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When it comes to representing the culture they come from, American brands have a lot to work with. From sport, to cinema, to music, to food and beyond, the idea of America is as vast conceptually as it is geographically. To try and condense it down to the nucleus, people use the word “Americana”—a constantly morphing and evolving term the define anything and everything that loosely relates to the cultural, historical and ideological phenomenon of the United States of America.

And when it comes to fashion, that seemingly endless list of source material really becomes apparent, with clothing labels placing their roots in all manner of places. But whether their points of reference lead to Ivy League universities, skateboarding, the great outdoors, the military or sports teams, the road always leads back to the phenomenon of America. To create a comprehensive list of American fashion brands would be impossible, so here’s your introduction to the clothing labels that represent Americana, in any of its most poignant forms.

Polo Ralph Lauren

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Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, Polo Ralph Lauren was founded by a 29-year old Ralph Lifshitz working out of a single-drawer “showroom” in the Empire States Building. In the years that followed, his mesh cotton polo shirts, embroidered with a Pony logo chest emblem, would become one of his brand’s signature pieces, while his label’s elegant blend of Ivy, prep and country club styles would come to represent the quintessential all-American man. As the label’s Polo Sport and Snow Beach sub-lines gained popularity in the hip-hop world thanks to the likes of Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan, Ralph Lauren became ingrained in our collective consciousness as a universal symbol of American wealth and good-living, whatever form that living might take.

Patagonia

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Founded in California back in 1973, American rock climber Yvon Chouinard’s outdoors brand is rooted in the beauty of America’s natural landscapes across both the northern and southern continents—the brand’s iconic logo is a silhouette of Mount Fitz Roy, a mountain the South American region from which the brand takes its name.

Patagonia’s distinctive quilted jackets, fleece sweaters and technical jackets have been a mainstay of American outdoors life for decades now, and in recent years they’ve taken that role seriously, working hard to improve the sustainability of their products. They endeavor to ensure as much of their product as possible is ethically and sustainably produced, and they restructured their entire supply chain to reduce the impact of their manufacturing. If you’ve ever spent a day near a lake, mountain, river, beach or national park, you’ve probably encountered Patagonia, and they’re committed to making sure those places will still be here in the years to come.

L.L. Bean

Another iconic American outdoors brand, L.L. Bean was founded by its namesake, Leon Leonwood Bean, in 1912, making it one of the oldest American brands still operating today. Its most famous creation is also one of its first, their iconic Duck Boot, notable for its distinct textured rubber outsole and ridged, water-resistant upper. This design, along with many other pieces in the company’s roster, became synonymous with twentieth century Prep fashion, and it’s possible to see the brand’s underappreciated influence in many of the present day’s most popular menswear labels.

Supreme

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Supreme’s legacy in putting American streetwear on the world stage is now unavoidable and undeniable, but its golden formula is rooted in many of America’s most iconic brands, whether workwear, fashion, or otherwise. Since its launch in 1994, Supreme has come to epitomize the notion of ‘downtown cool’, but its identity stands for much more than New York skaters alone, collating styles as far-flung as prep, surf, punk, hip-hop, metal, military, work and more into a singular, all-American youth aesthetic against a backdrop of the country’s most iconic bands, artists, filmmakers and more. It’s an institution for American cool itself.

Dickies

Now in its 96th year of operations, Dickies started out in Fort Worth, Texas, as an outfitter for workers of all manner of professions including mechanics, construction, farming and factory work. But the brand has gained unexpected street cred over the years, particularly toward the end of the 20th century, as emerging subcultures on both sides of the Atlantic, such as graffiti writers, skaters, ravers and bands, cosigned their hardwearing and affordable products. Nowadays, Dickies is a mainstay among skateboarders and anyone else looking for a pair of pants that can take a beating.

Carhartt

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Getty Images / Matthew Sperzel

Another American workwear brand that found unexpected kudos in late-20th century subculture, Carhartt was founded in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt in Dearborn, Michigan. The company started out making hard-wearing clothing for manual laborers from its signature duck canvas, and over the years became a natural supplier to Detroit’s auto factory workers, as well as blue collar workers across the United States. In 1989, German fashion designers Edwin and Salomee Faeh, struck up a deal to create a European offshoot of the brand called Work in Progress, creating refined, stylised versions of Carhartt’s product for the European skaters, writers and ravers who were drawn to the brand’s rugged, affordable clothing. Since then, Carhartt has grown rapidly in the fashion market, becoming one of the leading streetwear labels in both America and worldwide.

Brooks Brothers

Perhaps the most famous American tailor in the world and certainly the oldest, Henry Brooks founded his clothier in 1818, and when his four sons (Elisha, Daniel, Edward, and John) inherited the business in 1850, they renamed it Brooks Brothers. The company is indelibly linked to American history, outfitting 40 of the nation’s 45 presidents as well as creating uniform for soldiers during the American Civil War. Skipping into recent history, Brooks Brothers is a mainstay in American pop culture, literature, film and entertainment, appearing in novels, television shows and more.

Levi Strauss & Co.

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Another historic American brand that is woven into the fabric of the nation itself, Levi’s was founded by German immigrant Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1847. During that time, denim was strictly a worker’s textile, used for its durability, and Strauss introduced a number of technical updates to denim jeans which have since become commonplace, such as metal rivets to reinforce stress points on the pants. As denim jeans found capital in emerging cultural movements during the ‘50s and ‘60s such as the free love movement and rock’n’roll, Levi’s soon became an iconic brand in American youth and counter-culture, where it has remained ever since. Not bad for a guy from a small town in Bavaria.

Alpha Industries

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Alpha Industries has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity over the past few years thanks to its MA-1 jacket becoming standard issue attire for everyone from rappers and fashion designers to YouTubers and IG celebrities. The military aesthetic is more than just a look, however. They first started out in Knoxville, Tennessee as a manufacturer of military apparel in 1959—an appropriate time to make military uniforms, considering the Vietnam War had started 4 years earlier. High and consistent demand sustained the business, while the Vietnam War’s centrality to 20th century American history meant that the clothes of the war would be forever ingrained into people’s psyches. Since then, Alpha Industries has moved closer toward pure fashion, while its pedigree in authentic military manufacturing means when other brands need a military jacket making, they know exactly where to turn. The brand manufactured Vetements’ bomber jackets after the brand admitted nobody else could do it better, for example, and it was even rumored that they manufactured many of Supreme’s military-inspired jackets until a few years ago.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis was founded in 1935, and stands alongside the likes of Carhartt and Dickies as an iconic American workwear brand. The brand produces classic American work pieces, such as shirting, work pants and coveralls, and is known for its ‘Plenty Tough’ mantra. Ben Davis experienced a surge in popularity during the ‘90s, thanks to cameos in a number of hip-hop videos and adoption into wider rap subcultures. Their streetwear influences are also noteworthy; their Gorilla logo was allegedly the inspiration for the logo of popular west coast streetwear label X-LARGE Clothing–which may, in turn, have been a reference point for A Bathing Ape, which launched 2 years later following the first streetwear explosion in the USA. Answers on a postcard.

Thom Browne

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Thom Browne represents the younger generation of American fashion designers, launching his eponymous fashion label in 2003. The label experienced a rapid rise to success, with Browne collaborating with Brooks Brothers as a guest designer in 2006, and his suits and ready-to-wear lines becoming firm favorites for numerous celebrities. Browne is known for a number of design signatures, such as his trademark ‘shrunken suit’ design, featuring extra-short pant legs and jacket cuffs, as well as 4-stripe marks on legs and arms. In recent years, his work has leaned heavily into eccentricity, creating purses and duffle bags shaped like dogs, whales and steam boats, as well as embroidering quirky patterns into his textiles. Combining red, white and blue with colorful caricatures and motifs, in many ways, his clothes are an American fairy tale.

Calvin Klein / 205W39NYC

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If you’ve ever travelled past a billboard in any major global city, chances are you’ve encountered Calvin Klein. A fashion designer with full seasonal collections for both men and women, his most famous product is something we barely ever see; underwear. Prior to Calvin Klein, male underwear was largely uniform and uninspiring. Klein was the first designer to create stylish, aesthetic-minded boxers and briefs, kickstarting a cultural revolution that has endured to this day. Though Calvin Klein’s fashion lines continued this whole time, they have stood relatively in the shadows of his underwear empire—that is, until 2017, when Belgian fashion icon Raf Simons debuted his first collection for Calvin Klein under his 205W39NYC label. Though the line is still in its infancy, Simons appears to have consistently used collections to explore the mythos of the American identity, channeling outlandish American caricatures such as cowboy culture into his designs. And as with much of Simons’ output, it’s been a resounding success.

The North Face

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Another iconic American outdoors brand, The North Face was founded in San Francisco in 1966. Its name is inspired by the fact that in the northern hemisphere, the north face of a mountain is typically the most difficult to climb. Over the past 50+ years, The North Face has specialized in creating heavy-duty apparel and equipment for the most challenging outdoor activities, best known for its waterproof and insulated jackets, as well as a wide range of mountaineering and camping equipment. The North Face has enjoyed huge popularity in the streetwear world thanks to its practical appeal in cold northern cities such as New York and Chicago, whilst multiple collaborations with brands like Supreme, Mastermind Japan, Junya Watanabe have cemented the brand as a streetwear essential—their Supreme collaborations are consistently the most coveted piece from the skate brand’s seasonal collections, selling out in seconds.

Nike

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A brand so big you’d be forgiven for forgetting them, no brand encapsulates American sportswear quite like the Swoosh. Founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, the American brand started out as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger product before moving into creating its own sportswear in 1971. Thanks to a slew of effective marketing campaigns, the brand rapidly took a huge share of the American sportswear market. When a 1988 campaign unveiled their now-legendary ‘Just Do It’ slogan, Nike captured the American spirit of perseverance and determination. In the 30 years that have passed since then, the brand has accomplished so much that it would be impossible to summarize in a single paragraph. Put simply: Without Nike, there would be no sneaker culture.

Converse

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Another historic American brand, Converse is best known for a shoe it first produced near 100 years ago; the Chuck Taylor All-Star. Originally designed as a basketball shoe, Chucks have been adopted by countless subcultures and style tribes thanks to its simple design and affordability, consisting of a canvas upper attached to a rubber sole. Punks, skaters, graffiti writers, rockers, normies and more have adopted Converse shoes into their uniform, while contemporary collaborations with labels like Maison Margiela, Comme des Garçons and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White have reaffirmed the humble Converse canvas sneaker as a hallmark of American style and culture.

Tommy Hilfiger

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Another designer who would encapsulate quintessential American style in the second half of the twentieth century, Tommy Hilfiger founded his eponymous label in 1985, following in the footsteps of the likes of Ralph Lauren by creating clothing geared towards America’s well-heeled upper classes, with designs leaning heavily on country club, skiing and varsity cultures. Tommy Hilfiger was another American fashion label that was appropriated by the emerging hip-hop scene in the early ‘90s, with artists like Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg endorsing the line as the ‘next big thing’.

Gitman Bros.

Since 1978, Gitman Bros. has been one of America’s leading manufacturers of dress shirts and ties, and to this day, all of their products are made in the USA to this day. Their product range is a pretty formal affair, as you might expect, but they couple their classic dress and suit shirts with a range of flannels, check and plaid shirts, and are a firm favorite among men who prefer their casual wardrobe to come with collars and cuffs. No frills or fancy features—just good, solid shirts.

GAP

Another iconic American brand, GAP has played a huge part in the identity of twentieth century America. Founded in San Francisco in 1969, it was perfectly positioned to be adopted into the emergent counter-cultures and movements sprouting up across the west coast in the decade that followed, while the rise of casual fashion throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s created a space where GAP’s accessible, affordable and unimposing clothes were destined for success. No matter who you are, where you’re from or what you do, you’ve probably owned something from the GAP.

Noah

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Noah might be one of the youngest labels in this list, but the brand’s aesthetic and ideological roots are arguably some of the richest. Founded by former Creative Director of Supreme, Brendon Babenzien, Noah is a New York fashion brand that takes inspiration from the classic east coast styles and cultures in which Babenzien was born and raised; specifically, Rhode Island prep and nautical cultures. As a result, Noah features a heavy blend of rowing, sailing, rugby, jogging and ivy styles, mixed up with the punk, reggae and hip-hop subcultures that adopted these styles and turned them into their own stylistic expression. Babenzien has also committed his brand to ethical and sustainable production, producing as much product within the continent as possible, as well as supporting numerous political causes such as the ACLU, Black Lives Matter and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

New Era

It’s hard to think about American ball caps without thinking of the New Era Cap Company. The headwear company was was founded in 1920 and has been associated with Major League Baseball since 1934, when it produced caps for the Cleveland Indians. By the 1960s, they were supplying headwear for half of the teams in the league, and in 1993 they gained the exclusive license to produce caps for the MLB. At the turn of the millennium, they pushed further into sports like golf, football and basketball, and are now essentially the go-to brand for sports headwear in the United States. Given the centrality of sports and teams in American culture, it’s no surprise that New Era has seeped into other corners of culture such as music, film and television.

Starter

Another iconic American sportswear brand, Starter is a sportswear brand from New Haven, Connecticut, best known for its ball caps and eponymous Starter Jackets; satin pullover and button-up jackets adorned with the logos and colors of various major sports teams. Starter was a key brand in ‘90s hip-hop style, with groups like N.W.A., Run-DMC and 2 Live Crew making Starter jackets part of their wardrobe. The company’s streetwear legacy has been acknowledged by Supreme, who adorn many of their snapback caps with a modification of the Starter logo, transforming the S into a dollar sign.

Ebbets Field Flannels

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Seattle-based Ebbets Field Flannels might look like an historic American sportswear brand, but it’s actually only been around for the past 40 years. Founder Jerry Cohen was looking for a classic woolen baseball flannel but was unable to find one, so decided to make his own. When other expressed interest, he decided to launch his brand, creating authentic replicas of jerseys for historic and long-forgotten American ball teams. For a tribute act to a bygone era of American sport and culture, Ebbets Field Flannels is incredibly compelling, and they’ve been commissioned to create caps and jerseys for a slew of brands including Fuct, Bape, Supreme and Marc Jacobs.

Amiri

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Mike Amiri’s eponymous Amiri only launched in 2014, but the LA-based fashion label has rapidly grown in popularity to become one of the hottest American fashion brands in the market today. The label’s stylized reinterpretation of late 20th century subcultures like ‘80s hair metal and ‘90s grunge has created a more colorful and outlandish expression of rock’n’roll chic pioneered by designers like Hedi Slimane, collating leather jackets, skintight pants, cowboy boots and mohair sweaters into a slick, contemporary mode.

Celebrity co-signs from the likes of Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Guns ‘n’ Roses (whom he outfitted for their most recent tour) have positioned the label smack bang in the middle of the rock aesthetic revival that has spread through rap music and pop culture over the past few years, and as someone who came of age during the first outing of those movements has gifted him a credible eye when contextualizing them for a modern audience.

If Slimane’s blacked out collections and stick thin models presented the pared-down nucleus of rock style during the ‘00s, Amiri reinjects the culture’s outrageous colors and ostentatious styling, creating a label built of equal parts nostalgia for a bygone era and celebration of a time in American style where all the rules were truly being broken. Ever worry that leopard print pants would never come back in style? Fear not; Mike Amiri has got your back.

In other style news, these are the West Coast brands putting LA on the fashion map.

Words by Gregk Foley
Contributor

Gregk Foley is a writer based in Berlin whose work explores the intersections of style, culture, politics and identity.

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