Dungarees: The Working Man’s Pants

Dungarees: an apparently simple clothing item packed with a big historical punch. You have probably donned a pair of these pants once or twice in your life, or maybe you’re an avid wearer. Not only do dungarees have a storied past, but they are also making fashion waves in the present. 

Beginnings

Dungarees were born in a small, dockside village in India called Dongri. The blue or white-colored cotton cloth produced here, “dungri,” was sturdy, durable, and thick — a perfect medium for workwear. British colonialism eventually brought the fabric to England, where the cloth’s name morphed into “dungaree,” the word we know today. The late 1700s saw the use of dungarees as an outfit for factory workers, farmers, mechanics, and slaves. 

In Great Britain, the term refers strictly to overalls. In America, it can refer to fabric, a pair of jean trousers, or overalls. As early as the mid-1800s, with the assistance of businessmen Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, dungarees came into use across America as the uniforms of manual laborers and military men. In fact, various professions were assigned specific types of dungarees. For example, railroad workers had vertical striped overalls and painters had white overalls. Dungarees were also used as utility wear for members of the U.S. Navy during World War One. 

Modern Dungaree

Until the middle of the twentieth century, dungaree was not a woman’s fabric, nor was it worn by members of the upper class. This all changed as the age of motion pictures was ushered in. Audiences across America watched dungarees turn into an essential look for cowboys, greasers, and rebels. Many celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, and Elton John, began to sport dungarees. Soon, the clothing changed from a fashion faux-pas to a must-wear look. 

Today, dungarees are being sold by lots of major fashion retailers, such as Forever 21, Urban OutfittersFree People, and Nordstrom.

Some current celebrities who have been seen showing off their own pairs of dungarees include Milly Bobby Brown from the popular Netflix original Stranger Things and Elizabeth Moss from Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson, Taylor Swift, and even Beyoncé have also joined in on the trend. While dungarees today are very popular among women, they are having a moment in men’s fashion, as well. Male celebrities like actor Chris Pine, musician ASAP Rocky, actor Ashton Kutcher, and musician Chance the Rapper have all stepped out in dungarees. 

Dungaree vs. Denim

It’s easy to assume that dungaree is simply another word for denim. The two fabrics are very similar and are useful for tough, sturdy clothing pieces. In fact, dungaree is often dubbed “blue-denim.” In reality, the two fabrics are only somewhat distinct. Dungaree fabric is traditionally made from yarn pre-dyed with indigo, while denim is dyed after weaving. When dungaree is being woven, the warp threads (threads that run vertically) are pre-dyed blue, while the weft threads (threads that run horizontally) are left white. Aside from this slight difference, dungaree and denim are identical. 

Fit and Feel

Dungarees began as an uncomfortable, unfashionable and poorly-fitting garment. Much has changed since their inception; you can now buy a pair of fantastically comfortable and stylish dungarees. Most are now sold pre-shrunken, which means that the buyer does not have to worry about his or her pair of dungarees shrinking after the first wash. Instead, they can walk out of the store with the perfect size. You can also buy dungarees in a variety of finishes, from acid-wash to dark-wash, and styles, from flared to super-skinny. If you don’t already have a favorite style, start exploring. Your options are nearly endless. Nowadays, the term “dungarees” is interchangeable with “jeans” and “denims,” so keep that in mind. 

For more information in the realm of dungarees, check out our post on jeans. Happy reading!