Just like everything retro, a trip down men’s dungarees lane is sure to make you feel nostalgic. And seeing how the trend has managed to make several comebacks through the years, it’s safe to say dungarees — also known as bib-and-brace overalls or simply men’s overalls — are here to stay.
In fact, you may just have one tucked away in a distant corner of your wardrobe — perhaps something your mum kept from your Oshkosh B’Gosh toddler days, or remnants of your version of ‘Sk8er Boi’ fashion.
Functional, long-wearing and always a tad fashionable, a great pair of men’s denim dungarees is a surefire wardrobe staple. But how much do you know about your favourite dungarees? For this, we’ll quickly revisit fashion history to show how the humble dungaree has evolved through time.
This 90’s street wear classic is always there and always versatile (and perfect for summer). Dungarees are covered in washes, prints and colours!Penelope Armstrong (boohooMAN Senior Menswear Designer)
- The origins of dungarees/overalls
- How to wear men’s dungarees/overalls
- When to wear men’s dungarees/overalls
- What to wear with men’s dungarees/overalls
The Origins of Dungarees/Overalls
In simple terms, men’s dungarees are a type of protective garment worn by workers. Dungarees originated in 17th-century India from an Indian village called ‘Dungri’ (sometimes spelled ‘Dongri’). The coarse, thick Indian calico cloth used to make durable yet cheap work clothes was also called by the same name.
In true British fashion, when the English purchased the hard-wearing fabric to make their own workman’s trousers, they adopted the name with a British twist, calling the cloth “dungaree” instead of “Dungri”.
By 1853, the dungaree fabric was used by Levi Strauss and his business partner Jacob Davis to make the first bib and trousers combination called “overalls”. Designed to be durable and practical workmen’s clothing, these overalls came with loops, buttonholes and a bib which allowed for the hands-free carrying of tools, thereby eliminating the need for cumbersome waist belts.
Men’s bib overalls became so popular that they eventually became standard workmen’s garments across America. To avoid confusion, these dungarees were colour coded by profession. Railroad workers’ dungarees were in hickory stripe and painters’ were done in white, whilst all other workmen’s dungarees were tailored in varying shades of blue.
Dungarees eventually became part of mainstream fashion when even Hollywood royalty Judy Garland, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood began wearing them casually. And the rest, as they say, is history.
A Mini-History of Dungarees/Overalls
Here’s a mini history of dungarees/overalls as we know them today:
- 17th century: dungarees originated in 17th-century India from an Indian village called “Dungri”.
- 1853: the dungaree fabric was used by Levi Strauss and his business partner Jacob Davis to make the first bib and trousers combination called “overalls”.
- Late 1960s to the 1970s: Both men and women wore flared dungarees at the height of the flower power movement of the hippie generation.
- 1980s: Punk, big shoulder pads and oversized blazers, bold colours and silhouettes marked 1980s fashion. Considered one of the most eclectic decades in fashion, the 1980s saw famous bands like Bananarama, The Go-Gos and New Kids on the Block sporting overalls. Even the late Princess Diana wore dungarees with her 1980s pastel look.
- 1990s: The 1990s — usually associated with the height of hip-hop fashion — obviously loved dungarees. Need proof? Everyone — from Whitney Houston, Sir Elton John, Tupac Shakur, TLC and NSYNC to Katie Holmes as Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek, Will Smith as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Jennifer Aniston as Rachel in the world-famous comedy television series ‘Friends’ — wore denim dungarees.
- Early 2000s: Dungarees made a comeback in the early 2000s, and were worn notably by Destiny’s Child and famous American rapper Eminem.
- Today: both female and male celebrities seem to be smitten with this evergreen fashion trend — yet again! In fact, American hip-hop artists A$AP Rocky and Chance the Rapper have been sighted wearing men’s overalls on various occasions.
So, if you’ve lately been feeling it — whether it’s wearing men’s denim bib overalls, slim fit dungarees or dungaree shorts — it’s high time you get on the dungaree bandwagon.
How to Wear Men’s Dungarees/Overalls?
People love dungarees because they’re functional, versatile and always on-trend. Now that men no longer shy away from the European cut, men’s dungarees fashioned closer to the male form are definitely a welcome alternative to the typical oversized ones.
You can wear your dungarees in different ways.
Both straps locked in
Go the Harry Styles route by pairing an aquamarine print crew-neck shirt with navy blue overalls and black leather derby shoes. Or do denim on denim with a blue denim shirt underneath your overalls, finished off with brown leather oxfords.
Only one strap locked in
Reminiscent of one of Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air looks, the one-strap look adds a relaxed vibe to your overall getup. For the perfect urban street style, you can wear your favourite red crew neck shirt and your slim-fit overalls together with red leather low-top sneakers. You can also look effortlessly casual in your dungarees with a black crew neck T-shirt and matching black suede sandals.
Nothing says comfortably cool like totally undone navy blue or black overalls paired with a plain white tee and light blue denim jacket, as well as black leather derby shoes.
If you love prints or casual shirts, don’t be afraid to experiment as anything goes as long as you bring your mojo with you.
When to Wear Men’s Dungarees/Overalls?
Although men’s dungarees are versatile enough to wear whatever the season, there are specific occasions and events where wearing them is a must:
- Festival season/summer: gear up for the summer and festival season in your comfortable slim-fit denim dungaree shorts, coloured denim dungarees or printed denim dungarees (rolled-up). Pair these with your favourite coloured or white plain tee, button-up print shirt, denim shirt or basic vest.
- Winter: stay snug yet fashionable in your blue or black slim fit or comfort fit denim dungarees paired with your favourite hoodie, black sweatshirt or a plain white shirt and grey overcoat.
What to Wear with Men’s Dungarees/Overalls?
- A white tee
- A white or pastel sweatshirt
- A check shirt and a fisherman beanie
- 90s-inspired accessories
- Hi-top canvas trainers
- Chunky trainers
Men’s dungarees are great on their own (being the subtly fashionable workwear that they are), so it doesn’t take much to dress them up quite nicely. You can easily pair them with:
A white tee
You can never go wrong with a basic white tee paired with your dungarees, as the look you get is always effortlessly cool.
A white or pastel sweatshirt
One of the simplest ways to jazz up your dungarees for a daytime winter outing is to wear a light-coloured sweatshirt.
A check shirt and a fisherman beanie
Probably the most popular workwear and utility trend in dungaree fashion, a check shirt and a matching fisherman beanie exude a manly yet fashionable vibe.
If you think your dungaree getup is a little bland, you can wear matching bucket hats, bum bags, bandanas or coloured sunglasses to instantly amp up the style factor.
Hi-top canvas trainers
Casual shirts and tees always match up perfectly with dungarees and hi-top canvas trainers for that boy-next-door look.
If you’re after a sporty casual dungaree look, chunky trainers are your best go-to footwear.
A perfect match to the work wear and utility trend, boots definitely add a masculine appeal to dungaree fashion.
Whatever you wear, remember that dungarees are such a strong component in an outfit that it’s usually best to keep everything else toned down and simple.