Tap to Read ➤

History of the Dungarees

Anuj Mudaliar
Known for their tough and durable nature, dungarees were initially very popular among the people involved in physical labor. In this article, we will study the history of dungarees, and look at how it turned from clothing for manual laborers to a major fashion statement that it is today.

Did You Know?

Nintendo mascot Mario is known to wear dungaree overalls. According to the creators of Donkey Kong, overalls were chosen to clothe Mario as it was easiest to animate the character's running action in this garment

Origins of Dungarees

The history of the word dungarees is believed to have come from the Indian words 'dungri' or 'dongerjins', which were manufactured in 'Dongri', a village in Mumbai, in the 1600s where this type of calico fabric was first invented.
Dungaree is a type of cloth that is woven from thick durable cotton twill, which is mostly dyed blue in color. While dungarees in the UK refer specifically to overalls, i.e., casual garments consisting of trousers with a bib held up by straps over the shoulders, it is used in the US to describe blue jeans, or jeans used while doing manual labor.
Most records show that dungarees first originated in 1792, as a protective garment for slaves, farmers, mechanics, and other people whose occupation involved a lot of manual labor. These garments were made with cheap, poorly-fitting, rough, and durable fabric, which marked it as a garment for men of the lower classes.

Fashion History of Dungarees

Initially, any fashion related to dungarees was solely associated with rural American men. The use of these overalls, commonly known as slops, was widely seen in militias that participated in the American revolutionary war, for the infantry as well as the cavalry, where the bib and the jeans were separate.
In the mid 1800s, the bib and the trousers came together, to form the first overalls. These garments were designed by Levi Strauss, and were ideal for hard physical labor, and for carrying tools, which eliminated the need for waist belts. It soon became a standard clothing for those working in factories, mines, construction sites, etc.
The overalls were mass-produced and even color coded according to the profession of the person: white for painters, pinstriped for railroad workers, and different shades of blue for the rest of the working class. It wasn't until the first World War when women started wearing these garments, as they worked in the factories to help in the war efforts.
Dungaree jeans were given a major boost in 1930, when they were marketed in small sizes as a style statement for kids, and not just for the manual laborers. These clothes became even more popular when they were sported by movie stars such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, which turned dungaree overalls into a symbol of rugged sexiness.
Dungarees and overalls were given various fashionable modifications in the '60s, '70s, and '90s, where they became the focus for the clothes of many fashion designers. Following a lull in the demand, these clothes were revived in 2010, with many innovative designs, which were sported by prominent celebrities such as Pixie Lott, Rihanna, and Alexa Chung.

History of Navy Dungaree Uniforms

Bell-bottomed dungarees were widely used in the United States Navy during the First World War, as utility uniforms by sailors as well as officers. These uniforms included a work coat of blue denim and matching trousers, along with a white 'dixie cup' cover as headgear, and low black leather boots.
The sailors could also wear a sweater inside for warmth. These garments were to be only used when working on some task that could possibly get the person dirty. Sailors were not allowed to go out of naval bases while wearing these clothes, and if they had to travel in these clothes, the cars were not allowed to stop anywhere on route to their destination.
Recently, however, these clothes have become optional, and have to be worn with chambray shirts, with different color codes to differentiate the ranks of the personnel while working at sea. The cloth is made of water- and wind-resistant cotton, that is lined with nylon fleece.
Although designed initially only for men, new rules in the navy ensure that even women personnel have these uniforms.
As we have seen, dungarees are available in a wide variety of styles, fabrics, washes, widths, and lengths. While they are not created with style in mind, it is clear that with a little creativity, these garments can be used to present a person with fierce, independent looks.