Started in 2018 by the two owners of a landscaping business in Oregon, Dovetail Workwear aim to make “top-to-toe, all-season, all-reason” utility apparel for women. Hailey Moore stumbled upon their work pants at her local hardware store and wanted to know more. Read on for her review of Dovetail’s workwear and thoughts on how the brand’s mission is having an impact beyond the retail space.
Changing culture by making women’s-specific utility apparel might sound like some kind of capitalistic-marketing campaign, but when it comes to Dovetail Workwear’s mission, I’m actually fully bought-in. Maybe it’s because recent data from the National Fire Protection Association shows that only 5% of career firefighters are women (with an additional 11% constituting volunteer forces), or that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2021 occupational breakdown, “women were substantially underrepresented (relative to their share of total employment) in manufacturing (29.2%), agriculture (28.0%), transportation and utilities (24.8%), mining (15.4%), and construction (11.0%).” As a reminder, women account for half of the total population in the US. But in addition to the striking—yet relatively sterile—data, you’ll find heartbreaking anecdotal accounts of aggressively-held, and acted on, stigmas against women in such non-traditional occupations. Considering that: a) we’ve seen a significant number of women leave the work force as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, and b) non-traditional occupations often offer some of the highest-paying opportunities for non-college educated workers, yeah, I’d say a cultural shift is overdue. And, I’m glad that Dovetail is taking matters into their own hands.
In 2020, I went on my first solo bike overnighter. It wasn’t what I’d call enjoyable in the breezy way that bike touring with my partner, and friends, often feels. In retrospect, I think it was an exercise in getting better at being alone. Since then, I’ve gotten more comfortable doing that—being alone—and I actually look forward to the settling into myself that comes with long, solo, single or multi-day rides. And yet, during these experiences I’ve had the unfortunate realization that I’m most on edge not when riding through remote terrain, nor drifting out of cell service, but when my aloneness as a women is reflected back at me through the observations of others.
I wrote about this after riding an ITT on the Ozark Gravel DOOM loop in northwest Arkansas in 2021. Back at home after that trip, I asked my partner, Tony, if people ever ask him the question, “are you riding alone?” when he’s out on solo missions. He quickly and nonchalantly replied, “no.”
I don’t think it’s far-fetched to infer from the above data and from my own anecdotal encounters that there’s an imbalance in the perception of women’s agency in Western culture (I point exclusively to Western culture because that’s the only culture I feel qualified to comment on). Of the 101 Tour Divide grand-depart finishers this year, just 12 were women; a sole woman (on a singlespeed, no less) was among the 13 racers who completed the 2023 Arkansas High Country Race; of the 35 competitors who crossed the line at last year’s Hellenic Mountain Race, four were women; the Colorado Trail Race had a better showing, with 25% of the 36 finishers being female athletes. It’s a bit uncanny that a 25% participation rate for women in these events, and non-traditional occupations, represents a notable statistic.
I’ve seen this underrepresentation surface in the kind of ugly scarcity mindset towards women who receive support in the sport that Michelle Zauner, the lead woman in the indie-pop band Japanese Breakfast, describes in her memoir, Crying in H-Mart. I’m paraphrasing, but in short, as Zauner is trying to get her break, she has the self-defeating thought that there’s already a super-famous Asian-American lead women—Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs—as if these lime-light spots were in short, demographically-restricted supply, before realizing, “oh wait, how many rock stars are white men?” By the end, Zauner is able to shift her way of thinking away from a competitive mindset to that of finding inspiration in O’s fame, and even credits the front woman with symbolizing the possibility of Zauner’s own potential for success. For me, this example among others, puts the notion of “seeing someone who looks like me” in certain spaces into impactful relief, whether in pursuit of a day job, or an ultra-distance bikepacking race.
While I generally find the over-politicization of brands, and marketing, and social media, and basically all aspects of culture these days, to be a bit exhausting, I find Dovetail’s value-driven mission of giving women the literal tools to break into industries where they’ve been—at best—underrepresented, and—at worst—unwelcome, warranted and refreshing. And, in addition to making products tailored to women, they’re doing a lot to bolster the visibility component as well. From collaborating with female artists, offering wide-ranging size options, partnering with women-focused organizations, and supporting women in non-traditional occupations through their Maven ambassador program, Dovetail is truly walking the walk.
Ok, but what about the pants?
Until about a year ago, I was unfamiliar with Dovetail. I actually came across a pair of their work pants, the Britt Utility (in Thermal Denim) the old-fashion way, walking through the aisles of Boulder’s beloved McGuckin hardware store. I bought a pair on the spot and have been loving them ever since. They’re burly yet soft, thanks to the cotton-poly-spandex blend; offer ample stretch with a gusseted-crotch design; have a weighty and warm feel; and there are more pockets and loops than I’d ever know what to do with. I’ve yet to live in a rental with a garage, or indoor workspace, so these have become my go-to for outdoor bike work days, painting, snow-day walks, and other cold-weather projects.
- Britt Utility in Black Thermal Denim
- Price: $129.00
- Heavy-duty stretch denim
- 40% warmer than regular denim
- Fabric weight: 12.5 oz
- Details: Hip Slot™; Zip pocket; Tool loop; Crotch gusset; Articulated knee; Reinforced knee; Knee slot; Tough cuff
- Fabric content: 66% cotton / 32.5% Repreve® TruTemp365® polyester / 1.5% spandex
- True Blue partner: Made with Repreve® planet-conscious fabric. Recycled poly uses 43% fewer fossil fuels than conventional polyester. Each pant saves 8 plastic bottles from landfill.
- Made in China
I’ve also been wearing the same design in a lighter weight Ripstop construction ($99) for warmer weather days (think: yard or trail work, wrenching, refinishing furniture, etc.). These are proving to be a super capable three-season alternative to their thermal counterparts, though I have noticed the Ripstop material offers significantly less stretch. I purchased a size 4/ 32″ inseam in the Britt Thermal, but after one wear, the stretch leaves these feeling pretty roomy for my 5’7″/ 130 lb frame. As such, I downsized in the Ripstop option to a size 2. The Ripstop’s stiffer material means it holds its shape longer—the difference in size and stretch between these two fabrics can be seen in the photos, and essentially translates to me wearing a belt for the size 4 Britt Thermal, and not wearing a belt in the smaller Britt Ripstop.
Depending on the brand, Dovetail’s pricing seems comparable, to slightly more expensive, to its competitors (Patagonia, Ariat, Carhartt, Dickies, etc.) but what I find more noteworthy is the breadth of its product line. The pants fabric filter alone shows options in Denim (regular, thermal and flame-resistant), canvas, hemp, and ripstop; last year they introduced a long and short-sleeve version of a heavy-duty mechanic’s coverall, and their upper-body garments include all manner of shirts, vests, and jackets. There’s nothing token in Dovetail’s product offerings—you won’t find any dresses or skirts on the website—they’re serious about what they make and, from my observations, they’re seriously going all in.
While I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Dovetail products that have made their way into my closet, I’m not even their target audience, as most of my day-to-day work takes place in front of a laptop, not in an industrial space. But as I see more female faces (slowly) appearing behind the counter of bike shops, and wearing those orange vests at Home Depot, I hope they feel made more welcome by brands like Dovetail designing with encouragement and equality in mind. Because, as Wende Cragg alluded to in her recent Custom 1983 Breezer Series III review, there’s nothing quite like a perfect fit to make you feel like you belong.