(Our iconic clothes 4/7) Overalls

(Our iconic clothes 4/7) Overalls

My first dungarees were in denim, I was 13 years old, and this garment freed me forever from the smocked dresses of my childhood. Since then, I have worn overalls at every age of my life, recalls Sophie, 56. The black one I stole from my husband, the larger one from my mechanic uncle. The light denim one is my pregnancy overalls. As for the most damaged in my wardrobe, it has just been adopted by my 23-year-old son, a painter by profession. Like Sophie, overalls enthusiasts are numerous on the planet, a simple online search is enough to see it. The epic of this garment began near Lyon, in 1896. The Lafont company had just registered the model for a robust and comfortable work suit. Composed of carpenter’s trousers (the broadot) extended by a bib held by adjustable straps, it is embellished with pockets, straps and zippers allowing craftsmen to have all their tools at hand.

strength and labor

Then the work coat is imposed “on State agents exposed to dirt”, in particular on those “responsible for the disinfection of trains”, specifies Jérémie Brucker, author of The stuff of the worker. And if this work outfit is indigo, it’s not by chance. Created by BASF in 1901, indanthrene blue is resistant to light, bad weather and heat (150°C). This innovative dye has been associated since the beginning of the 20th century with “manly strength and hard work”, specifies Jérémie Brucker. Across the Atlantic, the American Levi Strauss is developing a denim model. These overalls enter the collective memory thanks to the shots of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, photographers of the Great Depression. They show an America of sharecroppers and workers, in the 1930s, where the workers are dressed in overalls.

“Photogenic, the garment makes the body uniform, leaving room for the expression of the face”, underlines the journalist and fashion historian Emmanuelle Polle. An iconography soon enriched by the 7th art, with the character of Charlot, dressed inoveralls In Modern times (1936). And during the First and, above all, the Second World War, the women who replaced the men in the fields – the farmerettes – or the factories slip into this outfit, adapting it to their morphology by belting it and making lapels. It is the birth of womanalls.

Having become unisex, the coat became a symbol of social protest, for civil rights activists during the march on Washington in 1963 and also for the youth of May 68 in France. It was at the turn of the 1980s, when fashion designers Agnès b. and Jean Paul Gaultier revisit it, whether it enters the wardrobe of stars, then that of consumers. In 1980, Sophie Marceau bursts the screen in The party, dressed in overalls (Lafont’s 406 overalls with suspenders). The following year, Lady Di posed with a pale yellow model on the lawns of Windsor Great Park. “But be careful not to distort it by making it a luxury garment, warns Emmanuelle Polle. Overalls remain a symbol of the working classes, to be handled with care. Moreover, in thrift stores, the most specialized collectors look for period pieces bearing the traces of labor (wear, patching). They thus have the feeling of wearing a unique garment, vector of a collective memory to be respected. »

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