Catching up with chief archivist Ann Richardson

Catching up with chief archivist Ann Richardson to celebrate 100 years of Dickies

STORIES| 29.03.2022

2022 is a very significant year for us at Dickies. It marks our 100th anniversary. What a wild ride this last century has been, seeing us grow from local Texan bib-overall manufacturer to global workwear and fashion icon.

We sat down with our Chief Archivist, Ann Richardson, to honor this momentous occasion. Forget employee of the month, Ann's employee of the century! No one knows and loves Dickies quite like Ann. She's our current longest-tenured employee, with over 50 years of committed service under her belt.

Read on to find out Ann's take on the evolution of Dickies and her relationship with our brand.

We've also just launched our Anniversary Collection to celebrate the milestone. The bold collection pays tribute to the evolution of our story by using selected repeat patterns, heritage designs sourced from our archive and vibrant summer stripe fabrics. The men's and women's collections can be seen here.

We're taking the rest of this year to celebrate. Watch this space for more information!

Can you introduce yourself, where are you based and what you currently do?

Ann Richardson, based in Fort Worth. Currently the General Manager (GM) of Dickies 1922*, the Made in USA heritage line, and managing the Dickies' archive in partnership with Corinna Wright.  

*Dickies 1922 is a collection of authentic replica products manufactured in the same way they were a century ago. It is produced in the USA. 

It's amazing to see that you started working for Dickies in 1970, and you're still part of the brand. How did you evolve in the company? What were the different steps of your career at Dickies?

My first official job title was Assistant Stylist. I selected cloth and determined the style it would go into, worked up new styles, and handwrote a single piece of paper to set up new lot numbers, which went to the 4th floor for costing and Bill of Materials.   

I also wrote specification changes which were "mimeographed" and copied to about ten people.  

Primarily I worked on casual wear, which was slacks and jeans. Flares were becoming more popular, so that was a big change.  

We went to NYC four times a year to visit the showrooms of the cloth suppliers, which would take 4 to 5 days…fly in Sunday or Monday, return Friday. The cloth was all made in the USA at that time. 

There were almost no women in the men's wear industry, but that was another thing that was beginning to change. I think I became the Stylist, then Merchandise Manager? We began to have Product Managers as the line grew. 

When we first hired graphic artists to work on marketing type projects, they worked for me and eventually, the Marketing Department evolved out of that.  

When the structure of merchandising was changed to have GM's of various categories, I became the GM of Outerwear. We had to change everything about the way we handled Outerwear, especially the delivery plan, but we were able to triple sales in three years.

The next step was Trend Development which involved a lot of travel, shows and store shopping to bring the trends back to the product managers. When we hired a Head of Design, she changed all the product managers to designers, and they all began monitoring trends. The trend forecasting industry moved online around the same time. 

When Dickies 1922 became a direction, I moved to that category, which I still manage. 

Corinna Wright and I manage the Archive, which is an ongoing research project. We are continually acquiring new information and garments related to the company's history.

A Dickies advert from 1972

Can you tell us about your favorite archive piece? 

One of my favorite pieces is the 1933 work pant and shirt pictured below. 

They were bought in 1933 and returned to us by a west Texas hospital worker in 1947 in the hope that it "might be a good advertisement" for Dickies’ quality. The gentleman was hoping we might send him "a new suit". Both pieces have a lot of wear and very skillfully done repair.  

These would have been worn between 1933 and 1947, through the Dust Bowl, the great depression and WWII if his work held him out of the war.  

The shirt was originally long-sleeved. We believe it was protected by a "bib" of another material that tucked into the pants.  

The collar wore completely through at the fold and has been removed, turned around and reattached, which was not unusual at the time. The buttons are shell.

​​The pant did not have any protection, so it has a lot of rips, repairs and stains. The crease is still sharp despite the pant being 100% Cotton. It is easy to see the wearer was right-handed from the extra abrasion around the pockets on that side of the pant.

1933 work pant and shirt from the Dickies Archive

I'm curious to know how you started working for the brand? What is the story? 

I was about to graduate from TCU with a degree in Fashion Merchandising. Dickies had an ad in the newspaper for the Assistant Stylist position, which I applied for. I started a couple of days after graduation. The newspaper was the primary way to look for jobs then.  

Vintage Dickies’ Advert

 

I noticed your position as Director of Trend Development, how can you define it through Dickies?

Director of Trend Development was a new position. It entailed shopping all the trend services, determining the most applicable to Dickies.

Since the business wasn't online, there were also many stores and shows to visit and samples to purchase and bring back to the team. 

 

How do you keep inspired, and what motivates you the most in your job?

The most important motivating factor has always been the success of the company. 

When we had our own factories in the US, which were in small towns or cities without a lot of other opportunities, if the company and product did well, all those people had full-time work and could support their families.

Today, people who sew for us are working for contractors, but they are still mostly female with limited employment opportunities who need work and income. 

If Dickies’ products do well, everyone involved benefits – salespeople, office workers, support services, factory people. Dickies is a community with everyone pulling together to succeed.

CN Williamson & EE “Colonel” Dickie

Dickies evolved from workwear to occupying a significant space in both workwear and fashion over the years, what were the main changes and how did that come about?

Most people don't realize that Dickies has made a great deal of casual apparel since the beginning. The catalogue we have from 1928 has ten pages of Little Don boy's playsuits at the front, one playsuit per page, followed by two pages of workwear with multiple items per page. No doubt workwear was "paying the bills" but the playsuits were being promoted.  

After WWII, we came out with men's and women's shirts and jeans called "Ranch Wear". These were good for work and casual. 

In the 1950s, we had "Slacktime" men's slacks and men's four-piece suits consisting of blazers, vests, pants and shorts that could be purchased separately. We were selling to department stores at this time.  

The casual product line expanded through the 1970s. In the late 70s work pants were discovered by college kids, especially young women, and we added many bright feminine colors.  

Workwear gets discovered by new generations periodically and is embraced because it is functional, inexpensive, authentic, durable and basic enough to be usable for many lifestyles.

Dickie Advert from the 1980s

Dickies is about to celebrate 100 years; can you talk us through the brand's evolution and its longevity?

There have been many significant moments over the years, it's difficult to include them all without getting too granular, but I will try to summarize them in chronological order: 

We were founded with a commitment to quality.  

Survived the great depression intact.

Increased production during WWll supplying over 9 million uniforms. 

During WWII, cloth was in short supply. Large baggy suits were popular with young Hispanic and black men and musicians. When it became politically incorrect and unpatriotic to wear the suits, some transitioned to Dickies work pants which were somewhat full cut.  

We benefitted from pent up demand after the war. Soldiers had been wearing twill matched sets as uniforms and transitioned to workwear for jobs in factories etc. There was huge demand for manufactured goods as returning soldiers married and started families, all that product was made in the US.  

During the 1950s, Dickies bought out several regional workwear brands and expanded into those areas, enhancing our nationwide position.

In the 1960s, we kept the commitment to quality and innovation, creating the 874 pant with a very cost-efficient make and permanent press, with matching shirts and jackets. 

Major marketing campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s enhanced the brand. 

We decided to sell to "discount stores" which were regional chains in the beginning. We were one of the first suppliers to Sam's 5 & 10 in Bentonville, Arkansas which became Walmart. Founded in 1962, Walmart's growth was enormous, and Dickies grew with them. 

In the 1950s or 1960s we began selling coveralls into the mid-East oil fields. In the 1970s and 1980s we bought a couple of work-related companies in England and Belgium and licensed casual wear with companies in France and Germany. This all eventually became Dickies Europe. 

In the 1970's we expanded casual wear to make flared jeans, pants and leisure suits.

College girls discovered us in the very late 70s which grew into major popularity with younger students through the early 80's with a big expansion of the colors in work pants, painter's pants and bibs. 

Hip hop began in the 1970s, Dickies provided inexpensive clothes that could easily be worn oversized which became a hip hop look. Dickies were also from the streets, like so many of the musicians. Sneaker colors and sports team colors were important in this market in the 1980’s.   

The color expansion from the 80s eventually led to licensing Dickies women's wear in the late 1990s and the growth of that category.

In the 1980s we launched casual wear in Japan with a retailer there. Other distributorships were established in the Asia Pacific region through the 80s and 90s and all of those now comprise our APAC division.    

In the 1990s we added more streetwear, especially the 13" shorts and double knee relaxed pants.

VF Corp. purchased us in 2017, which is driving a lot of growth!

The most important key to Dickies’ longevity is that we produce honest, durable and versatile products that exceed customer's expectations

Thanks for your time Ann, what an amazing insight! 

It's clear to see that Ann has a great affection for Dickies where she has spent most of her working life, reflected in the enthusiasm and care that she puts into constantly researching and unearthing history about the brand. Congratulations Ann, and congratulations Dickies. Here’s to another 100 years!


  1. Men:KHAKI Original 874 Work Pant - view 1
    RECYCLED MATERIALS
    Original 874 Work Pant (Unisex)
    €75.00
  2. Short Sleeve Work Shirt Dickies Essentials by Dickieslife - view 1
    RECYCLED MATERIALS
    Short Sleeve Work Shirt
    €55.00

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