* boys' jeans overalls -- U.S. country trends

Boys' Jeans and Overalls: Country Trends--United States

Figure 1.--Elementary age school boys in the late 1940s and 50s commonly wore flannel-lined jeans, always in a plaid, during the Fall and Winter months.

Jeans are of course most associated with America where they originated and were first worn. For nearly a century after they were created, jeans were primarily worn in America and to some extent neighboring Canada by working men. Thus the early history of jeans is primarily an American story. American boys began wearing jeans more commonly in the 1910s with the development of Kovealls. Boys except in rural areas did not wear ovealls to school. Boys wore commonly wore corduroy knickers, but after World War II jeans were very commonly worn to elementary (primary) schools. They were not generally allowed in secondary school until the 1970s. Quite a range of different types of jeans and overalls begin to appear by the 1970s. One common ferature was that until the 1970s and apperance of cut-offs thery were almost always long pants. Bu the 1970s designer jeans began to make their appearance.


Overalls were invented in the mid-19th century by a German Jewish immigrant--Levi Straus. They were for the most part imyially a garment for workers and miners. As best we can tell, only later were they adopted by farmers. There is a mssive photographic record. But as 19th century photography was most studio work, this is one fashion trend that is not well covered, at least for adults. People dressed up for studio portraits and did not show up in dingy work clothes. Nor do we see boys wearing them. This suddenly changed about 1908-09. And a little after the turn-of-the 20 century, boys began wearing them. We still do no see them in family portraits, but suddenly we see them in school portraits. And the Kodak Brownie introduced the family snapshot to the average family. We see both play garments and children in rural areas wearing them to school. Then movie cowboys began wearing jeans without the bib-front. This led to them becoing increasingly popular as did the military using them for fatigues during the War. After World War II jeabds became popular with teenagers, although many schools prohibited them. Finally they became a fashion phenomenon in the 1970s and the appearanc of designer jeans.


Overalls firsr appeared in the mid-19th century. They were invented by Levi Strauss and became enormously popular with working men, but as far as we can tell were not worn by children, including wiorking-class boys. This can be seen in school photography. You do not see boys, including county boys, going to school in overalls. Suddenly in the late-1900s (about-1908-09) we begin to see boys wearing overalls to school. We have no idea what brought about such a sudden change. This included boys of all ages, although many of the older boys dressed up for school. Overalls were almost entirely worn by rural boys and working men. One exception was overall-like coveralls which became popular for boys (1910s). Overalls continued to be worn by boys of all ages in the inter-War era. A major change began before the War. Hollywood began outfitting movie cowboys in jeans--esentilly overallwithout bib fronts. We begin to see primary boys wearing jeans (1940s) and they quicjky becane ubiquitous among primary boys after the War (late-1940s-50s). Teenagers begabn wearing jeans (1950s), but were disccuraged from wraring them to secondary schools. Thus for a while we modtly see younger boys wearing them. This changed in the next decade (1960s). This meant that jeans were worn by boys anf girls of all ages. We even see some children wearing overalls as a kind of fashion statement.




Women did not wear pants in the 19th cenury with very few exceptions suchbas Amelia Bloomer and her broomers (1850s). She had little imoact on the world of fashion, except that girls in secondary school began wearing bloomers with long stockinfs for gym class (late-19th century). Or Annie Smith Peck wearuing knickers to climb the Matterhorn (1895). Overalls were invented by Levi Straus. Garments that look like overalls first appeared in a painting (1839). This comincided with the invention of photography, but the photograopgic record is incomplete. Most photographs were studio poertaits in which people dressed up. Vurtually no one showed up at a studion in overalls--certainly not women a girls. Overalls were worn by miners and factoey worners and were not done in denim. Ldvi Straus changed that wgebn he began foing them in blue denim and adding cippertivets for strength (1870s). They were not worn by children. We can see thzat in dchool photigraphy. Boys let alone girls did not wear them to school. We do not even know to what extent farmers wore them. Again farmers dressed up to have portait taken. As best we can tell, farm women did not wear them even at home on the farm. Of coutse this does not mean that there were no farm women and girls wearing them, in the 19th century. It seems likely that it was not common. We do not see this chanhing until the 20th century. Children even rural children dressed up for school. This does not begin to chsnbg until the turn of the century. All of a sudden about 1908 we see chilldren at small rural schools beginning to wear overalls to school. Almost always this was the boys, not the girls and almost always at rural schools. Several developments in the early-20th century. The Girl Scouts were founded (1912). And when summer camps were founded, the girls began wearing rompers and shorts. The same thing occurred. And then with World War I, women began working in factories. Overalls appeared for younger children as pklay garments. We begin to see girls wsearing overalls (1930s), but some, mostly rural girls. They were a work or play garment. But pants negan to appear in high fasgion--led by Coco Chanel and some Hollywood stars. Overalls generally dusappered for rural schools as school desticts began opening consolidated schools and bussing rural children., Wwomen returned f=to factories diring World War Ii and often wire overalls. By the 1950s girls negan wraring jeans without the nibs. They were not at first allowed in schools, especially secondary schools. This began to change in the 19690s and by the 1979s, jeans became fashionable with the birth od designer jeans (1970s). .


A reader tells us about cusomizing jeans. "An interesting phenomenon I remember as a kid growing up in the 50s in California was how many of the high school boys in my California town, a representative middle class, middle American town, customized their Levis once they got them home from the store. They removed the 'tan' label from the waistband, removed (carefully) all the belt loops and also removed completely,(carefully) all the V (accurate, I believe it's called in the Levis literature) stitching on the back pockets and then washed them the first time. They also rolled up the cuffs in very tight fashion. This all was considered cool looking. All the more so if you, as many but not all boys with these customized Levis did, wore them low on the hips. This "customizing" was done by boys in the San Francisco area, the Los Angeles area (my cousin living there being one of them), and the New York area....and probably in other areas too but I can only testify for a fact that it was done in the three above mentioned areas. The 'customizing' went out of style somewhere in the latter half of the 60s."


Massengale, Marshall. E-mail, October 2, 2002.

Morton, Craig. E-mail, October 3, 2002.

Shuman, Steven. E-mail, May 30, 2009.


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Created: October 3, 2002
Last updated: 3:22 AM 3/4/2016