Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 3, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


Liz Hodgson


For more of Liz, visit her fashion/brenda website.


Cletus: (Rubbing eyeballs until they squeak.) Mama, do my eyes deceive or is Madonna wearing dungaree overalls? Holy Baby Jesus in a barn! She’s one of us! What a time to be alive.

Mama: (One eyebrow raised, head cocked.) One of us? Cletus, she looks like a retired pornographic film actress.

Relax, Cletus. Celebrities have been dressing like the poors since the dawn of time. And nothing says ‘poor’ like a pair of ratty overalls.

The bib overall—along with boiler suits, rompers, shorteralls and other onesies—made a big comeback in 2014. Lately, like a drunk staggering back to the party he was never invited to, they’ve been creeping up on the radar.

Just in the past year, Katie Holmes, Lily Allan, Elsa Patacky and Taylor Swift have all appeared in the pages of US magazine or the Daily Mail or some other tabloid wearing overalls. Alexa Chung—queen fashionista—has designed two different styles for her eponymous label. Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed wearing them on the set of And Just Like That and they even appeared on @streetstyleglobal_, go-to influencer for influencers.

Don’t get me wrong. I like overalls. I just worry what this revival portends.

If the ‘Hemline Index’ is to be believed, the return of overalls is an ominous sign. This decades-old theory holds that hemlines predict economic ups and downs but has broadened out to fashion trends in general as a market weathervane. What if the overalls revival is a canary in a coal mine?

This would be fitting since coal miners—along with anyone in a backbreaking line of work—traditionally wore overalls. Slaves wore them and later sharecroppers. Also, women who joined the workforce during World War II, farmers, shade-tree mechanics and various trades. A humanities PhD candidate could write an entire thesis on the blood, sweat and tear-soaked history of ordinary overalls.

I’m probably reading too much into this but the timing is suspicious since the world appears to be falling apart. There’s a supply chain crisis, a hospital crisis, unprecedented debt-to-GDP ratio, a whole lot of ‘for lease’ signs on Main Street and billions in freshly minted money causing inflation not seen since 1982. Central banks hinting at an interest hike to address rising inflation, I’m told, could trigger a mortgage crisis.

I asked my niece, Eliza, who studies commerce, what the future holds. Are we talking about slow days at the Lambo dealership or spit-roasting a rat over a garbage can fire?

Eliza: No. Everything’s fine. Canadian banks are nice and robust.

Me: Obviously, I know nothing—except this: in the go-go 80s, the dress code was Wolf of Wall Street. In the 2020s, it’s looking more like The Grapes of Wrath.

Quick! What goes nicely with ‘broke?’ How about ‘celibate?’ Apparently, alongside the impending market collapse, we are now living through a ‘sex recession.’ Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, has studied all the data and found that Gen-Z and millennials are ‘withdrawing from physical intimacy.’ Suddenly overalls make perfect sense because who wants to wake up to that heap on the bedroom floor?

It’s time to face our insolvent, sex-free future. Forget the ‘roaring 20s.’ Welcome to the ‘boring 20s.’ In your mood-killer baggy overalls, you will be dressed for the occasion.

No matter which way you slice them, the semiotics of overalls is ‘poverty.’ Alexa Chung could have her dunga denim woven from golden threads of Burmese lotus flower silk. Madonna could have hers sewn from Mongolian cashmere fleece sheared from baby Hircus goats. Kanye could have a pair lined with ermine fur and studded with 10,000 Swarovski crystals and still, bib overalls spell out b-r-o-k-e.

Gucci discovered this in the Fall of 2020 when it included in its mens’ collection an organic denim, authentically grass-stained version for $1400.

Twitter, naturally, was merciless in its reply. One farmer tweeted an offer on his own cowshit-caked, ‘authentically grass-stained’ pair at a four-figure sum, along with the line “no lowballs. I know what I got.”

Gucci tried working class. Gucci failed. Gucci doesn’t care! Gucci hates poverty! Gucci isn’t too crazy about celibacy either. No money and no sex makes Gucci throw itself on the floor in a pout. Remember the Great Recession of 2008? Out of respect, tastemakers like Anna Wintour thought it wise to tone things down a little—ixnay on all this fabulous fin-de-millennia excesses and let’s embrace low-key minimalism until things pick up. Gucci stomped its foot and shouted ‘fuck this!’ All this minimalism is going to drive Gucci into the poorhouse where the clothes are sad and the leather accessories are probably Hong-Kong knockoffs. “Gucci is bringing back maximalism!” Hence, from its ’08 collection, this . . .

Overalls were a reliable lockdown outfit and continue to be ideal WFH-wear. They’re a little more ‘street’ and less mumsy than head-to-toe Lululemon and less hopeless than George Costanza’s ‘given up on life’ sweatpants. In 2020, Alexa Chung declared overalls her quarantine uniform. You can read the Vogue story here. Try not to vom:

“The British Vogue contributing editor has shared two photos of herself wearing the zip-front dungas from her namesake brand. In the first, a moss green crew-neck sits underneath her overalls, and she has deployed a sky-blue hair slide and multiple-coloured beaded necklace to pep up her utility wear. In the second, she uses a striped shirt as the base of a playful look, bolstered by a large bunch of cavalo nero in her grasp.”

Cavalo nero? That one took me a minute. Apparently it’s what people like Cletus call ‘kale.’

I bet those celebrities know something we don’t, if subconsciously. They are supernaturally attuned in ways that helped them become rich celebrities in the first place. Like deep-ocean tsunami detection buoys or birds and land animals acting janky right before an underwater volcano erupts, they know something’s up. Should the seismic event of a global pandemic trigger global unrest, overalls could be their life-saving defense shield from a pitchfork mob of deplorables. Don’t kill me! I’m just a lowly hobo. Like you. See? There’s a bib attached to my jeans. That’s my vegetable patch over there. Help yourselves to some cavalo nero.

For some time now, overalls have come to symbolize leisure as much as labour. Technology does most of humanity’s hard labour nowadays. Productivity is down and the Great Resignation is underway—all while we continue to enjoy luxuries beyond the reach of Henry VIII. Apparently, we are less hard-scrabble Joads and more Beverly Hillbillies. My friend Theo told me about a comedian shopping with a friend who was trying on overalls. The friend asks ‘what do these go with?’ The comedian replies “I can only think of two things that don’t—women and a job.”

We know overalls have always been a staple for toddlers and toddlers are the least productive members of society next to babies. Also, infantilism has been a thing for a while now. ‘Adult’ became a verb two decades ago—adulting. ‘Adult’ can be something you do as well as something you are. In other words, it’s a choice which is why full-grown adults read teen lit on the subway and don’t bother hiding it and childless adults visit Disneyland. Which brings us to swoveralls:

“Combining two of the most common apparel concepts, sweat pants and overalls, swoveralls are cool, functional and extremely comfortable.”

OK, forget about a measly recession. We obviously need this over quickly. Welcome sweet asteroid of doom. We’ve been expecting you.









Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
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