So if you hear a knock on your door and you open it to find a man standing there in a pair of denim overalls with a button up shirt and a pair of work boots, are you going to think that he’s a farmer? Probably, this will enter your mind before the man ever says a word. Denim overalls have been linked to farming for centuries. But why is that…and is it even a true image? Do farmers wear overalls? Why do farmers wear overalls?
The First Overalls
Overalls feel like a quintessentially American piece of fashion, maybe because they seem to be so linked to farmers. But overalls were actually first created in England. They weren’t even made by farmers! The first overalls were designed for the British military to wear. Soldiers would wear them over their uniforms to protect their clothes from mud, debris and dirt while they were performing tough tasks.
In fact, these early overalls were known as “slops” because they were worn for sloppy, messy work tasks. Overalls suited the purpose very well and soon, people outside the British military noticed. People on the other side of the ocean noticed, actually, because overalls very quickly became popular in the U.S. with, you guessed it, farmers. Overalls were absolutely perfect for tending to tough farm chores.
Back then, overalls were intentionally designed to be baggy so that they would easily fit over whatever complete outfit the farmer was already wearing. These overalls were worn over pants and a shirt, so they could be removed as a whole layer once the dirty chores were done. The farmer would still have on relatively neat clothes underneath. These overalls were made from tough fabric, usually a canvas material, and they were mostly made by the wives and daughters of the farmers or local tailors who provided clothes as they were custom-ordered by customers.
The Rise of Denim
Fashion changed…and one of the biggest game changers was Levi Strauss. Together with a tailor named Jacob Davis, Strauss created and refined the garment that would transform fashion: blue jeans. When the two men took out their patent for jeans in 1873, they changed workwear. Jeans became incredibly popular with miners, ranchers, farmers and other workers who had tough jobs to do.
What worked for pants could also work for overalls. Levi Strauss and new competitors on the market, including Lee, started making overalls out of the denim material that had made jeans so popular. The tough fabric was made with cotton in a thick design that was highly durable but soft and flexible, too. It was easy to wear and hard to wear out. When it was used to make overalls, it was a perfect match.
Denim overalls became more streamlined thanks to Lee, with a design that included a pocket bib. In the early 1900s, denim overalls had found their way to farms, ranches and workplaces of all types. They became popular among factory workers. But mostly, they were seen on American farms. Denim overalls became linked to the American farmer through popular culture and legendary art.
Overalls Become Iconic
You’ve heard of the “great American novel?” Well, artist Grant Wood is known for creating what is, perhaps, the great American painting. His most famous painting is American Gothic, which depicts an older farmer and his wife. The two are standing in front of a classic farmhouse wearing rather dour expressions. The farmer is holding a pitchfork. And, notably, he is wearing overalls.
Grant Wood’s famous painting was completed in 1930. By then, overalls had become liked to American farm life. They were hard-wearing and affordable, comfortable and work-friendly. They were absolutely perfect for farm work. But what about overalls really set them apart from other options? Why did farmers so widely embrace this look?
Okay, so overalls have been around a really long time and farmers liked them going way back to the 1700s. But why? What makes overalls so perfect for tending to tough farming tasks? Are they perfect for it or has this just become some sort of a tradition?
Actually, overalls are pretty ideal for farming. First, the design is secured to the body through the shoulder straps, not a belt. The belt on a pair of pants can come loose and get caught in machinery. It’s something that sort of juts out from the body. Overalls, on the other hand, close with very simple clasps that fit flat against the body.
Overalls don’t slide up or fall down, the way pants do, because they’re secured at the shoulders. This eliminates the need to adjust clothing while you’re trying to work, which leaves the hands free to continue tending to tough tasks.
Overalls are also made in a design that’s fully open on the sides and sleeveless. They don’t have a collar. This means that the arms, the shoulders and the torso have a complete, free range of movement. Farmers need to twist, turn, bend, sit, squat, reach and perform all sorts of movements while operating machinery and taking on their regular daily tasks. The baggy fit and open design of overalls make it easy to perform any farming task.
Meanwhile, the bib itself has a pocket. It’s right there on the chest within easy reach and it’s a great spot to store small tools and little odds and ends.
Modern Overalls Fashion
Denim overalls found their out of farms during the two World Wars, when many women flooded the factories to work in place of men who were fighting overseas. Suddenly, denim overalls were not just for the farm. They were now seen in urban landscapes.
It didn’t stop after the war. In the 1960s and beyond, overalls became streetwear. They even became super cool during the 1980s and 1990s, with all the hottest celebs stepping out in their best distressed denim overalls.
Meanwhile, actual farmers were wearing overalls sometimes and wearing other clothing. But suddenly, overalls have become hot city fashion once more. with the rise of urban gardening and community gardening, more city dwellers are putting on overalls in homage to true farmer fashion. Like they say, fashion trends always come back around.
Lots of clothing is tough enough to take on farmwork, though none are quite as iconic as farmwear as overalls. If you want to style a farm-ready look, there are a few different ways to make this style look cute and fashionable.
In hot weather, even denim overalls can feel a little too hot and heavy. To keep the outfit feeling cool, wear overalls with a cropped or short tank top. Staying sleeveless will help you stay much cooler. Choose lightweight boots that are suitable for hot weather. A design that has mesh panels will keep your feet cooler and less sweaty even on those hot summer days. Don’t forget to add a classic bandana tied around one of the straps of the overalls or around your hair. This adds a pop of color and it’s a classic farm outfit accessory that’s perfect in summer, because you use the bandana to wipe away the sweat.
Create a classic look by pairing overalls with a red plaid shirt. Roll up the sleeves when the weather is a little warmer and tie the shirt around your waist. Otherwise, leave the sleeves and the shirt hanging down to provide you with a little warmth while you work. Plaid and farming clothes are a great pairing. This will look amazing with some standard work boots and a straw hat. Because if you’re going for a farm look, why not go all the way?
If you’re styling a farm look not to work but to work your fashion, try a short-sleeve button-up top. A plaid pattern, a polka dot design or a solid color will work. Unbutton the top few buttons, cuff up the sleeves to make them a little shorter and tie a bandana around your neck. Pair this with combat boots and you’ve got a super stylish city chic look that pays tribute to farming style from the past.
Why Do Farmers Wear Overalls?
There are lots of reasons why farmers wear overalls. In the past, they were the most practical, functional and comfortable piece of fashion for the farm. In the modern era, it’s a great nod to the past and to fashion history itself. Overalls are still seen in every setting and they appear on people all over the world. They’re never really out of style and now, they’re so classic that they always create great style everywhere you happen to wear them.
Denimhunters – How Denim Went From Workwear to Fashion Statement
Farming Base – What Do Farmers Wear?
Levi Strauss & Co. – The History of Denim
Modern Farmer – Bib Overalls: From Farmwear to Fashion Icon
Work Attire Expert – Why Do Farmers Wear Denim Bib Overalls?