A CELEBRATION OF THE ICONIC GARMENTS OF THE WORKWEAR DENIM HISTORY

The Bib Overall project, run by our Denim Boulevard team, was born to celebrate the garment-icon of the denim workwear history.

We involved in this action some of the most important denim influencers we collaborate with: first of all Antonio Di Battista – one of the greatest experts and collectors – besides valuable field-players like Cone Denim, The Vintage Showroom.

Retracing the life of this traditional working garment – in addition to the three most famous labels ever: Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler – the companies that mainly went down in history with their Bib Overalls were Stronghold, The Freeland, Sweet Orr, Fink’s, Boss, Penny’s, Crown, Duck Head, Old Kentucky, Curtis, Sear’s, Carhartt, Home Front, Big Mac, Elk Brand, Big Winston, Washington Dee Cee, Tom Cat, Can’t Bust’em, Key, Round House, OshKosh B’Gosh, Big Ben, Boss Of The Road, Calco, Work Wear, Walls, Carters, Universal Overall, Big Smith, King G, Powr House, Roe Bucks and many, many more..

That of the overall is a glorious story, a complete suit with bib and suspenders able to embody ideas as commitment, persistence, ethics. The name itself tells much about its identity; “salopette” (overall) in French stems from “saloper”, viz to dirty or to doodle; in America the overall – or bib overall – was born from a pair of large protective pants called “waist overall” – forefathers of the current jeans.

The great benefit given by the addition of the bib – a sort of chest-covering lil’ apron – is keeping safe the body’s upper part too, needed thing for some works. It can be considered the workwear’s archetype in effect, the ‘fatigue’ garment par excellence to be worn over pants, shirt, vest or jacket so that ‘good’ clothes didn’t get ruined or dirty.

The debate between the Europe or USA’s fatherhood is similar to the one of the denim-jeans fabric, for sure in both cases it’s already a commonly used piece in the half ‘800s, and it’s the famous blue-coloured fabric indeed – sturdy and able to conceal dirt – the main material which the overall is made of; from one side of the ocean to the other it collected a number of patents attesting its specifically protective nature, as much as of underlying clothes as of the ones who’s wearing them.

But it’s in the USA above all that the overall’s able to speak, creating a deep link with the soul of the country at its first appearances already – from the WWII arriving then to the ’80s rap relaunch. For almost a 100 years it’s been the voice of different realities and social characters that contributed creating the American imagery nowadays we all have a thing for.

Very quickly the number of advertisements and trademarks prove its centrality within the American landscape, especially and crucially supported by the typically Made in USA phenomenon of mail order selling that facilitated its wide spread in all the nations of the country.

In the XX Century to the farmers and carpenters, that were already using it, is added a new category of workers born amid of the technological discoveries tied to metal and mechanical energy. The factory-worker was born, and the overall not only becomes the symbol of rural culture, but of the Industrial Revolution as well. If Henry Ford’s production lines aren’t enough to recount this garment synonymous with a historical period, it’s the cinema genius Charlie Chaplin the one giving a no compromise vision through his ‘Modern Times’ movie (1936).

Sturdiness, durability and comfort are the features needed for the garment dressing the man of fatigue, an economical piece regarded as among essential necessities ones (like bread and milk), free from the dollar’s instability – keeping its cost unvaried during the late ’20s-’30s Great Depression – when also the industry leaders choose it as a ‘work dress’ and use it like a patriotic emblem; the statement of wanting to react to an economical situation where the prices’ exponential increase makes clothing unaffordable goods.

Even during the two World Wars the overall is working on a symbolical level, keeping the father’s figure alive. Being dressed “just like dad” allowed kids to identify with a male character also in those years when it was absent, because busy on the frontline. More than a garment, a social project. “Hard working, honest toiling men and he-men battling for their bread” claims a Sears mail order catalogue describing the average man wearing overalls.

That’s the New Deal’s America, that’s East and Mid-West America, reconquering its self-knowing and its own strength by a textile craftsmanship artwork as the overall. But the perception regarding overalls wasn’t always like this. If those are the years when it’s appearing worn by Uncle Sam in the OshKosh B’Gosh advertisements – documenting how it’s a nation-approved choice indeed – in the late ‘800 overalls seem somehow an unfitting garment for the off-work situations; in those years many are its models showing a bib designed to be removed or folded and hidden inside trousers.

From cotton-pickers to hired-men arriving to the women employed in railway companies, it indiscriminately dressed people of different age, race and gender, during times when clothing not only identified very precise belonging-categories which you couldn’t escape from, but it was also one of the ways these distinctions were perpetrated through.

The very first overall styles purposely registered as women’s (Sweet-Orr calls ’em “womenalls”) date back to the first ‘900s decade, strongly influenced by the Bloomeristes’ trousers – a few decades before already set as a bad example being the symbol of a bold-attitude woman, proclaiming her freedom to dress likewise men do.

Ahead of its time, it shows how the ladies’ appropriate clothing actually wasn’t fitting their entry into the work world, being dangerous and not so comfortable. A tradition of emancipation took over by the feminists, who chose overalls as maternity dress not to give up pants even once pregnant. From this moment it gets almost a duty for fashion designers to revive overalls’ casual versions, often produced with coloured fabrics – linked to childhood and lightness – far cry from the tough denim and its original protective function.