The boiler suit – more commonly known as coveralls in the United States (US) – is a one-piece garment, similar to the jumpsuit, which covers the torso, arms, and legs. Instead of offering the snug fit of the jumpsuit, the boiler suit is much looser so that it may easily be worn over other clothing. It is usually worn in the workplace to protect the wearer and his or her clothing from spills, stains, cuts, burns, and other occupational hazards.
Designs vary, but boiler suits typically open along the front of the torso so that the wearer may step into them easily. The suits usually are secured by button, snap, or zipper. Leg openings are generally wide enough to put on while wearing shoes. Often, the boiler suit has pockets of varying sizes to hold tools and equipment as needed. Straps are often placed on the leg to hold long-handled tools such as hammers.
Materials used to make a boiler suit vary as well, depending largely on the intended use. Some are designed to shield the wearer from nothing more severe than a splash of paint or spilled motor oil; others must contend with open flame, welding sparks, or corrosives. Fabrics range from light cotton blends and synthetics to reinforced waterproof or flame-retardant fabrics, and even disposable polyethylene.
The boiler suit gets its name from the coal-fueled boiler rooms where it was first used in the 1890s. In an environment where embers, hot ash, and soot could fall into a waistband and get trapped under a belt, the boiler suit’s one-piece construction offered fewer gaps and better protection. The full-body cover also protected the worker from the boiler’s intense heat, and the worker’s own clothing was shielded from burns and coal dust.
Boiler suits have often been confused with overalls, and while there are similarities, these terms are not synonymous. Both are sturdy garments worn to protect the wearer in the workplace, often with large pockets and straps for long tools. Overalls differ in that they are pants with a bib and suspenders, offering no protection for the arms or back.
The boiler suit has been used in a variety of professions and settings, including factories, cleaning crews, mine workers, military forces, and paintball enthusiasts. High-visibility suits offer extra protection for road crews. Boiler suits have even made their way into popular music as well, famously worn by Devo in a music video during the 1980s.