You go to your closet to pick out a casual and comfortable, stylish but practical outfit for the day ahead. You pull out the overalls that will be just perfect for everything you need to do today. Now, you are faced with a style question that has stumped many and put a cloud over many a fine hour spent at the closet. Do overalls go over clothes?
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Overalls?
If you were to ask 12 people to draw you a pair of overalls, you might end up looking at 12 distinctly different pictures. One might draw a farmer with a pitchfork, sort of like that famous painting American Gothic. Or maybe they’ll draw a painter wearing all white.
Another might draw a famous person wearing some skintight overalls in a full snakeskin pattern, like the hot young celebrities who post on Instagram. Still another might show you an image of a person all bundled up from the winter cold. You might see a firefighter, a member of royalty, a young child.
Over the years, overalls have taken on every different style and look you can possibly imagine. They have been rugged and rough, full of holes or patches. They have been thick and warm, made in big and puffy designs to hold in warmth. They’ve been made in skintight styles that cling to every curve and line. But what were overalls really designed to do…and do overalls go over clothes?
The Working Man’s Pants
Overalls are more properly known as bib overalls because of the way they are designed. Essentially, overalls are pants with a loose ill-defined waist and a chest piece that rises up and connects to straps, which go over the shoulders and come together at the back. That chest piece is the bib. Historically, the bib has pockets or even a design on it. It’s the bib that truly makes overalls, overalls.
Military by Design
Overalls are older than you probably think. Like most modern pieces of clothing worn today, overalls have their history in military fashion. The earliest designs appeared in the mid-1700s on the legs of Russian, French and Prussian calvary riders who boldly went into battle on the backs of horses. The pants they wore were called “over-breaches.” They were made with canvas and reinforced with leather, tough pants that could be worn while riding.
They were also worn over other clothing items, made to protect pants from the harsh realities of crossing terrain while on horseback. Overalls were built to take a beating so that the pants underneath wouldn’t suffer. It was a continuation of earlier leg and boot coverings that had emerged in the 1600s and it was the beginning of a fashion item that would, one day, achieve iconic style status.
Overalls next appeared a world away and across the ocean. The American military was possibly the first group to wear overalls as standard issue soldier wear, however. The very first use of the word “overalls” in the English language appeared in 1776, in referring to the uniforms worn by American militia units who were fighting against the British in the American Revolution.
However, overalls quickly became popular with another group who quickly saw their value: working men. Overalls became particularly popular with railroad workers, miners, farmers and others who did tough, dirty jobs where their clothes might get grimy. That’s because overalls were designed to go “over all” other clothing being worn. They were made to be loose-fitting and they were rather crude, without a lot of definition. They didn’t have pockets in those days because they were made to be as simple and as tough as possible to protect clothes from the grim of the mine, or the tunnel, or the farm, or wherever overalls were going.
Even in modern times, overalls are worn by working professionals. White overalls are practically synonymous with painters, for example. If you see someone wearing them, you know right away they’re going to be painting something. Overalls, then as now, are worn by farmers. They’re also seen on construction workers and they are still worn by miners, just as they were in those early days of overalls.
They were practical then and they’re practical now. Overalls don’t just keep the clothes under them from getting dirty. They are actually a protective garment. Thick overalls protect welders from sparks. They’re worn by firefighters to protect them from flames and sparks, as well as debris and other hazards. They are made in heavy designs with insulation to keep working professionals warm while they work outside. They protect against grease, dust, flying rocks and all sorts of dangers, all protections which are necessary.
Perfecting a Classic
When Levi Strauss first started selling blue jeans in the 1870s and totally changed fashion around the world, he also sold overalls in his shop. His overalls were made to be worn to work and they were designed with all sorts of work-friendly features. Extra pockets, hammer loops and reinforcements were added to refine overalls and make them even more work-ready.
Soon, Levi Strauss & Co. was making and selling many different styles of overalls to appeal to workers with all different jobs. Specific designs were created to be worn for specific designs. This gave people the option to wear much more customized work clothing.
Even though work overalls have been greatly refined and changed over the years, they are still worn the same way they were worn back then: over clothing. People who do the tough and dirty jobs who wear overalls still pull them on over all other clothing. So when you ask do overalls go on over clothes ad you’re talking about traditional overalls worn as work clothing…then yes. But overalls have become much more than a standard work garment. Thanks to a couple of wars an important movement and fashion designers who got creative, overalls have taken on quite a few different shapes and looks over the years.
When Overalls Got Fashionable
Until the 1910s, overalls were strictly workwear and, recently at that time, playwear for children. Osh Kosh B’Gosh had created a mini version of overalls just for children and they caught on very quickly. Parents needed tough clothes for their children that wouldn’t wear out quickly and overalls fit the bill perfectly. But it was a world war that truly changed overalls in fashion and started pushing things forward in a big way.
Women started wearing overalls when they went to work to do the jobs that men had formerly done. As the men went overseas to go to battle, women had to step into jobs in warehouses, factories and farms. But they had only men’s overalls to wear…and those designs just were not made for them.
Designers and clothing manufacturers noticed the problem and quickly found a solution: they started designing overalls specifically for women. These overalls were a bit more fashionable, a bit more fitted here and there. They had cinched waists, smaller pockets, flared legs and a look that was overall just much more feminine and fashionable. Women, after all, still like to look stylish. The designs made for them were much more comfortable for them to wear to work. Soon, women’s overalls were in wardrobes everywhere.
A Changing World
Many more women found themselves in the workforce during WWII and overalls got another overhaul as designers created new styles to be even more fashionable and appealing to women. One-piece jumper styles emerged as a hot fashion item for women, a high-end version of a look that was clearly inspired by working women’s overalls. This would not be designers’ first flirtation with overalls.
In the early 1960s, overalls were still on the farms and in the tough workplaces but not so much in the fashionable stores, the fancy restaurants or on the city streets. But they would get to all these places and many more thanks to a mixture of history and pop cultures. Overalls would make the leap into popular fashion in a surprising way.
Clothing for a Movement
As cities grew and suburbs exploded into the world in the mid-1900s, farms became fewer and fewer. Railroads were no longer being built everywhere, mining started to happen a little less. Everything was changing. That meant that jobs were changing as well and with them, the clothing that people wore while doing their jobs. People were starting to forget about overalls. They were mostly just farming clothes, anyway. But one group of people wanted to remind others about overalls and their history, which has had some dark chapters.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, activists marching on behalf of equal rights between races wore overalls as an homage to the Black farmers who once worked the fields that covered the U.S. During protests and marches, activists wore the overalls as a visual reminder of the Black sharecroppers of the early 1900s and other dark chapters of American history, where some races were treated differently than others…to put it mildly.
Though their mission was not at all fashion-based and clearly, it is an issue that is much larger than style itself, the protestors’ style choices had an unintended effect: they brought overalls into pop fashion for the first time. It would not be the last.
Clothing for Everyone
Perhaps as a way to honor those activists and perhaps as a nod to the even earlier history of overalls, overalls appeared on the style scene again in the 1980s and the 1990s. This time, they were associated with a new trend that was taking over music, fashion and every single corner of pop culture: hip hop, rap and R&B.
All the hottest, freshest young stars of the day suddenly started wearing overalls. They appeared in eye-catching light acid wash finishes, in vivid colors of all different shapes, in amazing patterns and in lots of different designs. A popular way to wear them was to unhook one strap and leave it hanging down. Overalls absolutely exploded on the style scene. Everyone was wearing them and everyone who wasn’t wearing them wanted to. They were a favorite of musical stars from all genres and a wardrobe staple for the young, the cool, the stylish and the trendy.
Overalls haven’t really faded totally from popular style ever since. They are still worn by the most stylish celebrities and the biggest stars, the hottest performers and everyone else who is cool and trendy. They’re worn by royalty and by people of all shapes and sizes. They’re easy to wear and comfortable, they’re fashionable and they’re available in a huge number of styles, colors, patterns and designs. They can fit close or loose and create any kind of look you might want, from the most casual to even formal designs. You can still find social media sites and fashion magazines littered with people wearing overalls.
They’re even designer now, with some well-known names charging big bucks for their high-end, fashionable overall creations. You can find overalls on the runways, on the red carpets and even on the farms still. They’re everywhere and they’ve been in a lot of closets over the years. Heck, you’ve probably even had overalls in your own closet.
But when you wore them…well, what did you wear with them?
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Overalls
Overalls that are made for work are usually made in a looser fit. This gives the body more airflow, which is a good thing. Airflow prevents sweat, which keeps skin cooler, dryer and healthier. Overalls can also fit many different body types, particularly the designs that have adjustable straps. They have a lot of pocket space to provide room for storage for all sorts of little odds and ends.
But the same qualities that make overalls great workwear make them a questionable choice at times, too. The design that provides airflow doesn’t seal out the wind, which leads the body susceptible to cold, rain and bad weather. Wearing overalls as an extra layer can also make your body feel bulky and heavy overall. In fact, some think coveralls are overall a much better option than overalls! How’s that for a little fashion tongue twister?
When it comes to modern overalls fashion, anything goes. Some overalls are designed to fit loosely and to be worn over clothing, even full outfits such as shorts and a shirt or pants and a shirt. But some are meant to fit close to the body, cinching around the waist. This means that often, the shorts or pants underneath the overalls can be eliminated. And still other styles are made to be worn as stand-alone garments and worn with nothing underneath, creating a sexy and skin-baring style. Clearly, this overall style is not about being ready to work!
What’s Under Your Overalls?
Anything and nothing can be worn under overalls, in other words. Sometimes, they are worn with crop tops. Sometimes, they are worn with underwear only. You may wear them with a thick sweater in the winter or a full set of clothing under styles that are made to be looser and airier. As long as you aren’t showing anything you don’t want to show, you can wear whatever you want or nothing at all beneath your overalls.
As overalls are made with all different fabrics, everything from plastic to leather to soft cloth, the material itself may dictate what you wear under your overalls and what you don’t. Fabric that isn’t comfortable against skin, for example, should be worn with a layer between you and it.
Do Overalls Go Over Clothes?
Do overalls go over clothes? That all depends on what type of overalls you’re wearing, why you’re wearing them, what they’re made of and…well, how bold you might be feeling when it comes to your fashion! In other words, that’s entirely up to you. Fashion has always been about what you make of it. Trends come and go but some fashion items stay around through centuries of history.
The versatility of overalls means that they will definitely be part of the style world for a long, long time. That means you have plenty of time to debate the question of whether or not overalls should go over clothes or bare skin. So experiment with your own overalls style and you’ll end up finding all kinds of ways to answer this question for yourself.
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