The Overall History of Overalls

Throughout human history, mankind has covered itself with fabrics in various forms. From loincloths to space suits, we have crafted what we need to meet the demands of hostile environments along with our desire for comfort. 

Before the first cities and empires rose from the rabble, your standard-issue prehistoric human had pelts and skins covering their delicate bits and keeping them warm throughout winter. While some say that “clothing makes the man”, we must equally acknowledge that “man makes the clothing”, and we believe that we should strive to do so well.

In the grand scheme of things, the garment we now know as “overalls' ' is a relative newcomer to the clothing scene. Compared to the several millennia past of trousers, the couple hundred years of overalls is quite short. We have wanted to produce a worthy addition to this form for years, and this fall, we finally put it all together in our Flex Canvas Overalls, which are flying off the literal and digital shelves.

If you are hung on the fence about the historical value of overalls, or just wish to learn more about their fascinating origins, continue reading at your leisure. We’ve dug deep into the bib pockets of overall history for this one, to explore how and why these hardy garments first came into creation and why they matter now more than ever.

Group of people wearing overalls

A Sturdy Star is Born

While no sole individual can be truly accredited with the invention of overalls, they first are mentioned in writings around the late 18th century by members of the British Royal Army. 

The occupying British forces in India found the dungaree fabric (a precursor to denim) being used in a small village called Dungri. This durable fabric was known as ideal for manual labor, and the British added the bib, or top portion of the garment, to give uniforms or formal clothing a protective layer while also providing additional storage space. 

Overalls saw a significant boon throughout the 19th century as they spread throughout the United States and became further modified for workwear. Producers experimented with different cuts, styles, and reinforcement points to custom meet the needs of their increasingly industrial occupations. 

Both Levi Strauss and Lee Jeans claim to have filed the original patent for the classic overall design in the late 1800s, but it is a contentious debate and race in which LIVSN has no horse.

The initial design of our Flex Canvas Overalls

The early sketch design of our Flex Canvas Overalls

Overalls Roll Up Their Non-Existent, Metaphorical Sleeves in the Early Modern Age

The next major shift in overalls usage occurred in the early 20th century as global conflict rocked the world and challenged gender roles. 

With men sent abroad for military service, stateside women became enabled and encouraged to work in factories to keep production lines moving. Overalls, and by extension trousers, became a necessary and begrudgingly accepted form of clothing for women. In time, women made adjustments to the garment’s cut and fit for both comfort and style choices. This trend thankfully lasted long after the conflicts concluded, and allowed women greater freedom of clothing choice. 

Throughout the early to mid 20th century, overalls became symbolically associated with people of the working class and other historically marginalized groups.

Counterculture & Mainstream Success for Overalls

In the 1960s overalls became associated with the civil rights movement and the general counterculture movement, while still retaining firm roots in rural communities for their practicality. 

For the civil rights movement, the choice of overalls by many political activists was seen as a statement of solidarity with long-suffering sharecroppers in the rural south. For the hippies, overalls were a practical choice that matched the minimalist needs of the “Back-To-The-Land” movement that gained traction at that time. 

Others continued to wear overalls with no political statement whatsoever, and simply enjoyed their sturdy embrace for years while they tended to their work.

Tragically, overalls fell somewhat from the public spotlight and favor throughout the 70s and 80s as America became enamored with other cultural pursuits. Once again overalls showed their resilience and adaptability with a resurgent showing in the 90s. Then they became adopted by hip-hop artists for their political associations of the past, notable as one of the first uses of overalls with zero intentions of manual labor as they were originally designed. 

Regardless, the offbeat style exhibited in this era brought about some wonderful tunes, and their fashion choice made waves then that continued to this day.

A Strapping Success - Overalls for All

Right now, we are living in the midst of an absolute renaissance for overalls that would make their humble forebearer's buttons shine with pride.  

Both high-end fashion icons and earnest working people have fully embraced overalls to their own ends. Overalls of countless cuts and colors can be found as parts of streetwear collections and infused with all manner of styles. Yet they still remain the gold standard for workwear around the globe, an emblem of honest, hard work that does not fear nor shy away from dirt or sweat. 

On both ends, their near limitless capacity provided by their varied and nifty pockets is celebrated as a triumph of man’s design. In certain clandestine sewing circles, it is said they arguably serve as our brightest beacon of mankind’s cultural advancement as a species, a perfect intersection of lofty idealism and practical realism.

Whether you call them dungarees, bib-and-brace trousers, or just plain overalls, we can all agree they have played a unique and interesting role in mankind’s history of clothing. 

We humbly submit our Flex Canvas Overalls as a worthy addition to this storied garment whose fabric stretches across continents, social classes, and time itself. 

See if we still have a size and color that match your fancy here. Before you know it, you can find yourself in a deceptively cozy and practical full body suit of flex canvas that will serve you well for years to come—wherever you go, work, and live.

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