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From Sewing to Riveting: Women and Carhartt

By Veronica Wood, Archive Intern

Without women, Carhartt would not be what it is today. Although they weren’t the initial demographic to whom founder Hamilton Carhartt marketed his products, the role of women has been integral to the success of the company.

enlarge image Want ad from the Detroit Free Press, September 1902
Want ad from the Detroit Free Press, September 1902

From the very start, the workforce at Carhartt was made almost entirely of women. The earliest classified advertisement in the Detroit Free Press for sewing machine operators appeared in July of 1884, and an article in 1901 mentions an event at the factory in Detroit attended by “500 girls.” Hundreds of hands worked diligently to establish the quality that became synonymous with the Carhartt brand. Among these women were the members of the Carhartt Ladies’ Band and Drum Corps.

The Carhartt Ladies’ Band and Drum Corps performed not only at Carhartt factory functions, but in parades, at local charity events, and at other Detroit community functions. One performance in 1901, for the Detroit Local No. 10 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, was so well received that President Henry C. Barter wrote, “In an era when rag-time and cake-walk melodies are the accustomed entertainment… it is indeed refreshing to discover that here in our own city and among our own people a band recruited among the toilers of the Carhartt factory boldly refused to conform… but instead gloriously maintains a classic standard that would do no discredit to the high ideals of Paris and Vienna.” The director of the band, Anna Beyer, stated in a subsequent article that “we girls are a quite ambitious lot and we have succeeded quite beyond our expectations.”

enlarge image Carhartt Ladies’ Band, 1901
Carhartt Ladies’ Band, 1901

Clothing for women that works as hard as they do, while remaining true to sensible fabrics and fit, appears throughout our product timeline.

enlarge image Oldest known Carhartt women’s ad, 1917
Oldest known Carhartt women’s ad, 1917

The first known Carhartt advertisement for women’s clothing was for “A Practical ‘Allover’ for Women”, marketed as a fuss-free garment that could be worn for house, farm, and factory work but was also appropriate for camping and athletics. This idea for durable women’s clothing that could function both on and off the clock is seen again in the ladies’ denim products and coveralls of the ‘40s and ‘50s. These styles, popularized as workwear during World War II, had staying power and became everyday items in the closets of Carhartt women.

enlarge image Women’s coverall, 1940s
Women’s coverall, 1940s

Carhartt products were consistently built by conscientious women who were committed to their jobs at the factory and were respected by their employer. This steadfast resolve would resonate into the future and help bring to life an iconic image of determination, that of “Rosie the Riveter.” As the United States joined the Allied forces in World War II, women nationwide joined the fight, some in military uniform and some in another type of uniform. The Carhartt coverall-clad woman, with her hair tied-up and a resolute focus directed at whatever mechanical task she had quickly mastered, became essential to the relentless force that was the domestic war effort. Women needed a garment that they could rely on to get their job done, and without hesitation, Carhartt delivered.

enlarge image Riveter at work, Fort Worth, Texas, October 1942 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection)
Riveter at work, Fort Worth, Texas, October 1942 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection)

In the 1990s, we launched the first official Carhartt for Women product line. We were excited to adapt our dependable and versatile quality products to meet the workwear needs of the contemporary Carhartt woman.

enlarge image Carhartt for Women catalog, 1998
Carhartt for Women catalog, 1998

Her mind focused on every task or challenge she faces, the women of Carhartt and the women who wear Carhartt have been hardworking and persistent throughout our company’s history, and we wouldn’t be who we are today without them. All hail the Carhartt woman!

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