Practical Magic

From Rosie the Riveter to Demi Moore, Overalls Are Back in Fashion

In the 1940s women’s overalls were functional, for factory work. Today, they’re the preferred casualwear for movie stars and trendsetters.

Summer in the city brings with it a familiar parade of short-shorts, strappy tops, floaty dresses…and overalls. What originally started off as a work wear item in the 1940s for women who were engaged in wartime factory jobs has returned to the fashion scene as a piece of cool casualwear.

Georgia May Jagger cited overalls as her personal favorite fashion choice. Other celebrities that have been photographed wearing overalls include Hillary Duff, Karlie Kloss, and style icon Olivia Palermo who donned a pair of leather ones, keeping herself a hair above the rest of the pack. Demi Moore wore a pair, with fabulous Gucci lace-up boots, on Memorial Day.

A quick search on Google shopping will tell you that they are a fairly affordable item, most costing under $100 for even traditionally pricier brands like Free People or Calvin Klein, and even being sold for under $30 at stores like Gap.

Women’s overalls have a very interesting and political history. At the The Swan House at the Atlanta History Center, where five decades of clothing and textiles are featured in an exhibit titled Fashion in Good Taste, there is a pair of simple cotton twill overalls.

For many American women, especially those with an eye for feminist iconography, overalls recall the image of iconic American figure, Rosie the Riveter, made forever visually famous in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It’ image.

Rosie represented women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII. These women stepped into these factory roles, many of whom were actually replacing men who had gone off to war.

Last summer, WhoWhatWear did an entire archive of the history of overalls, showing how once they had been worn by women who were farmers in the 1940s, and were now being worn by the likes of Kate Bosworth.

Of the comeback of overalls, Britt Bivens, a lecturer at Parsons, The New School for Design, says: “Over the past few years, there has been a move towards dressing comfortably. We just came out of a recession, where we saw a return to people buying more simple, quality pieces that all had a kind of workwear look to them. People are wearing utilitarian things like overalls in a more uniform type of wear.”

A revival of 90s fashion styles is also behind overalls’ newfound popularity. 23-year-old artist Ijeoma Farrakhan grew up in the 90s listening to music stars like Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, and TLC.

When she was trying to expand her streetwear aesthetic, she bought a pair of overalls and started pairing them with neutral colored crop tops, and either black sneakers or ankle boots.

“I’m trying to give people the 90s fly girl soft stud vibes,” Farrakhan said describing her fashion choices. “Also, I’m trying to adopt the 90s fashion trends that I’m finally old enough to wear if someone makes them.”

From their days as a baggy, utilitarian clothing item, the overalls’ silhouette has evolved to be more tailored, and some even come with customizable options to add small details to them.

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“What feels new and interesting is how the ‘overall’ concept is being integrated into work wear by using more sophisticated, work appropriate materials and a more slimmed out silhouette,” a spokesperson for Macy’s said. “This trend has also morphed into suspender one-piece ideas and true trucker-inspired jumpsuits. Overalls continue to trend in street style, and we expect our customer will remain into them this season.”

Unsurprisingly, fashion bloggers and Instagram influencers have adopted overalls too.

Los Angeles-based fashion lawyer Jenny Wu, the blogger behind Good, Bad, & Fab believes that because fashion is cyclical, it’s overalls’ time to shine again.

“They’re perfect for infusing utilitarian style with super trendy, beach boho style,” Wu says. She also thinks that the fashion culture at music festivals has contributed to the rise of overalls.

“Festival fashion has definitely contributed to their popularity. They are so comfortable and easy to wear. Plus, they’re easy to take off, which is a Godsend for festival porta-potties!”

In terms of styling them to be more fashionable, Wu pairs them with a white tank, and accessorizes them with a bandana tied around her neck, with platforms as her shoe of choice to keep the look comfortable and edgy.

It’s not a fashion destiny Rosie the Riveter may have imagined, but today—as then—overalls continue to confound, in the best way, sartorial norms and expectations.