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How Cult Denim Brand 3Sixteen Learned to Make More Than Just Great Jeans

The New York-based label subtly elevates classic workwear staples.

Models wearing pieces from 3sixteen's  fall collection. 3sixteen

Over the past decade, 3sixteen has built a cult following by innovating and experimenting on classic workwear while staying true to the garments’ origins. The brand has a knack for clever remixes: brushed cotton and Japanese selvedge alongside Indian khadi fabrics and sashiko embroidery. It even offers sofas upholstered in Horween leather from Chicago. The overriding theme is garments and objects that stand tough and age gracefully, becoming more interesting and personal over time.

“The brand has evolved and changed over time with the tastes and interests of everybody involved in the company,” says 3sixteen’s lead designer, Wesley Scott. It’s gone from printed tees in the early days to heritage denim and a wide vernacular of outerwear, and accessories. “That constant evolution is something that we try to embrace rather than push against. There’s many brands that feel like they’re losing themselves as their interests grow and shift; we try and lean into it.”

A variation of 3sixteen's crosscut flannel shirt ($220).
A variation of 3sixteen’s crosscut flannel shirt ($220). 3sixteen

Every time the team sits down to plan a new collection, Scott says, they ask, “How will this look one, two, five, ten years from now? Will this be a piece that you’re happy to have a long time from now?” This season’s new collection, which is something of a retrospective, shows that slow evolution in action. “We wanted to look back at the past and some of the products that we’ve made that have most inspired us,” Scott explains. “How can we re-envision some of these pieces in new, more compelling ways?… We’re looking back and looking forward at the same time, trying to create this blend in-between.”

Models wearing pieces from 3sixteen's  fall collection.
3sixteen

The indigo crosscut flannel is one example of a workwear perennial that’s been given a new twist. At first glance it’s the same timeless staple of past seasons: a heavy, brushed cotton CPO shirt with a signature cross-cut yoke. What’s different is the fabric. “We’ve used amazing Japanese fabrics in the past. Now we’re taking some of the [established] patterns and working with mills in India to make them even heavier and add some interesting processes as well.” The new cloth uses hand-dyed yarns and the finishing brings even more texture. It’s almost like wearing a blanket, Scott jokes. Everything is about ageing: the fabric will fade, soften and mold to its wearer like good denim. The buttons are metal cat’s eyes with a black enamel coating that’s intentionally designed to chip off over time.

Another play on old themes is an ink blue sashiko fabric, developed in India as a variation on the Japanese embroidery technique. Here, the sashiko pattern is woven into the fabric in a thread so dark it’s almost invisible—until the indigo fades and whiskers. The fabric features in a military-inspired over-shirt as well as matching drawstring pants, to be worn separately or in a variation on the workwear “suit” of matching chore coat and work trouser.

Details of 3sixteen's wool gabardine Western shirt.
Details of 3sixteen’s wool gabardine Western shirt. 3sixteen

Scott’s favorite piece this season is a Western shirt rendered in Japanese wool gabardine with a dry hand and beautiful drape. The long, Western-style collar is scaled back a touch, the prominent overstitching replaced with subtler seam placement. A matching pant is available, making this a two-piece wool suit with a difference.

These seasonal pieces are positioned as an entry into 3sixteen’s core denim collection, Scott says: “We can display our values, show what we’re about.” The heritage denim, heavy cotton tees and checked flannels are still present, but there’s constant innovation around the edges. The essentials of workwear are well established, but 3sixteen is trying to expand the vocabulary. As Scott says, there’s one question behind every 3sixteen design: “How can we build something interesting?”

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