Vintage Style #42: Overalls: Uniform of the Counterculture

I found this little gem in Parade (January 2, 1972) which proclaims overalls as the counterculture's uniform.  We'd certainly come a long way from the white gloves, pillbox hats and classy and bright Jackie Kennedy fashions from just a decade prior.  I can't say this was for the better, but it was all a part of the movement....

How do fashion fads originate? No one knows for sure. Sometimes they result from the superb sales promotion and gimmick publicity of a high-pressure clothes designer.

More frequently in these days of nostalgia, some nonconformist rediscovers an old garment and adapts it to a fresh use.

Take bib overalls and work jackets which constitute the "now" look on college campuses and ski slopes across America.

For years these garments were on the decline and with good reason. Their prime wearers were farmers and rail¬roaders, two declining occupational groups.

But then about 18 months ago, an unknown college boy at Vail, Colo., unable to afford expensive and fashionable ski clothes, appeared on the slopes dressed in overalls, turtleneck sweater, and work jacket.

Soon, through word of mouth, other youngsters adopted the same outfit, only this time waterproofing their overalls.

Slopes to schools

The fad spread like a prairie fire from Vail to Aspen to Squaw and Sun Valleys and then to college and high school campuses throughout the country.

"I can tell you," says Jim Londerholm, director of public relations for the H. D. Lee Company of Shawnee Mission, Kans., "it was a welcome shot in the arm to the work garment business.

"We began manufacturing bib over-alls in a wide variety of prints and colors especially for the girls with bell bottoms. We coordinated them with a series of Western-style shirts. And they've really caught on. Now, we're even manufacturing bib overall hot pants, and the boutiques everywhere are stocking them."

Robert Billings of Oshkosh B'gosh, Wis., is similarly enthusiastic.

"For years," Billings points out, "Oshkosh B'gosh manufactured a standard line of work clothes. Including the old standby, bib overalls. But a few years ago we started to manufacture a new line of fashion slacks and jeans under The Guys' label. It now constitutes 40 percent of our total volume.
"Last year there was a sudden inter-est in the revival of the bib overall especially among young people, and it's developed into a definite trend. Coeds used to wear skirts and sweaters and loafers. Now many of them are wearing bib overalls."

According to Bud Johns of Levi Strauss, San Francisco, "The kids these days are specializing in the earthy, ecological look, the back-to-nature kick. It seems like a reaction against the Edwardian costumery. Bib overalls, multicolored jeans, work clothes of all kinds seem to provide their clothing mix. How long it will last, no one knows. But for them it makes good sense. Work clothes are reasonable, lasting and functional."

They are also, one might add, an ingredient of the counterculture manifestation of young people to devise, create, and rediscover their own way, do their own thing, carry their own bag.


  1. There was a gorgeous girl a few years older than me in school. Her high school wardrobe rarely featured a bra, often included a Oui T-shirt, and sometimes some tight bib overalls that couldn't contain her plentiful breasts, so they'd pop out the sides. (She was wearing a T-shirt underneath, but still!) For some reason her nickname was Tush.

    1. Man, Tush sounds like a keeper. "Mom, dad, meet my new girlfriend, Tush."

  2. Students, skiers and workers of the world, unite!

  3. There was also a time in the late 80s-early 90s when people wore overalls with one strap hanging down.

    1. To this day, I am puzzled at to why wearing both straps on one's backpack in college (1983 to 1987) made everyone think the wearer was a geek. I *hated* using only the one strap so as to not look like a geek. 30 years later, I'm still puzzled as to WHY using both straps was (and possibly still is) uncool.

    2. Only Bananarama and rappers did the stupid 1 strap thing.

      As for backpacks, you just look like a baby when you use both straps, like mommy got you dressed and put on your backpack for your first scout camp out. Using 1 strap says "yeah, I just slung this over my shoulder, but I'll need to take it off in a minute, so I can't waste energy trying to get my other arm into the other strap."

    3. I remember - with regret - the 1970s "slob" and 1980s punk-rock looks. My older sister and her friends wore overalls for a time. Mom dressed me in slacks and collared shirts in 1970s grade school. Then, from seventh grade through graduation, everybody at my school wore jeans and tennis shoes, every day.

      The one-strap backpack rule was iron-clad at my college in the late 80s. Then, around 1992, it simply disappeared. People in my college town went back to two-straps without a word said. Weird.