Ben Davis

Ben Davis logo


Ben Davis outfitted the gangsters when I was growing up. Their khaki pants sagged off dudes’ waists so low that the bottoms of their leg holes frayed more with every slew-footed step they took. A cloth belt with a metal, Old English-engraved buckle saved most pairs from falling all the way to their ankles. Some dudes thumbtacked the bottom of the pants to their FILA or Nikes to prevent the garments from completely coming apart. It added a little bit of swagger, too. 


Rapper Eazy-E of NWA wearing vintage Ben Davis in the 90s

But those were a tough pair of pants; tougher than the guys wearing them. And those guys stood strong against a lot of the adversity present in the neighborhood. I watched them throw punches in their Ben Davis gear and get socked back. They walked away from car accidents and pocket knife cuts in the brand and withstood harassment from local law enforcement. 


Classic Ben Davis in a department store advertising the brand's commitment to the blue collar worker

It wasn’t Ben Davis and that smiling gorilla acting as armor over these dudes, though. It was the circumstances in which they'd come up. 

The brand had made its way into these blue collar neighborhoods through an era that had almost completely faded away by the time I gained consciousness. The line was designed for factory workers who represented America’s middle class. At one point the company’s motto was “USA Made Plenty Tough”. It represented a time where manual labor could more easily afford a family a house to call their own compared to today. 


Hip-hop group Bone Thugs n Harmony of Cleveland, Ohio, a factory town, wearing vintage Ben Davis in the 90s, including a pair of their khaki pants and a work jacket

That era disappeared and took with it those jobs and opportunities to sustain a large sect of the country. Diminishing career prospects created a vacuum in society. Crime seeped in as folks looked for solutions to these new woes thanks to a lack of substantial government assistance that might guide them back to a sense of prosperity. These places took on new identities and instead of representing the promise of America could be, they became the country’s hardened face - blemished with scars, pockmarks, and busted lips.  

Trop mieux khaki and black shirt designed in an homage to Ben Davis and similar retro style work wear brands made in the USA

And while so much had changed, with jobs gone along with the associated infrastructure, what remained in these places were brands like Ben Davis; made for the working class and now symbolizing a new type of toughness. This khaki color way represents that history; the resilience of hard-working people who fight through so much to survive by any means and look good doing it.