What is the Purpose of Overalls and Why are They Popular?

Overalls were first created in the 1700s for the British Army and, ever since they made their way into manual labor, have gone in and out of fashion with the public. They now serve various purposes, but there was one specific purpose in mind when they were first created, which is also why they are still so widely used today. What is the purpose of overalls and why are overalls popular?

Overalls are popular because they can be slipped on over other work clothes to offer protection to the body and normal work clothes. This helps fend off grease and other spills common to a work environment. Overalls also increase the number of storage pockets a worker has at his or her disposal.

Depending on the type of material used to make the overalls, they can provide a barrier from cold, sparks, flames, and other workplace hazards (not all overalls are flame-resistant). Insulated overalls are a great layering piece for those who spend long work days outside in the brutal cold.

Functionality is another benefit of overalls. Because most overalls come with chest pockets, it allows workers to store essential tools in easy-to-reach spots, and increases the total number of pockets they have at their disposal.

Over time, the use of overalls has spread through a variety of jobs for a variety of reasons. In this article let’s take a closer look at the purpose of overalls and why they are popular in the workplace.

What is the Purpose of Overalls?

People, in general, wear overalls because they like their appearance, and use them as a fashion statement. Workers wear them for the convenience, protection, and help they provide with the various work tasks.

Some of the primary jobs people associate with wearing overalls include farmers, plumbers, painters, mechanics, and railroad engineers. Let’s read a bit more about them individually. 

Why do Farmers Wear Overalls?

More recently, with advancements in technology, farmers are more likely to wear coveralls or even just jeans and a comfortable shirt. However, overalls were frequently used by farmers for several reasons, including:

  • Comfort. It is easy to move around in, which is vital for such a physical job where you need to stand, kneel, crouch, or lie down often.  
  • Pockets. Great for carrying around tools that they need for various tasks around the farm. 
  • Cleanliness. Overalls kept their regular clothes from getting filthy due to muck, mud, and brush common to farmland. 

Why do Painters Wear Overalls?

As with many of the other jobs, wearing overalls is a protective measure to keep from destroying their regular clothes. It is something they can quickly slip off when they get home or are going into a place where they don’t want to get paint on anything.

White overalls or coveralls, specifically, are used for several reasons (source):

  • Much of the material they work with is white: caulking, plaster, drywall, primer, etc.
  • It was the union color. 
  • It is tradition and sets them apart as painters. 

But not only do overalls help keep paint off workers’ clothes, they also give painters convenient pockets to store brushes or small tools needed during the job.

Why do Mechanics Wear Overalls?

Mechanics work around oil and lots of chemicals that may be harmful to their skin and their clothes. Wearing overalls gives them an extra layer of protection from oil, dirt, and grime that go along with their job.

In addition, wearing overalls helps protect their skin from getting scraped up when they must crawl around on their hands and knees or lie on the ground under cars. In fact, many mechanic overalls come with knee-pad pockets so that knee pads can be inserted into the overalls.

To read more about mechanic overalls and coveralls, visit our article about mechanic jumpsuits.

Why do Plumbers Wear Overalls?

Although it is not an industry-wide uniform, and many plumbers will simply wear whatever they are comfortable in to get the job done, many others still love wearing overalls. One reason is protection against the cold, but like many other jobs, plumbers appreciate the fact that overalls provide extra pockets for storage.

When plumbers are cramped into tight spaces, having extra pockets near the chest can be very beneficial.

Why do Railroad Engineers Wear Overalls?

Nowadays, railroad engineers don’t often wear overalls, but it was considered part of their uniform back in the day. The extra pockets were necessary for carrying around tools such as a wrench for anything that needed fixing, a temperature gauge, and a watch to make sure they stayed on schedule.

Pros and Cons of Overalls

Advantages of Overalls

  • You have a free range of arm motion – This is great for jobs where you have to paint or lift frequently. Because overalls have open shoulders, you retain proper range of motion through the shoulders.
  • Provides more airflow – If you get warm easily or are working outside during the summer months, that extra airflow can make all the difference in your comfort level and ability to do your job. 
  • A good additional layer – If you already have a coat and just need insulation for the lower half of your body, they will do the job (best insulated overalls).
  • Adjusts well to your individual body shape – Because they are a looser article of clothing, they tend to be more forgiving in terms of weight gain or loss. 
  • Can add layer for safety – Some, but not all, overalls are designed with protective fabric. Some types of fabric might be flame-resistant, while others may be abrasion-resistant, waterproof, or water-resistant.
  • Provide extra pockets – If your job requires a lot of extra little tools, then overalls provide the convenience of having plenty of extra storage space.   

Disadvantages of Overalls

  • They do not provide complete insulation – If you are working outside in freezing weather, then some of your much-needed body heat will get out. Insulated coveralls will be a better option for extreme cold.
  • It does not seal off the wind – In extreme weather and cold, this can be a definite negative. 
  • Can reduce freedom of movement – Wearing an extra layer over your normal work clothes can add bulk and reduce your freedom of movement. Overalls made with stretch fabric are a good way to ensure your retain flexibility.
  • Often imported – Not a lot of overalls are made in the USA, which means quality of overalls can suffer at times. If you want American-made overalls, visit our article about USA overalls.

Materials Used in Overalls

The most classic type of overalls are denim overalls, but there are several types of material used modern day to make overalls. These materials include cotton, polyester, nylon, wool, and canvas (among others).

To read more about specific materials, visit our articles linked below:

When are Coveralls a Better Option?

We have discussed careers where overalls are or were historically used as part of their uniforms. We’ve also discussed the pros and cons of overalls in general.

But sometimes, full body coverage may be the better option. Coveralls are different than overalls in that they also cover the shoulders and arms. Coveralls are a nice option if:

  • You work in frigid and windy environments where insulating and maintaining your body warmth is very important. Coveralls insulate and block out the wind much better than overalls. Some options come with a hood.
  • You are working in extremely dirty environments where you want to keep as much of your body covered as possible. Coveralls cover your shoulders and arms where overalls do not. 
  • You need to carry around a lot of tools. Coveralls have pockets all over them to carry around what you need to, whereas overalls do not have quite as many. 

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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