SIC 2326

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing men's and boys' work shirts, workpants (excluding jeans and dungarees), other work clothing, and washable service apparel. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing separate trousers and slacks (including jeans and dungarees) are classified in SIC 2325: Men's and Boys' Separate Trousers and Slacks.

NAICS Code(s)

315211 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors)

315225 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Work Clothing Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

About 225 establishments active in the manufacture of men's and boys' work clothing accounted for an inflation-adjusted value of total product shipments of $1.9 billion in 2000. This figure reversed a three-year downward trend. Materials costs also increased in 2000, to $1.03 billion after declining for three consecutive years. Although production in 2000 reflected the industry's recovery, employment in the industry declined that year to 19,042, compared to roughly 23,400 individuals in 1997.

Unlike other apparel industries, the men's and boys' work clothing industry has remained relatively immune from the deluge of imports wreaking havoc on the domestic markets of their apparel counterparts. On the work wear industry's input side, however, imports are playing an important role as more companies turn to inputs to lower labor and material costs so as to reverse the long-term slide in profit margins. To this end the outsourcing of work formerly performed within establishments to contractors outside U.S. borders has become an established trend.

One major demand-side development, anticipated to fill the void left by the falloff in industrial and agricultural markets, is the ongoing structural shift toward a service-based economy. Such a movement carries with it the potential for opening up vast areas of untapped demand for washable nontailored uniforms in health care facilities, personal care services, fast food chains, and other food preparation and service institutions. Viewed as a strategy to build customer recognition and loyalty, the wearing of corporate uniforms had already become an established trend among some airlines, banks, fitness centers, retail chain stores, and major hotels by the turn of the twenty-first century.

The men's and boys' work clothing industry also got a boost in the late 1990s from a growing interest in work wear as fashion. Brands such as Carhartt and Dickie's picked up on this trend and began marketing overalls, jackets, shirts, and workpants to the public as fashion wear. Industry leader V.F. Corp. was also expanding in the fashion/work wear market.

Organization and Structure

In 1993 approximately 275 establishments were active in the production and/or sales of men's and boys' work clothing. The largest concentrations of the industry's establishments were located in the East South Central, West South Central, and South Atlantic regions of the United States.

In 1996, the industry's dominant companies were: V.F. Corp.'s Tennessee-based Red Kap Industries, with $420 million in sales and 6,000 employees; Missouri-based Angelica Uniform Group, with $170 million in sales and 3,000 employees; Georgia-based Riverside Manufacturing Co., with $240 million in sales and 2,400 employees; Florida-based Superior Surgical Mfg. Co. Inc., with $135 million in sales and 1,900 employees; and Missouri-based Unitog Co., with $214 million in sales and 3,100 employees. Founded in 1932, Unitog has experienced 66 years of consecutive growth.

Input data available from 1982 and 1987 indicated that the primary materials consumed by the men's and boys' work clothing industry when ranked by cost were: materials, parts, containers, and supplies; broadwoven fabrics; and knit fabrics. The primary sources of input supply were from imports, broadwoven fabric mills, apparel made from purchased materials, and knit fabric mills. For the same two years, the share of the industry's total output disaggregated by its major product category indicated that men's and boys' work shirts accounted for 23.5 percent; men's and boys' work clothing and washable service apparel registered 58.3 percent; contract and commission work on men's and boys' work clothing in general was 9.5 percent; and men's and boys' work clothing not specified by any kind accounted for 8.7 percent.

During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the distribution network servicing the men's and boys' work clothing industry was undergoing a fundamental transformation. For articles like washable uniforms and service related apparel, laundry rental companies had historically been the major source of distribution to large companies. But when corporate demand for a more customized look requiring a greater assortment of new fabrics, styles, and colors started to reverberate through the industry, many of the industry's larger firms bypassed the traditional laundry rental channel and opened their own corporate accounts, through which they sold directly to the wearing customer. As a result, domestic fabric mills that supplied materials to the work clothing industry also began closer working relationships with work wear manufacturers in a joint effort to better serve the industry's developing corporate accounts.

For individual purchases of work clothes, mass merchandisers and discount outlets accounted for the largest share of sales, followed by smaller specialty stores located outside of major urban areas. A development of a more recent kind featured the appearance of farm/fleet stores. These were large stores located in rural areas that carried a wide assortment of work related items ranging from work clothes to farm equipment. The stores' core customer base consisted of farmers and truckers who wore functional work clothes for occupational reasons. Two major operators active throughout the Midwest were Blain Farm & Fleet and Mills Farm & Fleet.

Catalog sales picked up noticeably during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, and were expected to show continued strength into the future. Internet sales increased with the advent of e-commerce at the end of the twentieth century.

Background and Development

In a less spectacular manner, the ready-to-wear work clothes industry followed the historical trajectory of the more colorful men's apparel industry. With the onset of the industrial era in the early nineteenth century spurring the transformation from rural to urban life, the demand for working apparel soon surpassed the production of custom tailors and housewives. To meet the increased demand, manufacturers began mass producing work clothes; these early efforts were of inferior quality to the earlier handmade clothing and were avoided because they were uncomfortable. As improved fabrics were introduced to the men's apparel industry, mass-produced work clothing became widely accepted. During the same period, improved and expanded sewing machine technology provided added impetus to the industry's emergence and boosted its output to unprecedented levels. Further fueling the industry was an extensive survey compiled during the Civil War on the height and chest measurements of more than one million soldiers, providing the first mass statistical data on the form and build of U.S. men. Immediately after the war these results were made available to producers of men's ready-made work clothes, forming a scientific basis for better-fitting clothing.

A milestone event that dramatically accelerated the need for ready-made work clothes was the Gold Rush of 1848. The prospect of getting rich drew thousands of men westward to pan or mine for gold. Figuring that these adventurers would need tents for shelter, Levi Strauss journeyed to California with a supply of heavy fabrics for tent making. Among these fabrics was a French material referred to as "de Nime," which Americans pronounced as "denim." Aware that no one was meeting the need for durable work clothes, Strauss began to make denim workpants that featured large back pockets to hold mining tools. By adding metal rivets to strengthen the durability of the pockets, Strauss hit on an idea that brought him almost instant success—and the men's work clothes industry started booming. The continued settlement of the West, not just in California but in the prairie and mountain states as well, created a steady market for ready-made work clothes for decades to come. To meet the growing demand, large work clothes manufacturing centers sprung up in Chicago and St. Louis.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, the steady growth of a work force comprised of semiskilled and unskilled laborers, engaged in various mass production-related occupations across the entire range of manufacturing and agricultural industries, proved a boon to work clothes producers. After World War II, an unprecedented rise in the consumption of consumer durables was matched by the growth of a repair industry whose workers, more often than not, were outfitted with nontailored work uniforms. To the envy of the nonwork clothes apparel industries that regularly incurred the economic vicissitudes of the traditional business cycle, the work clothes industry proceeded along its expansionary path in a steady manner until the onset of its stagnation period beginning in the early 1980s.

Current Conditions

While dollar value of shipments of work clothing showed modest declines through the late 1990s, shipments rebounded to $1.9 billion in 2000 from $1.68 billion in 1999. The stabilization of the men's and boys' work clothing industry in 2000 was due in part to the U.S. economy's structural shift to service-providing industries and occupations where career/work apparel tended to be the norm. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment estimates, approximately 9 out of every 10 new jobs in the 1990s were added in service-providing industries such as transportation, communications, public utilities, trade, health care, finance, insurance, real estate, food handling and production, sanitation, and government. At the same time, the increasing trend towards a cultural climate of corporate uniformed-employees—as a means to foster brand recognition and customer loyalty—breathed new life into the industry and held the promise of future growth.

With the shift in the focus of the economy from manufacturing to service industries, the men's and boys' work clothing industry had to make adjustments in their product lines in the late 1990s. Being the first to invest in the latest apparel technologies, the larger firms were best positioned to seize the day and offer a greater volume of high quality garments at lower cost than their smaller rivals. These largest manufacturers led the industry's regrowth, but it remained unclear in the early 2000s whether the big companies would totally eclipse the smaller competitors.

Legislation enacted in 1995 continued to impact the industry in the late 1990s. A new World Trade Organization (WTO) had been established in 1995, and the Multifiber Arrangement (MFA), which allowed importing countries to limit the flow of imports from lower cost developing countries, had been replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), which required the phasing out of MFA quotas over a ten-year period. According to Linda Shelton in an Industry, Trade, and Technology Review report, "The elimination of MFA quotas likely will have a significant impact on the U.S. textile and apparel sector given the level of protection that such restrictions have provided domestic producers over the past two decades." The U.S. has until 2005 to implement the ATC, and the legislation's impact on the men's and boys' work clothing industry will likely be felt in the early 2000s.


In 1990, the dominant occupational categories for the work clothes industry were: sewing machine operators; inspectors, precision inspectors, and testers; blue collar work supervisors; pressing machine operators; hand packers and packagers; and hand cutters and trimmers. Close to 56 percent of the work force was engaged in sewing operations, while the remaining categories individually fell within the 3 to 2 percent range. According to an occupational survey undertaken by the BLS, all of the major occupational categories within the work clothes industry would experience significant declines by the year 2005. Given the more or less forward trajectory of the industry's productivity trend, the decline in sewing machine operators was expected to encounter the steepest decline.

Total employment in the men's and boys' work clothing industry continued to decline through the 1990s, reflecting the apparel industry's increased use of mechanized procedures and outsourcing. Employment in men's and boys' work clothing was 33,000 in 1987, of which 29,000 were classified as production workers. By 1992, total employment had fallen to 30,400, of which 26,400 were production workers. For the entire period total employment fell by 5.8 percent while production employment declined by 5.9 percent. Between 1992 and 1996, total employment dropped by 6.3 percent and employment in production declined even more sharply, with a decrease of 7.2 percent. In 2000, the industry's total work force numbered 19,042.

From 1987 to 1992 the industry's real wages fell without interruption, while value added per production worker rose, though not in a dramatic manner, suggesting that productivity improvements and real wages were moving in opposite directions. This trend slowed in the mid-1990s; by 2000, the average hourly wage had increased to $8.14.

Compared to their employment rates in the overall manufacturing sector, the participation rates of women and African American and Hispanic workers within the industry exceed their national counterparts. In 1995 women comprised 70.0 percent of this industry's work force compared to a national average of 31.6 percent of women in manufacturing industries. Hispanic workers accounted for 24.0 percent of the industry's work force compared to a national average of 10.2 percent. The percentage of African American workers was 15 percent, slightly greater than the national average of 10 percent of African Americans in manufacturing industries. Taken collectively, over 1 million minority workers were active in the apparel industry's work force, while over 20 million worked in manufacturing industries in general.

Further Reading

Apparel Import Digest. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, 1997.

Apparel Industry Trends. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, March 1997.

Baker, Sandra. "Texas Rangers Player to Advertise Dickie's Work Clothing." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, 11 April 1999.

Focus: An Economic Profile of the Apparel Industry. Arlington, VA: American Apparel Manufacturers Association, 1996.

Greco, Monica. "63 Years of Growth." Apparel Industry, December 1995.

Industry Surveys. New York, NY: Standard & Poor's, 1999.

"New Markets Discover Workwear." Discount Store News, 11 May 1998.

Shelton, Linda and Robert Wallace. "World Textile and Apparel Trade: A New Era." Industry, Trade, and Technology Review, October 1996.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. Industry Profiles. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1995.

U.S. Industry & Trade Outlook '99. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1999.

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