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In a world of branding and marketing, it’s easy to get disillusioned by the empty promises companies and retailers like to make. Is that jacket really rugged? How is sustainability being measured? And what the hell does “heritage” mean? There’s not quite a consensus on what the tossed-around term is, so we thought we’d define it ourselves. We decided that any brand over (approximately) 40 years old who prioritizes quality construction and produces undeniably good product fits the bill.
And why 40 years? Mostly so we could include the likes of The North Face and Tommy Hilfiger. But the point stands that there are some brands that have outlived trend cycles and the switching of guards. It could be their incredible commitment to quality and craftsmanship. It could be an otherworldly sense of staying one step ahead, and therefore, relevant. It could be a sartorial monopoly on workwear or shaggy sweaters, or running goods. They might just have a well-designed name or logo.
While heritage crafters exist globally (think German athletic retailers Adidas), America’s prolific canon of long-time brands, retailers and designers is exceptional. Hailing from coast to coast — Levi’s set up shop in San Francisco over a century ago, with L.L. Bean doing the same in Maine — there are dozens, in not hundreds of brands that read as heritage and many are deserving of your attention be it for their maintained relevancy or impact on culture at large. Regardless of what’s kept them alive, it goes without saying that if it’s lasted this long, it’s probably pretty good. From Levi’s Jeans to Polo Ralph Lauren, these are the 20 best heritage brands that hail from the US of A.
Best For: Denim
The Need to Know: You can’t get more American than Levi’s. One of the oldest brands on our lists, the San Francisco-based denim retailer has been a stalwart of American style since American style was a thing. A core offering of long-lasting, well-fitting denim has been supplemented in recent years with new, exciting forays into more fashion-forward pursuits.
Signature Item: Levi’s 501 Original Fit Men’s Jean
Best For: Quality Basics
The Need to Know: Based out of Freeport, Maine, L.L. Bean was founded in 1912 and has been serving up quality, built-to-last basics at shockingly affordable prices ever since. Their Bean Boot is one of the most recognizable pieces of footwear around, and for good reason.
Signature Item: L.L. Bean Bean Boots, 8″
Best For: Sweats
The Need to Know: Started in 1919 as the “Knickerbocker Knitting Company,” the brand, now a Hanes subsidiary, hasn’t lost an ounce of quality that made them decades-long favorites of the US Military Academy, NBA and more. Affordable and soft, they truly make a damn fine sweatsuit.
Signature Item: Champion Reverse Weave Crew Sweatshirt
Best For: Officewear
The Need to Know: Brooks Brothers has outfitted the modern businessman for over 200 years, dating its founding to nineteenth-century Manhattan. That’s a hell of a long time to maintain relevancy, but look no future than your nearest hedge funder for proof.
Signature Item: Brooks Brother Regent Fit Hopsack Sport Coat
Best For: Sportswear
The Need to Know: The Swoosh is one of the largest brands in he world, with iconic styles, mantras and iconography setting the Beaverton-founded brand apart from the competition.
Signature Item: Nike Blazer Mid ’77 Vintage Sneaker
Best For: Workwear
The Need to Know: Double-kneed pants. Chore Coats. Bibs. The list of Carhartt staples goes on and on, all with stamps of approval from real, hardworking Americans.
Signature Item: Carrhartt Duck Balnket-Lined Chore Coat
Best For: Dress Shirting
The Need to Know: Founded in Houston, Texas, Hamilton Shirting has produced some of the finest made-to-measure garments to come out of the USA. The oldest family-owned business in Space City shirts are sold and endorsed by the likes of Todd Snyder and Barneys New York.
Signature Item: Hamilton Made In The USA French Cuffed Tuxedo Shirt
Best For: Outdoor Apparel
The Need to Know: Another San Francisco brainchild, The North Face has been outfitting climbers and outdoorsmen since 1966. Their dedication to innovation explains perfectly why they’re also one of the largest outdoor brands in the world.
Signature Item: The North Face Men’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket
Best For: Elevated Undies
The Need to Know: Few American designer’s names are as well known as Mr. Klein’s — it helps that they’re sown into the waistband of the brand’s luxurious undergarments.
Signature Item: Calvin Klein 3-Pack Moisture Wicking Strech Cotton Boxer Briefs
Best For: Woolen Goods and Winterwear
The Need to Know: Woolrich traces its inception all the way back to 1830s Pennsylvania where not long after, they would introduce a first-of-it’s-kind Buffalo Check Shirt. The rest, as they say, is history.
Signature Item: Woolrich Men’s Arctic Parka
Best For: Swimwear
The Need to Know: SoCal’s Birdwell Britches has been around since the ’60s, and for good reason — any seasoned beach-goer will tell you that their nylon board shorts are second to none for hanging out and hanging ten alike.
Signature Item: Birdwell Britches 310 Nylon Board Shorts
Best For: Workwear
The Need to Know: The famed makers of the 874 work pants may have found new life with a workwear-forward twenty-first century, but their dedication to affordable, durable and functional clothing has stayed the same.
Signature Item: Dickies 874 Work Pant
Best For: Flannels
The Need to Know: Pendleton’s weaves are the stuff of legends, and we’re not just talking about their trade blankets. After all, the Oregon-based retail makes a flannel to die for.
Signature Item: Pendleton Lined Wool Flannel Long-Sleeve Button-Down Shirt
Best For: Prep
The Need to Know: Surely, you’ve seen a Shaggy Dog sweater bouncing around on your college campus. But did you know they’ve been making the ivy-league rounds since the New Haven-based J.Press was born in 1902?
Signature Item: J.Press Shaggy Dog Crew Sweater
Best For: Leather Jackets
The Need to Know: A blue-color motorcycle jacket brand started in the 1920s, Schott makes perhaps the premier American leather jacket.
Signature Item: Schott Waxed Natural Pebbled Cowhide Cafe Leather Jacket
Best For: Logo-Heavy Casuals
The Need to Know: There was a time when Tommy Hilfiger was synonymous with cool; while its incredible heyday (see: the 1990s) may be slightly behind it, Tommy H still makes a mean logo tee and is far too iconic to be left to the sands of time.
Signature Item: Tommy Hilfiger Classic Fit Color-Blocked Rugby Polo
Best For: Rugged Outdoor Apparel
The Need to Know: The rough and tumble folks at Filson know how to make apparel — not to mention accessories — that will last; after all, they’ve been doing it since 1897.
Signature Item: Filson Workshop Leather Field Bag
Best For: Bomber Jackets
The Need to Know: If Alpha Industries MA-1 Bomber Jacket looks like the one in grandpa’s closet, it’s probably because it is. The Tennessee-founded jacket company was founded as a contractor for the U.S. military, and their flight-grade jackets emanate that same old-school cool.
Signature Item: Alpha Industries MA-1 Bomber Jacket
Best For: Casual Outdoor Apparel
The Need to Know: Eddie Bauer is to the Pacific Northwest what L.L. Bean is to the East Coast: that is to say, the Seattle-founded company predicates itself on outdoor-inspired, long-wearing basics that have stayed affordable since 1920.
Signautre Item: Eddie Bauer Momentum UPF 50+ Anorak
Best For: Everything
The Need to Know: From the polo icon to the iconic polo bear, Ralph Lauren’s empire of Polo Ralph Lauren is unequivocally one of the greatest American brands to grace the sartorial landscape. With entire catalogs of apparel, footwear and more spanning decades, PRL has done it all, at the highest level, for as long as we can remember.
Signature Item: Polo Ralph Lauren The Iconic Oxford Shirt
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