Figure 1.--Overalls as they were so widely worn entered into American folklore. This illustration is charming, but we see some problems with it. A first glance this looks like a one-room school scene, but few olne-room schools had pianos. This could be a Sunday school scene, but even in rural aeeas we doubt all the boys would have come dressed in overalls. Also notice the cuffing on the boy's overalls. In the images we have seen this was not very common.
Jeans or overalls as they were first called were designed as work clothes and this was how they were used for decades. Overalls was the old name for jeans. I remember my dad always referred to them in the 1950s as overalls which I didn't understand at the time as us boys called them blue jeans.) Far from today's fashionable image, the original overalls quickly became popular among laborers because of their almost indestructable nature. By the 1890s farm boys began wearing overalls and begin to see them in rural schools. In most cases it was boys from poor rural families who wore them. The design was exactly the same as those made in men's sizes. Overalls wre nor seen as children's wear in the 19th century. They were seen as work clothes and as many children worked in the 19th century, they were worn by children, especially children in rural areas. The first overalls specifuically designed for children appeared in 1912, and were marketed as Koveralls.
Jeans or overalls as they were first called were designed as work clothes and this was how they were used for decades. Overalls was the old name for jeans. I remember my dad always referred to them in the 1950s as overalls which I didn't understand at the time as us boys called them blue jeans.) Far from today's fashionable image, the original overalls quickly became popular among laborers because of their almost indestructable nature. The company by 1873 had all of their stitchers under one roof and Davis managed the production of the jeans. The jeans were so successful that many competitors began to copy the invention. This lead to many different lawsuits concerning their patent, which Levi's successfully conquered. A pair of jeans was
selling for only $1.46 in 1879 and became popular for the miners and ranchers in the West. Throughout the 1880's, Levi Strauss continued to prosper with $2.4 million in sales. During the following decade, Levi's was incorporated and issued stock to the family members and employees. Unfortunately long wearing though they were, few examples of these early jeans have survived. One of the oldest pair of jeans is a pair made about 1890 and worn by a cowboy. It is currently in the Levi Strauss museum in San Francisco. Only men purchased the early overalls and it would have been virtually
inceivable to find women or children from "resptable" families wearing them. By the 1890s farm boys began wearing overalls and begin to see them in rural schools. In most cases it was boys from poor rural families who wore them. The design was exactly the same as those made in men's sizes. Overalls wree nor seen as children's wear in the 19th century. They were seen as work clothes and as many children worked in the 19th century, they were worn by children, especially children in rural areas.
Overalls became so common in rural America that boys began wearing them to school. Any review of schools during the early 20th century show large numbers of American children wearing overalls to school. Jeans appeared in the mid-19th century as work pants. Interestingly we do not see many boys wearing them to school in the 19th century. Even at the turn of the 20th century, overalls are still not being commonly worn to school, even in rural areas. For some season, about 1910 we begin to see boys commonly coming to school on overalls. We are not sure why this happened about 1910. Overalls had been around for quite a few years. Presumably they were being worn at home. Perhaps the comany began marketing mall sizes. Or perhaps patterns came out. We are just not sure. Boys in rural areas continued wearing overalls through the 1930s and even the 1940s in some areas. This chronological trends can be seen in the HBC U.S. school chronologies and the individual schools.
The first overalls specifically designed for children appeared in 1912, and were marketed as Koveralls. Interestingly, this is about the same time we begin to see overalls at school. These were play outfits. Blue jeans (without the bibfronts) became commonly worn by American boys in the 1940s, both for school and play and leisure wear. They were at first not considered appropriate except for play and roughwear. American primary boy were commonly wearing jeans (but not overalls) to school in the 1950s. Jeans were not allowed at secondary schools for many years. Actually most students before World war II would have been ashamed to wear them. After World War II boys and eventually girls wanted to wear them. Only in the 1970s did secondary schools begin allowing students to wear jeans.
Overalls are seen as working garments. They were at first made for men such as mineers and factory workers. We do see a few images of boys wearing overalls with fancy Faunrleroy blouses, probably in the 1890s. One image comes from Deadwood, South Dakota--a storied location from the Old West. We are not at all sure what is happening here. Did a mother think this was cute, combining the two divergent styles. Or were the overalls still a relativly new style so monthers did not know the accepted conventions. Perhaps the family was poor and the boy did have proper pants, although the shoes one boy is wearing suggest this is not the case. These images seem to come from the West, so we could be talikng about mothers without refined fashion tastes. Another instance of fashionable wear comes in the 170s when overalls became popular with teenagers. Thus overalls whichteenagers wanted no part of for decades became the heoght of fashion.
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