Independence Day: 24 hours of bedazzling spectacles that include every hue of red, white and blue tinged with the smells of sulfur, saltpeter, hickory and reefer (if that happens to be your newly won legal right). Today is the day to reflect on the nation’s roots and ponder the future of this captivating land founded by men with electric keys and ivory teeth, and wonder whether or not they would still agree that this truly is the land of the free.
One thing that was for sure back then was that the founding father’s shoes and clothing were proudly made in the good ol’ USA. In fact, almost 100 percent of garments worn by Americans were made by Americans up until the 1960s, before the emergence of overseas textile mills and trade liberalization policies. Since then, the total percent of homeland gear bought and worn by it’s citizenry has dropped into the single digits. Despite this half-century-long industrial exodus, there still remain a handful of companies dedicated to keeping their products neighbor-made and homespun.
The most high-profile of these companies is American Apparel, whose initial emergence in the early oughts took a back-to-basics approach to wardrobe staples. After years of ill-fitting T-shirt patterns and cheap-o cotton blends, AA brought back a certain timeless style with solid colors and logoless dignity, all while sharing with it’s buying public the stories of its hardworking employees. Unfortunately scandalous lawsuits around its CEO’s behavior, coupled with a dubious expansion away from its core pieces into more sophisticated and zig-zaggy designs had the company on the chopping block as of 2012. But still: Its gear is still crafted by fellow Americans, and besides, is it not a national pastime to find entertainment in the antics of a true American charismopath? Think Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and that dapper ladie’s man, JFK.
So where else does one shop for a quality American-stitched wardrobe? Let’s break it down:
For the basic staples, Camber USA offers long-lasting T-shirts and the warmest of hoodies. They also offer workwear in the safest and most urbane of colors: High-Vis[ibility]. Another staple company more dedicated to a greener mode of production is TS Designs, making sustainable T-shirts from North Carolina cotton. Before the passing of NAFTA, they printed shirts for major labels, such as The Gap and Polo; even after losing those contracts to cheap overseas labor, they stuck it out and kept the company local.
Underwear and workout apparel can be found at Wickers. They offer moisture-wicking long and short underwear, sleeping garment and even a specialized blend that boosts oxygen levels in the blood. They also made the flame-retardant undergarments of the Special Forces, just in case lounging around in your knickers while chain-smoking for days straight is your bag.
Wigwam is a sock-based firm that harkens back to the golden age of Aqua-Net and Z. Cavariccis. They have updated their line from the bunched-up ankle warmers of the ‘80s, now hitting the mark for all your running and hiking needs. Socks in general are the easiest to find article of clothing with the “Made in U.S.A.” label, as cotton is still a plentiful homeland resource. And while we’re on the subject of cotton: The denim jean is an American innovation of legendary proportions, but just because Levi’s packed up shop for the other side of the planet doesn’t mean that you can’t find higher quality dungarees right here at home. From the Ma & Pop hospitality of Pointer Brand to the haute meatpacking district designs of Jean Shop in New York City, there is a price-range spectrum of American blues to swagger in.
When it comes to outdoor activities such as manual work and camping adventures, Wiggy’s based out Alaska offers some the warmest coats and sleeping bags available. They exclusively use Lamilite insulation, which will keep you snug even in the most miserable of cold and wet conditions, and unlike other insulators such as goose down, Lamilite is machine washable and keeps it shape wash after wash. The work and motorcycle glove company JRC Glove also provides high-quality stitched handwear made from deerskin, which is more durable than cowhide or Cordura alternatives. All you need to break in your first pair is a shovel or the throttle.
As rugged as a rugged American can be, there comes a time when one must clean up real nice, don’tcha know. For those with an eye for the latest fashions straight from L.A., Band of Outsiders offers choice casual and formal wear for both ladies and gentleclowns. New England Shirt Company also offers classic tailored shirts and have expanded their line to pants and shirts. For those gents who want to really dud it up with the finest suits the country has to offer, look into Hardwick, Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Max, who is responsible for tailoring the presidential uniform of Obama all the way back to Eisenhower (flag pin not included).
And finally, what should you slap on your feet? Well, sneakers are always a challenge, but New Balance has recently increased their tally of USA-made material footwear. They even have two fully customizable options! For boots, look no farther than the endless list of characters produced by Double-H Boots. I once had the honor of touring their facilities via a public-access show on VHS, and rest assured, the money spent on an Double-H boot is going towards many a grandchild’s nana.
Speaking of grandmothers and family, I think this is where the reasoning behind buying and wearing American-made clothing and shoes can be put into perspective: Obviously, there is the economic viewpoint of keeping jobs here and putting money back into the domestic economy. There is also an ethical code of knowing that you are wearing “sweat-shop free” threads. But there is also an underlying statement of unity that goes unsaid when doing one’s best to hunt down and purchase as much disappearing American-made gear as possible. It is a practice that goes beyond political viewpoints and harkens back to a more self-reliant industriousness that is slowly losing itself to nostalgia.