featuring the stories of five individuals working in various industriesthe campaign launched with a 100th Collection that revisits heritage pieces including a denim overall, pants and chore coat and a matching khaki set.

Other celebratory projects include a community-focused documentary developed with Vice TV profiled the subcultures that Dickies is linked to, a special edition book by illustrator Lucas Beaufort about the brand’s history and a surprise holiday collaboration with Gucci. The collection remixes the 874 Work Pant and Eisenhower Jacket into elevated pieces that retail for as much as $7,410.

As Dickies prepares for the next 100 years, Denny Bruce, Dickies global brand president, shares how the brand is weaving inclusivity, sustainability and functionality into its next chapter. With a deep knowledge of balancing workwear and lifestyle, the company may be better equipped than most to handle consumers’ post-pandemic expectations of durability and longevity.

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Dickies heritage is performance workwear, but it also has a following with skaters and with consumers that enjoy the minimalist workwear look. What percent of Dickies’ business is performance workwear versus lifestyle?

Denny Bruce: As a global business, this can be a more nuanced question to answer than it sounds because workwear looks very different across the world. I would say 70 percent of our North American business comes from workwear. In Europe, 40 percent of our business is workwear largely because European workwear is so highly regulated that what is thought of as traditional American workwear has been adopted into the lifestyle market as a style statement. That sentiment grows even stronger as you move East and into Asia where Dickies is solidly a lifestyle business.

What percentage of business comes from wholesale versus D2C?

DB: Most of our business is a traditional wholesale business. That said, we know that great brands have a deep connection with their consumer. We use our platform to not just simply sell products, we gleam insights into our consumer and leverage these insights to make products that customers want. 

How has the pandemic affected Dickies’ business? 

DB: Our business has been strong throughout the pandemic as many of our wholesale partners remained open to service the essential workforce. Our product is initially bought for functional reasons. While it can also be a style statement, that functionality makes it more valuable as we return to the new normal. We’re all familiar with the social media memes that refer to the ‘tops no bottoms’ work-from-home culture that became popular during the pandemic, but we are happy that this sentiment doesn’t apply to workwear and our workers.

How much of Dickies’ product line is based in denim? 

DB: Dickies holds a unique spot in the traditional workwear market—which is known to largely be made up of denim—as four out of five of our most iconic silhouettes (the 874 Work Pant, the Eisenhower Jacket, the Work Shirt and the Coverall) are made out of twill. The outlier to that is our denim bib overall. An iconic denim workhorse that has stood the test of time. We see our denim product gaining momentum on the lifestyle side of our business, but workers largely know and love Dickies for our twill.  

Are there any key differences for the men’s business versus the women’s business?

DB: We see more parallels than differences than ever before. Workwear includes a broad spectrum of diversity in body shape and size and because of that we’re accelerating our plus size and big and tall business. We’ve taken a women’s first approach by perfecting our plus size fits and are now pulling our men’s big and tall business into focus. On the lifestyle side, we’re seeing more and more women opt into what has traditionally been thought of as men’s silhouettes and that sits top of mind as we push further into gender inclusive collections. 

Inclusivity and sustainability are two topics that have dominated fashion headlines. How does Dickies address them?

DB: With deep roots in workwear, we see a truly diverse customer range and take a lot of pride in being inclusive. Beyond our focus on body and gender inclusivity, we’re inclusive with our accessible price point and the availability of our product in the marketplace. 

We look at sustainability in two ways. Our products are built for longevity, to be in service and worn daily for years—that is a statement in sustainability. The evolution of sustainable fabrics that retain durability, which our customer is not willing to sacrifice, and at a cost neutral price is still not as prevalent as we’d like. Our European team has been vocal in challenging the industry in this area and because of that we’ve built a strong roadmap that saw us launch the Dickies Sustainable Icons Collection this spring in Europe made from recycled polyester. 

Are you tracking any other lifestyle trends that could potentially impact the workwear category?        

DB: We’ve known for a while those consumers don’t want to just buy clothes, they want an experience and as we think of how to address that, we kept returning to personalization. Personalization by adding a worker’s name to their uniform has been inherent in workwear for decades. We’re working on a project that will take that idea, expand it, and bring it to life both physically and digitally. There is a real no-nonsense simplicity to the way our product is built, and it allows wearers around the world, across all ages, jobs and lifestyles to adopt our product in a way that lets Dickies be their blank canvas for self-expression and we’re looking to further enable that for our customers.

How are you building a connection between Dickies and Gen Z?

DB: There are intrinsic Dickies qualities that authentically appeal to Gen Z. Streetstyle is here to stay; that energy has exploded and will remain part of the apparel conversation. A lot of elements are influencing that, politics, the economy, and those elements have made our $30 straight leg, sturdy twill 874 Work Pant surge across a new generation of TikTok users who want to project their ambition to live outside of traditional systems. 

While Dickies has been organically adopted into the lifestyle market, we’re careful to control our own destiny. We strategically collaborate with other brands and influencers which has allowed us to express the unique attributes of Dickies to broader segments of the market. We recently released two very successful skateboarding collaborations with two of our skate team members, a bag collection with Halsey, have dropped two collaborations with Supreme and are currently touring with Olivia Rodrigo as her tour merchandise supplier of choice. 

In what ways do you think Dickies is the same as it was 100 years ago?   

DB: I’m constantly looking to Philip Williamson, Dickies’ fourth generation founding family member, to ground our product innovation in quality and durability. We live by two mantras, “Dickies products are as durable and honest as the people that wear them,” often said by Philip. And a more recent one as our lifestyle business continues to have a transformational impact on our brand, “Without work, there is no work-inspired.”

What’s the next big opportunity for the brand?

DB: Dickies turned 100 this year and our milestone anniversary represents not only the evolution of Dickies thus far, but the hardworking people who’ve made the brand what it is today, transcending it into a unique position of cultural relevance. As we look to the next 100 years and what’s next for workwear, we’re expanding our iconic twill workwear collections, collaborating with new partners in the lifestyle space, and focusing on what technologies, fabrics and silhouettes will shape the next generation of workwear.