Perhaps you are shopping for overalls and have come across the term duck bib overalls (or canvas bib overalls) and you are wondering what exactly that means. What are duck bib overalls and who should wear them?
Duck bib overalls are overalls that are made from cotton duck canvas material. Cotton duck (commonly called canvas) is an ultra-durable, abrasion-resistant material that is used in workwear to create clothing that can take on a rugged work environment. Duck bib overalls are worn by workers in a wide range of industries, and also make sense for outdoorsmen and certain DIY projects.
If you are shopping for duck canvas bib overalls, visit my article about the best canvas duck overalls to see my favorites and explore your options. I personally like the Patagonia canvas overalls because I think they are more comfortable than other types of canvas overalls.
Although duck bib overalls use a canvas material, the design of the bib overalls are very much the same as regular overalls, with distinctive shoulder straps and an adjoined torso and trousers. Most duck bib overalls come with chest pockets which gives workers needed storage space for small tools and essentials.
Construction jobs, farmers, and those who spend time around brush and debris find these types of overalls very useful. Many companies will treat their duck bib overalls with a water-resistant finish so that they also function nicely as an outer layer for cold, wet conditions.
Duck bib overalls are a better choice than denim or wool overalls when the job demands a durable material. In this article let’s take a closer look at duck bib overalls so you can decide whether or not they would make sense for your next job (why do people wear overalls?).
What are Duck Bib Overalls?
As we discussed earlier, duck bib overalls are overalls that are made from cotton duck canvas material. Cotton duck (commonly called canvas) is an ultra-durable, abrasion-resistant material that is used in workwear to create clothing that can take on a rugged work environment.
Cotton Duck Material
Here is what the canvas material looks like on my overalls:
Overalls have been around since the late 1800s and originally were made from a continuous piece of fabric encompassing the trousers, torso, and shoulder straps (these are known as continuous bibs). Starting in 1919, manufacturers began making the torso section out of a separate piece of fabric and attaching it to the trousers portion to produce bib overalls (source).
Contrary to popular belief and common perception, the word “duck” in duck bib overalls has nothing to do with the all-too-familiar waterfowl nor does it relate to any of their characteristics. Rather, cotton duck refers to a particular type of woven cotton fabric, referred to commonly as “canvas”.
For bib overalls, cotton duck (that is, duck fabric made from cotton instead of linen) is the material of choice and there are several common names for this material:
- Cotton Duck
- Duck Canvas
Cotton duck is available in several grades that correspond to varying degrees of thickness and durability. These varying types are assigned identifying numbers with higher numbers representing thinner material and lower ones correlating to thicker, heavier cotton duck fabrics.
As we will discuss next, there are pros and cons to cotton duck. It is made to be ultra-durable, but because of that, some types of canvas can feel very stiff and have a long break-in period. To offset stiffness, some companies will pre-wash the canvas to help break it in, or blend in other types of material to soften the canvas (cotton blend).
Pros & Cons of Duck Bib Overalls
Pros of Duck Bib Overalls
- Abrasion Resistant – This is the most important advantage of duck bib overalls. The durable, abrasion resistant shell creates a barrier for workers in harsh environments, especially in brush and debris.
- Wind Resistant – The plain-woven construction of cotton duck makes it highly wind-resistant (supposedly second only to leather in terms of wind resistance) and therefore duck bib overalls are ideal for windy, outdoor working conditions
- Pockets – Bib overalls in general provide not only an outer layer of protection for workers, they also provide additional pockets, which can come in useful on the job.
- Long-Lasting – Because duck bib overalls are made with durable cotton canvas, they are known to last longer than other types of overalls made with denim, wool, or other fabrics.
- Winter – Although duck cotton canvas by itself is only a moderate insulator of warmth, it is very easy to find insulated duck overalls that provide even more warmth for winter. Most types of canvas overalls are also treated to be water-resistant.
Cons of Duck Bib Overalls
- Stiffness – Duck cotton is stiff initially, and will have a break-in period. To offset this, some companies will pre-wash the canvas to break it in, or add other material to the fabric. Some companies will incorporate spandex to add stretch. Spandex will increase range of motion, but decrease durability.
- Range of Motion – Because of their thickness and initial stiffness, duck bib overalls may be too restrictive for certain activities and limit your freedom of movement. As we just discussed, some companies add spandex to the fabric to offset this. Also, many companies will use a loose fit and may add a crotch gusset.
- Open Shoulders – Yes, this is true for all types of overalls, but coverage around the shoulders is an issue. If you need coverage around the shoulders, coveralls will be the better option. Some types of coveralls come with an attached hood (best hooded coveralls).
- Weight – Canvas is a thick material, and can be heavy to wear. And overalls obviously are made up with a lot of material, and so the weight of overalls should be something you take into consideration. For example, my canvas overalls weigh almost 3 pounds for a size 32:
- Wet Weather – Another major drawback of duck bib overalls is that unless the fabric is treated with some type of waterproofing material, they will stretch when wet and could be susceptible to mold if left damp (source). The good news is many companies do treat their duck overalls with a water-resistant spray.
Who Should Wear Duck Bib Overalls?
To the people who wear them, bib overalls of the cotton duck variety are as indispensable as their tools and equipment. Whether it is due to work conditions or factors relating to weather, duck bib overalls are not only the garment of choice, but they can also be a real difference-maker when it comes to getting the job done right.
Here is a sampling of who might wear duck bib overalls:
- Construction workers
Duck bib overalls are as purpose-built as clothing can get. They are no-nonsense, straightforward garments for tough jobs or tasks that need to be completed under challenging circumstances.
When it comes to wearing duck bib overalls, proper fit is a matter to be taken seriously. Poor fit means discomfort which can lead to sub-par job performance.
- Because they are often worn over normal clothing, it is recommended that the waist size of duck bib overalls be two to four inches (roughly one to two sizes) larger than your normal pant waist size
- Duck bib overalls also go over your entire midsection (unlike most pants which sit at the hips or below the belly) which is another reason for going with the larger waist size
- As far as the proper length (i.e., inseam) for duck bib overalls, your normal pant length should be fine
Many duck bib overalls also feature leg zippers that open up the bottom of each pant leg so that they that be easily put on over pants and without having to take shoes off. Most options have elastic suspenders for an easy, comfortable fit over the shoulders.
How Do Duck Bib Overalls Compare?
- Wool – Wool is not as durable as duck canvas, but it is much better at insulating, especially when wet. Wool is also easier to move around in. To read more, visit our article about wool overalls.
- Denim – Denim is what most people think of when they think of overalls. Denim is a comfortable material, that is also reasonably durable, but not as durable as duck cotton. For this reason, some workers prefer duck cotton for the added durability.
- Stretch Fabric – Stretch work overalls are becoming more and more popular as people prefer to remain flexible while they work. Yes, you can find duck bib overalls that have spandex incorporated into the fabric to provide some stretch. To read more, visit our article about the best stretch overalls.
- Waterproof – Although many types of duck bib overalls are water-resistant, they are not truly waterproof. If you need a pair of overalls that is 100% waterproof, you will need a different type of material (like pvc). To see options, visit our article about the best waterproof overalls.