GAYS MILLS - Why don’t people wear classic bib overalls anymore? You just don’t see that many bibs being worn these days, even in farm country. They are still available to buy, but it looks like more modern styles of practical, work-a-day duds have eclipsed the iconic blue or hickory striped rural garments.
The advent of dungarees and ‘relaxed fit’ britches have done a lot to usher overalls to the back of the closet. A good pair of Carhartts for example, are, in a way, overalls without the bib. Lots of pockets, roomy and comfortable to work in, and made of long-wearing, tough material.
There’s a lot to like about overalls. They are a no-nonsense piece of clothing if ever there was one. All those pockets! And all that room in the loose fitting, one piece pant-top combo that is a bib overall. They go with anything, well, lots of things, and are made for work.
Yet we see bibs sometimes worn as clown wear and as a quick and easy Halloween costume. They usually draw comments when worn and not always complimentary ones. They are a throwback to an earlier and simpler time. There for a while in the 70s and 80s, bibs tried to make a comeback of sorts. They became fashionable and were made of corduroy or brightly colored lightweight material and were aimed squarely at the youth market. Today, you’re more likely to see bibs on a ski slope than in a work situation.
Bib overalls are the polar opposite of that extremely loose and baggy jeans fad that has largely and thankfully faded out. Those shoulder straps of bibs did their job of keeping the pants part of an outfit hiked up to a respectable level.
I have two personal bib overalls stories to relate. My dad painted a lot of houses when we moved to California. He painted dozens and probably hundreds of houses over the years. My two brothers and I helped when we were available, but dad did the bulk of the painting. He painted after work (teaching school), on weekends and during summers. He usually wore lightweight, white overalls, the kind often called painters bibs. Fashion-wise, he was an outlier and he couldn’t have cared less.
One day, he needed to go downtown to buy something and asked me to go along. He was wearing the bibs.
“Are you going to wear that?” I asked him–somewhat taken aback by the bibs since I was a teenager and becoming fashion conscious.
“Yes I am,” he replied. “Because when I go into a store they know I want something.”
That has remained an inside family joke ever since. When someone is dressed for some event and just saying goodbye, they are hit with: “You’re wearing that!?” no matter how well and appropriately dressed they are.The other story is about one of my prize possessions. I own a 15-foot long pair of Lee bib overalls. They came out of the old Lewis Store in downtown Gays Mills, located where the Kickapoo Meat Market used to operate. I borrowed them to use as an FFA entry in a Homecoming parade one time (NC Trojans are the Best OVERALL!) and wound up buying them from Jenny Erling. She and her husband had bought the Lewis store and its contents. They were a method of advertising Lee products and I’d love to know just how old they are. That’s our grandson Bodhi lounging on the bibs when I spread them out on the patio a few years ago.