Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Proper Etiquette When Wearing Overalls

Ever since I published my Knot Head Series which covered a number of unique and distinctive necktie knots, I've been looked upon as something of a fashion expert, so I thought I'd post another piece that outlines the dos and don't s of another classic American style choice--the denim overall.

Just because you buy a pair of overalls does not necessarily mean you're going to look as good in yours as I do in mine. I have decades of experience, and I don't even have to think about it anymore--it's become second nature to me. Just like tuxedos, there are certain ways to wear the garment correctly, and also a number of rookie mistakes that can ruin the bold styling statements a fine pair of overalls can make. In fact, many men wear overalls for years and never realize they're doing it wrong. Fortunately, there are just a few rules to remember to ensure you don't commit a social faux pas by wearing overalls incorrectly.

Be sure you can fasten buttons!
1.) Size is very important. When selecting overalls be sure they are long enough. It's better they are a little long than a little short. There is nothing worse than "high water" overalls. They should fit loose enough that you can stick your entire arm down the side of them and scratch anything that itches while you're working. This extra room will also allow the necessary space for long johns and insulated shirts in the cold winter months. There are straps, so if they are a little loose it's not like they're going to fall down. You should always buy overalls on an empty stomach, and make sure both sets of brass buttons on either side button properly. If they get a little snug after a large meal, you can always unbutton one, or both of the top brass buttons to allow for more comfortable wear during digestion. If you have to unbutton both buttons, it means your overalls are not the right size, or you've gained fifteen pounds and you need to buy a new pair.  And remember, you won't be able to sneak that six pack of beer into the movie theater or the concert hall in the pockets if you buy them too tight. 

2.) Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Overalls should be washed at least annually in hot water, and never dried. Air drying on a hanger, preferably outside in the sun, ensures they'll dry board stiff, offering added protection during falls down ditch banks, against fish hooks and flying wood splinters. Good stiff denim can even offer limited protection against wild animal attacks--unless it is a skunk. Remember: overalls will not protect you against skunks! And bears. They're useless against bears. And badgers. Or a really pissed off raccoon. You know, you probably shouldn't depend on them against animal attacks on second thought--unless it's a bee, or a medium sized wasp.

Yes, a beer will fit in this pocket.
3.) Undergarments: Underwear is optional, however, remember that overalls have a very long zipper. It is very important, especially if your sans underpants, to check and recheck that zipper to ensure it is all the way up and properly secured when leaving the mens room. You might also check the status of that zipper if you notice people nudging each other, whispering, and laughing, or if you feel a cool draft somewhere you don't usually.

4.) Shirts: This is an important point. North of the Ohio River, you should always wear a shirt under your overalls--unless you're a woman. If you're a woman you don't have to wear a shirt under your overalls. Any T-shirt or flannel is acceptable to wear under your overalls. However, you should never wear a tie with overalls, unless you're attending a wedding or a funeral, then a bow tie is appropriate. Long ties, or a priest collar is only appropriate with overalls if you are officiating the wedding or funeral.

5.) Footwear: People are often tempted when wearing something as nice looking as overalls to wear Oxfords, or a nice tasseled Italian loafer. That's not appropriate. In summer, shoes aren't mandated at all, but when they are necessary, work boots, tennis shoes, and in some areas sandals are the preferred footwear.

Shirts optional for women.
6.) A word about straps: Nothing will demonstrate faster to others that you haven't educated yourself in the proper wear of the garment than only hooking one strap. That's not only socially unacceptable, it can be dangerous as well. So unless you like the idea of being dragged into a wood chipper by a loose strap, or dragged down a gravel road when a loose strap hooks the bumper of a passing pick-up truck, always secure and properly adjust both straps on your overalls. And a twisted strap is also a social faux pas. It's not only uncomfortable, but that lack of detail turns off women you may meet during a night out on the town.

The twisted strap faux pas
7.) Proper Weathering: Brand new overalls should never be worn to town. You should continue wearing your old pair to town until your new pair is properly weathered. The only exception to this rule is if your old pair was ripped off of you and shredded by some spinning piece of farm equipment or destroyed by fire when you put too much gasoline on the bonfire. New overalls should be weathered naturally. This isn't the 80s, and it will be obvious to everyone if you try to "distress" them artificially by splattering paint all over them, rub the knees in the grass, use sandpaper on the pockets, or tumble them in the dryer with a bunch of field stones. Save yourself the embarrassment of being called a "prima donna" or a "poser" by allowing your new overalls to age as they were intended. If you're anxious to wear those new dudes to town, the fastest way to break in new overalls to the point you can wear them out is to drink a 12-pack of cheap domestic beer and then plant six to eight medium size trees in your yard on a hot summer afternoon. If your neighbors see you falling down in the yard frequently, just tell them you're breaking in your new overalls. They'll most likely believe it's the stiff denim material and not the Pabst Blue Ribbon that's causing the problem. Just remember the sweat, the stains from blood, grass and loose soil, along with the spilled beer are doing a perfect job at weathering those overalls for your visit later to the pub.  As an added bonus, the large pockets make it easy for the police to frisk you and empty all those pockets out on the hood of your truck before taking you to jail for the weekend.

It takes fashion sense in hat selection
8.) Headwear: This is a controversial subject in the overall community, but basically any hat will work--with the exception of a top hat, or a bowler (unless you're the Worshipful Master of a Masonic Lodge, then that's okay). You can wear any hat, from a baseball cap, to a weathered fedora. You should always wear a hat with overalls unless you're in church, and that hat should never be brand new. My rule of thumb in selecting a hat to wear with my overalls during leisure hours is to wear the same hats I wear when I'm working in them. I prefer a brimmed hat (more Jed Clampett than Roy Rogers), or a sweat stained ball cap with either a beer brand or a seed corn logo on it. You'll never go wrong with that.

9.) Accessories: As with any classic style, you can't spend enough thought on proper accessories. Accessories make the outfit, and they make the look. When wearing overalls, you should never accessorize with anything other than top name brands. Even if you're doing everything else right, this is one place where you don't want to settle with cheap knock-off brands. The accessories shouldn't only reflect your taste, but your personality as well. Only the best will do: Winchester, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Colt, Remington, etc.

Never wear Italian loafers
I've been wearing overalls for decades, and while most people won't believe me, I don't wear them because they're sexy--that's just an added bonus. I wear them because there are few things more comfortable, they're indestructible, and I almost never have to wash them (until the house takes on that weird smell). I can get them on an off with a couple clicks of the shoulder straps, and they fall down to my ankles (part of that sexy thing), and I just hang them on a hook behind the door and they're ready, summer and winter, for the next job, the next project, a wild night out, or trip to Wal-Mart for groceries and ammo.

Of course the best part of wearing overalls is the cost. I bought a new pair over the weekend--they were $38. My last pair cost $25, but I bought those in the late 90s. I didn't really need a new pair as the old ones have held up well considering the countless hours I've worn them, and the fact they've been washed two or three times since I bought them. But that's an amazing value for such a classic style if you're pinching pennies--not to mention what you'll save in underwear.

So now that you know the basics, you should have all the information you need to really rock the overall look.  You'll know you're doing it right if people just look at you then shake their head as they walk away--envy is an ugly thing.



  1. Fascinating post! I must admit to being in violation of a couple of these rules, alas...but I'm usually in violation of SOMETHING or other, so why should my wearing of overalls be any different? :)

    1. And of course, todays violation of protocol could be the beginning of tomorrows fashion trend . . .

      Thanks for the comment. :-)


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