“1986 was no ordinary year. A gallon of gas was 89¢, Halley’s Comet buzzed the earth, and a company called Dockers was about to upend what guys wear to work forever.“ So goes the ad copy for the Dockers brand, created in 1986 as a subsidiary of Levi’s, so as to differentiate the brand images. “Taking its cue from British longshoremen, as well as the khaki pants worn by miners in the 1920s,” though their inspiration may not be Ivy itself, their initial look certainly tended towards it.
Dockers sold khakis. Plain and simple: quality craftsmanship, good cotton twill, traditional, pleated cuts (though regrettably often uncuffed) with an appealing nautical flap pocket, and a charming logo. In the peak preppy atmosphere of the mid-’80s, it seems they caught on. Unfortunately, they strayed far—with all their might.
In 1992, Dockers widely circulated a “Guide to Casual Business Wear.” The outfits therein depict only a stereotypical ‘90s look which, since it was avant-garde at the time, meant that by the time we got out of the ‘90s, it lent the previously youthful khakis unfortunate infamy, and made them odious at large. And it’s only gotten worse. This year Dockers published “The New Casual Book,” which proudly boasts, “It was us: Dockers initiated Casual Friday by sending an eight-page Guide to Casual Business Wear manifesto to 25,000 HR managers across America, suggesting them and their employees to swap their suit for a chino, on Fridays as a first step. And it worked!” (bolding original).
The wording certainly sounds ill-intentioned. If Dockers can’t be held responsible for being major players in the decline of “dressing up” (as they very well might), they can at least be held responsible for trying. I’ll spare you the details of what the booklet peddles except its thesis of sorts, which it states explicitly: “One thing is clear: To change the world you don’t need a suit.” (To which I say, “to be a musician you don’t need ears.”)
Take a look around a college campus now, and it’s apparent khakis have ditched the “dad pants” connotation and are once again accepted (if they ever weren’t; I was, honestly, too young to remember the early aughts. But they certainly seem to be spreading), albeit in their slim, uncreased variety. But we can thank their inherent quality and versatility as garments for bringing them back into the limelight, and brands like Duck Head and Hertling for their continuing quality production of them. As for Dockers, they were onto something, had their chance, and blew it. Now they’re relegated to the cheapest of Walmart shelves (and have dropped all their all-cotton models and original “British Khaki” color, too).
To leave you on a high note, here are more of the original hangtags. They exude a certain ’30s Apparel Arts look, but the flat caps and what look to be canvas Top-Siders (among other things) make them at home with Ivy (although the train-goer in chore jacket might more resemble the “workwear” trend of recently). The “inspired by the comfortable well worn [sic] clothes of the working man” mantra parallels Ivy style logic, insofar as it prides functionality, durability, and a degree of comfort above shininess and finesse. And note that this phrase does not automatically mean “jeans” (particularly since the company was incorporated separate from Levi’s so as to delineate it from denim).
I do especially love the first one, though. Though it may portray the suit and the longshoreman’s clothes as contrary, I instead think it shows the great spectrum of formality that a traditional wardrobe lends a man. — LUCAS GONDREAU