What are Overalls?

Niki Foster

Overalls are a single garment consisting of pants, a chest covering, and suspenders or braces. They are typically a utilitarian garment worn as some sort of protection in various occupations, including farm and railroad work, car racing, and military work. Some people wear the garment as a fashion statement or for comfort rather than for work. A similar garment, which covers the entire torso and arms on top, is also sometimes referred to by this name, though it is more often called a coverall.

Overalls are commonly worn for protection.
Overalls are commonly worn for protection.

A variety of materials can be used to make overalls, but denim is perhaps the most common. Called dungarees in England after the Indian fabric that was the precursor to denim, this type first became popular among British sailors and railroad workers in the United States in the 19th century. Modern day blue jeans are also sometimes called dungarees and also started out as work attire. Denim overalls have become more common as everyday wear, particularly for young people, and many different colors and styles are available.

Workers in a manufacturing plant commonly wear overalls designed to protect their body from metal shavings and other debris.
Workers in a manufacturing plant commonly wear overalls designed to protect their body from metal shavings and other debris.

Function often determines the fabric used to make overalls. Race car drivers and drag racers wear outfits made of a fire resistant textile, such as wool or Nomex®, to protect them in the event of crashes. Those worn by members of the military are also commonly fireproof. Factory workers, mechanics, sailors, and similar types of workers may wear protective coveralls, or boilersuits, made of cotton or nylon. These suits are usually worn over street clothes, whereas overalls are typically worn over long johns and a shirt, or only a shirt.

Overalls are worn across a wide variety of technical vocations, including painting.
Overalls are worn across a wide variety of technical vocations, including painting.

In Sweden and Finland, many university students wear special coveralls known as student overalls. Engineering students most often wear them, but some students in other fields of study have adopted the practice. Students are assigned different colors, depending upon their specific academic program, and they make the uniform their own by adding buttons, patches, and so on related to their political and personal interests, becoming something of a walking scrapbook. Students may also exchange pieces of their garments with one another.

People who are involved in railroad work may wear suspenders.
People who are involved in railroad work may wear suspenders.

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Discussion Comments


Most certainly I and all of my family members do, as we all worked in a big factory which precisely fabricated sheets of nylon tissue, with which all of these lovely nylon buttoned overalls were made of. As for us, we wore them from the 1950's up till the 1990's – practically for 40 years! Ours were in a yellow nylon with big plastic buttons and they were long. Actually, they fell on our thick leather working shoes, and we all put on top of our nylon overalls a black cardigan and a black felt beret, and we all dressed up that way, and we crossed the town all of us dressed up like that!

Here in France they were a great success, and everybody put them on: men and women, for working and at home, in the shops, in the offices, etc. The boys and girls also wore them for school and college mostly because they were obligatory. When you come to think of it, we spent all ours lives in nylon buttoned overalls!


I have always wondered if in the United States people (men, especially women and girls, and boys like over here in Europe) also wear those lovely long nylon overalls, which can be buttoned with big plastic buttons in the front,on the side ,or in the back ? I mean, they are so comfortable to wear and let alone the feeling when you have one on you it's so smooth and at the same time has a crispy sound too!

The only thing is that you must not go near a flame; otherwise they are "unusable." But the ones I prefer come from France, because they are so long, and sexy too!

Anyway, if someone from the USA could give me an answer, I would be pleased! Or else if you can order online and when to put them on, whenever you like, at home, in the garden, walking the dog outside, etc. Like my wife and I in summer, we just put on a long one (in all pretty colors too) with just plastic underwear and a plastic headcap too. It's wonderful. So, if somebody could give me an answer, thank you in advance!


Yes, I certainly do remember my mum putting on herself those long, yellow, nylon overalls with 14 big white plastic buttons 3cm in diameter and the head cap also in the same nylon! As for me and my sister, both of us had to wear, in primary school and in college, that is, at least until the age of 18, also nylon overalls which were buttoned always with those big plastic buttons in the front, on the side or in the back. As for colors, my sister's were pink,white or red, and my nylon overalls were royal blue, brown or green.

Underneath, my sister wore long pleated skirts with large straps and a beret, and me as a boy, very short shorts with clip-on braces and the beret too! Not to mention that, like every mother, ours too had a martinet, which is a children's whip composed of a round wooden handle 30cm long with 10 to 12 thick leather tails 40to 50cm long attached to it, which really stung our legs, buttocks and sometimes even our bottoms, too! And it wasn't only reserved for home, because you could be whipped also outside in the street too! As for hairstyles, the girls could have it short or long, but the boys' heads like mine were shaven every month leaving you with only 5mm on your nearly bald head! And when you complained of having to wear always those nylon overalls, the beret and get whipped with the martinet, our mother like the others would say, "You look very nice, and besides, you have nothing to say!” We were completely under their control! But that's the way it was in France in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s!


What you call overalls in English we call blouses. The overwhelming majority of them are in 100 percent nylon. They wrap you up good because they are long with long sleeves and can be buttoned in the front, on the side, or in the back. With those big plastic buttons they are smashing to wear! And the sound of the crispy and light nylon in all colours is exciting!

Today men and women still wear them at home, in the garden, at work, etc. But before the 80's, everybody wore them in France, especially the children up to the age of 18 for going to school or college. But also in that era, the martinet, a leather flogger went along with it and every french mother had one to whip their children's butts and mothers had one usually on them in their long buttoned nylon overalls in their big pockets, so everybody came back from school in nylon overalls and Mom with her martinet in hand to whip you on your legs with her martinet. For more serious matters, there it was, with a bare bottom at home, for girls and boys.

I read once on the Internet that between the 1950's and the 1980's, 3,000,000 martinets were sold every year in France so french mothers were not only for nylon buttoned overalls but also for the martinet, which had a great success too, as much as the nylon overalls. Actually, some schools and colleges in France have brought back of the use of overalls and the martinet, because the french mothers were asking for them to be reintroduced!


I like to wear bib overalls working in my yard, garden, and wood working shop. They are comfortable with no belt tugging at your waist. I have worn them for the past 25 years. I prefer comfort versus making a fashion statement.


For the past 40 years, I've been wearing nylon buttoned overalls. I've got a collection of about 20 of them. They are all very long, reach my shoes and are buttoned with big buttons in the back.

I like the crispy sound of nylon, and I prefer wearing a nylon overall than wearing a bib apron. I like also being "camisoled" in it. You need someone to button you in the back and someone to unbutton you too, especially when you've got 18 huge buttons to put on. A lot of people say that they are sexy. What is your point of view?


I like overalls because they are comfortable and roomy, but that is also why I stopped wearing them very much. I had a few pairs of overalls for women, but felt they really did not look all that feminine. Because they are so loose, I think I felt like I could eat anything I wanted and gained too much weight.

Sounds kind of crazy, but if I wear loose clothing like sweats and overalls, I eat more because I feel like I have more growing room, then when I wear something that fits a little more snug.


We have always had overalls of some type around our house. I remember my son received a pair of oshkosh overalls as a baby shower present, and I dressed him in them until he outgrew them.

My husband is a hunter, and he always has a pair of carhartt overalls around to wear. They are very warm and durable, and because they are so roomy, you can wear layers of clothing underneath them without feeling so bulky.


I live in a rural farming community and you see a lot of farmers wearing their typical, every day outfit of denim bib overalls. The shirts will change from day to day, but the overalls are always the same.

I imagine that they are very comfortable to work in and also quite functional. It is not unusual to see a whole group of men in the local cafe, all wearing their overalls and boots.

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