Have you been wearing your overalls the wrong way all along? If they’re “over alls,” what are they supposed to be worn over? Should you wear shorts under overalls…and should you have always been doing it this whole time?
Overalls are worn by farmers and hearty Midwestern types. They’re worn by hip hop artists who leave one strap undone and look super cool doing it. They’re worn by glamorous high fashion types who strut around in their overalls wearing high heels and an attitude. Artists, hard workers, celebrities, people with all kinds of jobs and from all walks of life have worn overalls. Heck, they’ve even been worn by presidents and royalty and little toddlers who are just finding their feet. This is a garment that really is for everybody. So would you be surprised if you’ve been wearing overalls the wrong way all this time? Should you wear shorts under overalls?
Back to the Beginning
Overalls are properly named. First appearing in style history around the year 1750, overalls were originally worn in somewhat crude, loose-fitting designs…because they were made to be worn over a full set of clothing. You’d step into your overalls and wear them over your regular clothing, sort of how firefighters wear their overalls over all their other clothing. Once, all overalls were designed to be slipped on and worn in this way.
This was done for purely practical purposes. The overalls protected whatever clothing you were already wearing from the tough job you were doing. Overalls were primarily worn by farmers, miners, builders, cowboys and other hard-working types who did tough and dirty jobs. They were also worn by the military, as overalls were first invented to be worn by soldiers in Europe. It was a perfect design for when you needed to cover up clothing to protect it from dusty trails, dirty underground mines and all kinds of different tough tasks that could get your clothing grimy.
To sum it up, overalls were originally designed to be worn over all other clothing and that’s always how they were worn. They weren’t all that well made because they didn’t need to be. After all, they were just rough work clothes that were made to get dirty and meant to be treated badly. So then, the answer is yes, right? If overalls were designed to be worn over clothes, doesn’t that mean you should be wearing shorts underneath them? Once, that might have been true.
Then, a man named Levi Strauss came along and he revolutionized workwear for the entire country. He ended up changing everything about work clothing.
You Say You Want a Fashion Revolution?
The workwear fashion revolution began the way that, perhaps, many revolutions have begun: with a woman who spoke up. The woman in question was the wife of a miner in the western U.S. And she was sick and tired of patching up her husband’s work pants all the time. So, with a full head of steam, she marched to the tailor shop and confronted the owner and operator of the shop.
His name was Jacob Davis…and he was about to have a bad day. After getting an earful about the low quality of the work pants he sold in his shop, he got to thinking. It was difficult to be too angry at the much put-upon wife. After all, she was right.
The pants he sold in his shop did wear out too quickly. They developed holes, particularly around certain areas. The material he was using to make them could be stronger. The design could be better. The pants he was selling weren’t living up to the tasks they needed to perform. And actually, that was a pretty big problem. No wonder that tired wife was so angry.
Jacob Davis started to put together some ideas based on that historic encounter. When he made his regular shopping trip to California to get fabric and other supplies for his shop, he walked into a store he had purchased items from many, many times before. It was owned by a man named Levi Strauss.
Jacob Davis told Levi Strauss that he was designing some new work pants. He’d need good material and some other stuff, too. They started sharing ideas back and forth and began developing the pants using fabrics and items at the retail store. And in case you haven’t figured out where this story is going, these two ended up taking out a patent together a couple of years later for a new fashion item that was about to take over the entire world. Yes, you guessed it. They patented blue jeans.
Davis came up with the now-legendary idea to add copper rivets to his work pants design. This reinforced problem areas and ended up becoming a hallmark of blue jeans. The rivets added some much-needed strength to the stress areas that the miner’s wife ended up patching and repairing constantly, so it was a truly successful addition to the pants.
The real innovation in the design, however, was the fabric. After first making some pants with cotton duck, Davis and Strauss settled on a newer material that had become quite popular in France: denim.
Made with cotton, the denim was pretty much a dream material. It was flexible and soft and comfortable on the body but it was also somewhat thick an tough and durable. It didn’t wear out easily, it didn’t rip easily, it didn’t shy away from hard work of any kind. It was truly ideal as a fabric for workwear. And once the two men began making pants with denim, everything changed…and not just for them, but for everyone.
Blue jeans became a hit in the mining community. At long last, the miner’s wife who complained to Jacob Davis that day was happy. Ultimately, she was responsible for the revolution in fashion that is blue jeans.
Other working types found that blue jeans were perfect for them, too. The pants became a big hit on raches and western trails, because they were perfect pants for riding horses, too. Construction workers and laborers of all types started to wear jeans, which swept across the country from that retail shop in California. In just a few years, blue jeans found their way onto legs all over the U.S.
Overalls, the Reboot
A savvy retailer, Levi Strauss started making and marketing overalls made with denim, too, but his version was not crude. His version featured the famous copper rivets that made blue jeans so popular, the denim material that everyone was loving and a well-fitted design that was made to sit on the body in a more natural way. It was well-made and designed for toughness, not at all a crude garment that was just thrown together to be a protective covering.
Though overalls would be much slower to start their revolution, it was the beginning of some pretty big changes for this classic piece of work clothing. Overalls would go from the fields to the runways and soon, they would spread across the globe…looking a lot different than those first crude styles.
Overalls have actually worked their way into history. They are being worn by the man standing in the famous painting “American Gothic,” a symbol of the country’s long past with farming. They were worn by none other than Rosie the Riveter, the poster face for the women of World War II who went to work on farms and in factories while the men were overseas fighting. Overalls became extremely popular with women at this time and soon enough, Levi Strauss was selling overall designs that were made just for them.
Then, they became designer fashion. Overalls broke free of the past as tough workwear and became cool. They soon appeared in vivid colors and bold patterns, worn by the biggest stars in music and the most fashionable celebrities of the day. They were created out of lots of different materials to create lots of different looks.
Today, overalls can be wide-legged, skinny fit, baggy, sexy, reflective even. The textile industry has become extremely sophisticated and now, it’s possible to wear pretty much any look. Overalls have been styled to fit in to any fashion category. They have been casual, semi-formal, formal, fancy, distressed and just about any other type of style you can possibly imagine.
Designers have been playing around with overalls for decades and now, you can find them in a huge variety of styles so you can try on all kinds of different looks. They have come a long, long way from those early crude designs that were made to be loose enough to wear over everything else you’re already wearing.
So if overalls have changed so much, doesn’t that mean that you no longer need to wear shorts underneath them?
Should you wear shorts under overalls? Well…yes. The thing about overalls is that, even in lots of different designs, they aren’t pants. Sure, yes, they look like pants. You could even say they’re a type of long pants because of the bib that’s attached to them. But pants are an item that can be worn alone because they have a defined waist that fits close to your body. Pants are a completely closed design that’s meant to fit all the way around your waist with no gapping. That means they fit with no exposure.
Overalls don’t. Unlike standard pants, overalls typically fit loosely around the waist. In some designs, they’re really very wide at the waist and bulge out on either side of the body. This was a super hot look in the 1990s, in fact, so don’t laugh.
Because the bib is just a front piece that comes up on the chest and does not rise up on the sides and because the waist of overalls can be functionally open wide, it’s a good idea to slip on some shorts before you step into your overalls for the sake of modesty. You don’ want to accidentally show the world something that you generally restrict to certain viewers!
However, this isn’t always the case. After all, overalls are made in a huge variety of designs and fits and styles and looks, as we mentioned.
Some designs of overalls are made to fit closer to the body. They have skinny legs or an elastic waistband that sort of hugs your waist. They fit close, so doesn’t that mean that you don’t want to wear shorts under them? Again…not really.
Overalls that are designed to fit close to the body have additional elements incorporated into the design. There are open snaps or buttons or even zippers around the hips, for example, which makes it easier to get the overalls on and off. Should a zipper or some buttons come undone without your knowledge, you’ll end up with gapping and open areas that expose you. A great deal of you could wind up being exposed when you’re viewed from certain angles. Having something under the overalls will totally prevent fashion accidents like this.
Another good reason to wear shorts under overalls is practical. Because as we’ve learned, fashion needs to first be practical before it can be successful. Wind, rain and cold can get to sensitive areas of your body more easily if they are uncovered or loosely covered. In the summer, insects like bees and mosquitoes can get to these areas more easily, too, and in fact, may be drawn here because they can smell your sweat and sense the heat. Hot, dark places are inviting to insects.
Sweat is another particularly good reason why you want to wear shorts under your overalls, in fact. Shorts can serve as a moisture barrier, so you can wear your overalls more times without washing them. As experts advise against washing denim too often, this is just a good idea if you want to maintain good fashion.
However, you don’t want something you’re wearing under your clothing to ruin the look of your outfit, either. If you’re wearing a close-fitting or skinny overalls design, women can try boy shorts underwear for a nice compromise. This will still give you the coverage you need but it’s just a lightweight layer that won’t compose your look in any way. Men will need to use a different clothing hack, such as lightweight exercise shorts. Close-fitting exercise shorts, particularly compression shorts, are designed to be practically nonexistent, so they’re a perfect under-overalls pick.
Should You Wear Shorts Under Overalls?
Most of the time, it’s just a good idea to wear shorts under your overalls. And after all, this is what overalls were originally intended for. Overalls were always meant to go over other pieces of clothing. However, as is always the case in fashion, there are exceptions to this rule. You shouldn’t wear shorts under your overalls if it’s uncomfortable to do so or if it totally ruins the look of the overalls. If shorts really won’t go on under the overalls, this particular pair of overalls was designed to be worn alone at all times. As always, let your own style and your own comfort be your guide. Because ultimately, you need to feel good to look good. So however you wear your overalls, do it with joy and with self-confidence.
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