Before it became the garment we know today, denim overalls were originally known as the bib-and-brace. Invented in the 1800s by Grace Howard and Jacob Davis (the founders of the popular clothing company Levi’s), the earliest overalls had two parts: the trousers and the bib.
The trousers are typically loose-fitting and the bib acted as a part that covered the person’s torso. Throughout the years, the bib part of overalls changed. First, it was used as an extension for the legs. Then in the late 1800s, the bib was then sold separately from the trousers, and children mostly wore the bib part.
While most overalls were made with denim, they were also made with other materials like corduroy or chino cloth. Overalls were mostly worn by boys and men who worked in factories, however, women started wearing overalls when World War I was happening. From there, denim overalls became a popular article of clothing, especially during the 80s era.
Denim Overalls In The 80s
Denim overalls became a major fashion trend in the 80s. One of the reasons why they were popular in the 80s was because of the feel and style.
Denim overalls are described as being casual and playful, and were perfect for kids growing up during this period. They were also a popular choice among some of the most visible celebrities of the time as well.
Denim overalls also had a wide appeal. Construction or factory workers weren’t the only people wearing denim overalls. They were also worn by other people from different occupations like the military, activism, athletes, as well as housewives. The design of overalls also influenced other fashion items in the 80s like shorteralls, coveralls, and jeans.
The popularity of denim overalls also came along with popular 70s, 80s, and 90s magazines and celebrity figures. Seventies magazines like Flashback or Vintage Patterns Fandom had models or drawings of characters in overalls.
There were also popular characters from American sitcoms that wore overalls like Will Smith on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air or Steve Urkel on Family Matters.
Pop Culture And Denim Overalls
The 80s had its fair share of famous figures and magazines that highlighted denim overalls. The fashion was everywhere in pop culture, and a big reason why it was so popular during the 1980s.
TV Shows And Music Videos
In the 1980s denim overalls was a fixture on television. Some of the most iconic tv characters from the 1980s regularly wore denim overalls, further popularizing the fashion.
Steve Urkel (Family Matters, aired on September 22nd, 1989 and ended on July 14th, 1998): One of the most popular sitcoms in the 80s, Family Matters follows Carl Winslow who lives and takes care of his family while also working as a policeman. Their nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White), often wore suspenders and overalls on the show.
Samantha Micelli (Who’s The Boss, aired on September 20th, 1984 and ended on April 25th, 1992): Another hit sitcom in the 1980s, Samantha Micelli (played by Alyssa Milano) was often seen wearing denim overalls, which was a popular fashion choice among teenagers and young adults.
Will Smith (The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, aired on September 10, 1990 and ended on May 20th, 1996): While not an 80s show, Will Smith had a huge impact on the popularity of overalls and extended the popularity of the fashion trend.
Playing himself on The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, the show follows Will Smith as he is sent to live with his uncle and aunt. Will Smith, among other characters, wore often seen wearing denim overalls on the show.
Denim overalls also appeared in many music videos during the 1980s. MTV first aired in August of 1980, and with that came music videos, and now audiences could mimic the fashion trend they saw of their favorite stars. And many of them wore denim overalls.
For example, Dexy’s Midnight Runners rocked denim overalls in the music video for their 1982 smash hit Come On Eileen.
Bananarama also infamously wore denim overalls in their music video for their 1984 mega anthem “Cruel Summer”.
There were many magazines in the 80s that also had models wearing overalls. Their appearance in these made overalls the fashionable thing of the time:
Mademoiselle (First issue published in 1935): Starting in 1935, Mademoiselle is a women’s magazine dedicated to selling women’s clothes. They also featured short stories from authors like Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Sue Miller, and William Faulkner. The magazine regularly had models in overalls during the 80s issues of the magazine.
McCall’s Magazine (First issue published in 1873): Another women’s magazine that sells fashion, McCall’s magazine became particularly popular during the 60s, selling well over 8.4 million copies. Many issues of the magazine had models on the front cover who wore overalls.
Are Denim Overalls Still Popular?
Overalls are still in fashion even today. Old and new brands such as Levi’s, OshKosh B’Gosh, Larned, Carter and Co; Jellico Clothing Manufacturer, and Stella McCartney are popular brands that still design and sell overalls.
Overalls are still worn by men, women, and children. Also construction workers still wear overalls as protective clothing while working.
The comfort and affordability of denim overalls will likely make it a popular fashions for many years to come. However we will always remember it as a staple of 1980s fashion, and one that will always make us smile when we think back on.