What is the American Overalls?

Bib overalls (or bib overalls , as they're known in America) are true classics of utility workwear design. Worn by carpenters, painters, mechanics, factory workers and just about anyone who needs tough, practical clothing , overalls have been an essential part of the work wardrobe for over 150 years, and they is still useful today.

With this season's collection featuring a full range of dungarees styles for both men and women, the time seemed right for a little history lesson...

Overalls Brand

1 - The origin of the American bib overalls

Although no one can say for sure, it is believed that the word "overalls" originated in the 17th century in the Indian village of Dongri . Located on the coast near Mumbai, this small village was famous for the production of a hardwearing indigo-dyed calico cotton fabric , known as "dungri". This hardwearing fabric soon made its way to England, where the name was anglicized from "dungri" to "dungaree".
Thanks to its rugged nature, low cost and uncomplicated appearance, "dungaree" was the ideal fabric for workwear , and by the end of the 18th century it was being used to make simple all-in-one garments. -one called "slops". Worn by farmers, slaves and sailors, these overalls were designed as protective layers to be worn over shirts and trousers, as a much-needed shield against grease, oil and mud. Although oversized to easily fit over clothing, they were designed with few extra features so they wouldn't trip over their tools or machinery.

Carpenter's Mail

Work clothes evolved rapidly throughout the 19th century, as did work (and its methods). Railroads were built, factories sprung up on the outskirts of every town, and with the American Civil War over, emancipated slaves turned to sharecropping for a living. With the industrial revolution and the advent of the production line, the basic slops of the 18th century gave way to a new wave of multi-pocket overalls , with metal rivets and three-point stitching.

2 - The different ways to wear the Dungarees

Some were simply worn over trousers (like the "waisted dungarees" that became today's jeans), others also covered the arms (like the fairly self-explanatory "cottons" ), but perhaps the most versatile were the "suspender overalls" that did the job of overtrousers, suspenders, and tool belt all in one fell swoop. Countless American brands make them, but the formula is essentially the same: durable cotton fabric, convenient pockets, and a loose, relaxed fit to fit the varied shapes of the American worker.

Work Overalls

By the time Henry David Lee patented his suspender overalls for mass production in 1911, the simple design had already become the unofficial workman's uniform, and a symbol of the American working class . Painters wore white canvases, railroad workers wore hickory stripes, and those who worked on farms (like the stone-faced pitchfork-handler in Grant Wood's American Gothic) wore blue jeans. These fabrics had ousted the original "overall" fabric that had paved the way, but in Britain at least the name stuck to describe the garment itself.

3 - The evolution of bib overalls in the 19th century

When World War I sent millions of women to work in farms and factories, the long skirts of the "respectable lady" suddenly seemed particularly impractical. A few clothing companies tried to meet the need for women's workwear with cotton bloomers, but for many, old overalls were just as effective.

Woman at the Factory 1940

This shift towards function in women's clothing marked the beginning of a shift from the stuffy formal designs of the 19th century, and during World War II the image of a hard-working woman in a pair of overalls was regularly featured on posters and newsreels. Once again, overalls have become a powerful symbol , this time representing the hard work of the home.

During World War II overalls were also used for military purposes . Working on the deck of an aircraft carrier was heavy work that required serious dress . Designed to resist moisture and weather, the "deck bibs" worn by the United States Navy were a distinctly militant take on overalls , with hickory stripes replaced by heavy olive-colored jungle fabric.

Women's Clothing 1916

Another interesting chapter in overalls history took place in Alabama in the 1920s . Angered by rising clothing prices, a group known as the "Overalls Club" took to wearing old overalls in protest. This group saw overalls as the epitome of well-made, affordable clothing, and the antithesis of profit in the garment industry , and soon sparked a movement for the middle class to replace their suits with workwear.

Those involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s also understood overalls, and often wore them to marches and demonstrations to emphasize their connection to 19th-century sharecroppers.

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4 - How are overalls renewed today?

It was an authentic garment for modest workwear, and throughout the second half of the 20th century La Salopette remained a strong symbol, worn by everyone from hip-hop groups on the coast and to the pastoral indie bands of the 1980s. Moreover, it continued to fulfill its primary function as workwear, and even today it is worn by legions of hard-working men and women .

This season, the navy dungarees are back. Inspired by US Navy deck mud flaps, they're available for men in cotton with pigment-dyed canvas and Kuroki denim, and for women in hickory striped cotton. There's also a new women's model , aptly titled "New Dungaree" . Heavily influenced by mid-century American workwear, they have a relaxed, oversized fit , and feature a unique buckle design borrowed from a pair of vintage 1950s dungarees. Like the classic designs mentioned in this article, they are constructed with the practical and versatile function of the dungarees in mind.

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