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Believe It or Not, You're Overlooking Overalls

Before jeans were jeans, they were overalls, a pair of bottoms with a bib. It's time to give the original a go again.

mens overalls in stripes, navy, and burnt orange

Who it was that invented overalls depends on who you ask. While Levi Strauss trademarked "waist overalls," which he eventually labeled the 501 and called jeans, in 1873, they are mentioned in literature dating back to 1776, and always as a functional garment for the worker (which, prior to 1865, largely meant enslaved people). In 1911, Harry David Lee — you guessed it, the founder of Lee Jeans — designed the first bib overalls. Lee's, instead of using buttons and suspenders like Levi's did, had additional fabric that stretched up over the torso, looped over the shoulders and fastened to the rear of the pants with fabric that fell down the back.

In my opinion, those were the first overalls. They're the ones most similar to overalls you see worn today by infants, farmers, factory workers and fashion designers. But you don't have to be a toddler or today's top model to sport them. If you're shy about showing them off but like the protection they offer, slip them beneath a big knit or heavy overcoat. No one will ever know. Should you want people to see — which you should, don't be shy — they pair nicely with a thermal, heavy T-shirt or a simple sweater. If you buy a vintage pair they'll play particularly nice with both patinaed boots and a broken-in sweatshirt.

If you're a practical person, you could buy overalls for actual work. The bib — what the fabric that extends from your waist up is called — protects against splashes, stains and slices (if they're canvas). Plus, the pant part usually proves a whole hell of a lot heavier because there are suspenders there to support the extra weight, meaning you can scuff them up and bend around without worrying that your knee will bust through.

There are, as expected, more fashion-forward ones that feel a lot lighter. These offer the usual functionality — to cover the shirt you have on underneath — but with added versatility. If they're lighter, maybe you wear them in the dead of summer while tending to your garden or gather produce from a farm stand. Who cares: It's the built-in functionality that, as it is with workwear, makes them fun.

Try these on for size.

    Overalls for Men

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    Our Pick
    Double Knee Bib Overall
    Carhartt WIP

    As a garment originally designed for serious, laborious work, it's only right our top overalls stays true to its roots. However, there's very clearly splash of fashion here, too. These 12 oz canvas overalls are by Carhartt WIP, the modern, European offshoot of the Detroit clothier. They come with double, deep blue knees that contrast the black base. The hardware is a sort of brassy gold and the back is all blue.

    An Upgrade
    Union Overalls
    &Sons Trading Co.

    The first overalls were denim. As such, these true to form Union Overalls are too. &Sons cut them from mid-weight 13oz ISKO denim and emphasized the garment's earliest iterations. They look like a bib and a pair of five-pocket jeans stitched together because the inverse was how they were invented. The Union Overalls are recommended for any modern craftsman or super-fan of blue jeans.

    An Affordable Alternative
    Vintage Overall
    Urban Outfitters

    Although you probably didn't know it, Urban Outfitters sells vintage clothing too. The retailers toyed with renewed and recycled garments for a few years now. They source the items, shoot them and ready them for their next owner. Think of this vintage overall, for example, as a mystery order. You're guaranteed to get them in your size (you can pick S/M or L/XL), but you won't know who made them until they arrive. Sure, it's a risk for someone who knows exactly which pair they need — if that's you then you should be on eBay or Grailed — but for someone simply curious about overalls, it's a cost-efficient way to snag a cool vintage pair.

    Question: Does Lee still make overalls?
    lee jeans ad

    You'd be hard pressed to find a pair of Lee's overalls made for men within the past few years. I couldn't find a single pair specifically for men on their site or on third-party retailers, but there are plenty of vintage Lee sets on resale sites — like Grailed, eBay and even Facebook Marketplace.

    You could buy a pair you find there or get a women's pair in the appropriate size from Lee's online store. You'll have to do the working of finding your equivalent size, but it's worth it if it means getting this cool corduroy pair.

    Earls Bib Overall
    Stan Ray

    Stan Ray is another tough American workwear brand. The label was founded in Texas in 1972 but has since expanded all over — even to Europe (like Carhartt with Carhartt WIP). These aren't as heavy as early editions, but they're cut from dark denim and have a hammer loop nonetheless.

    Garment-Dyed Canvas Overalls

    Madewell's midweight canvas overalls come with worn-in look and feel made possible by garment-dying. Finished a traditional duck brown color, these don't have all of the bells and whistles expensive pairs pile onto the chest and around the waist but that makes these more practical for someone just testing the waters. These aren't terribly bulky so they could fit comfortability under a sweatshirt, but they rise high enough to cover most of your chest, meaning you wouldn't feel weird wearing just a T-shirt underneath.

    Iron Forge Hemp Canvas Overalls

    There are overalls — called Salopettes — designed specifically for skiing and skydiving. These are not them, even though they're made by Patagonia. The brand picked Iron Forge Hemp as the fabric because it's breathable but also better at resisting rips and tears. Double-kneed with openings for pads, you could wear these to work or around town, and adjustable suspenders make strapping or slipping out super easy.

    Anson Overalls

    I couldn't leave Levi's off this list, even if the Anson Overalls pale in comparison to the brand's earliest editions. (The construction's simply better the further you go back; that's why we love vintage Levi's.) Admittedly very comfortable, these come with a high bib that rises up over the chest and a back that's fully supported. Some overalls have spaghetti straps: straps that twist and turn but have no real substance. This option has a full back with fabric that stretches up over the shoulder blades.

    Chainmail Relaxed Fit Overall

    RVCA applies the classic vertical stripe — often seen on Stan Rays — to a pair of relaxed overalls. The surf- and skate-centric California brand takes a chiller approach to the style, as opposed to creating rigid workwear. These would fit right on the coast, where you slip out of boardshorts and into something nicer (overalls) for dinner or drinks.

    Reworked Bib Overall

    Overalls were Dickies' sole focus when the brand first launched in 1922. Now, as you know, the brand makes a bunch more: work pants, Eisenhower jackets and nearly everything else, it seems. Return to the brand's roots with the Reworked Bib Overall, a black cotton iteration with contrasting white piping and oversized pockets.

    Unisex Organic Cotton Overalls

    It shouldn't be a surprise to hear most garments could be designed unisex. Subtle tweaks to center apparel between the two gender poles (it's a spectrum, so there are many in-between) are totally feasible, as evidenced by Arielle's organic cotton overalls. They're the simplest on this list, for sure, but I like them for that reason. They don't make wearing overalls feel like worker cosplay. Instead, they feel modern and standout-ish but somehow slightly ubiquitous.

    The #1002 Full-Length Overall

    This pair's clearly the product of an attempt at modernizing the style. First of all, they are dyed a different color. No, this hue isn't abnormal for most clothes, but overalls are usually blue, white (for painters) or brown. This slate gray set immediately separates itself from yesteryear's versions, giving the wearer plenty of versatility in how they were it.

    Waders Crinkled Straight-Leg Overalls
    Engineered Garments

    You can't say I didn't tell you so: While overalls are still trusted by workers, they've become a source of inspiration, and means of experimentation, for fashion designers. A cocktail of interesting features make you realize how far removed these are from others on this list, let alone those made some 100 years ago: big, bucket pockets, a high button front, cinched hems, side tie fastenings, a girdle-like back and belt loops up on the abdomen. These are fashion-forward, for sure, and the price reflects that.

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