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October 26: The Wonder of Bib Overalls

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What do you first think about when you think about bib overalls? If you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, you might picture yourself wearing toddler-sized Oshkosh B’gosh overalls in colorful shades of red, blue, or in stripes.

If you were a teenager in the 1960s or 1970s, your pair of bibs might have been a Baby Boomer fashion statement.

However, if you were a grown-up adult in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and even later, you might remember the bibs as clothes for working-people -- made of durable fabric that was hard to wear out.

It was on this date, in 1917, that a clothing store advertisement in the Bismarck Tribune offered “Men’s Bib Overalls” for 98 cents, marked down from $1.50. And workman could also get a pair of “$1.75 German Dye Bib Overalls” for only $1.29.

What is it about bib overalls that has made them both commonplace for hard-working people and a trendy fashion statement?

We know the basics. Bib overalls are pants with a bib attached that covers the stomach and chest, and these togs have shoulder straps with “buckle-and-button” attachments on the front, along with plenty of pockets in the pants AND on the bib.

The best features of bib overalls were the “large roomy seat and legs” that made it “easy to work in any position” without “ripping or tearing anything.” A worker could bend down hundreds of times in a day and needn’t worry about pinching. He could even bend down without feeling cold at the waistline!

These bib overalls were made to last, with triple-stitching at critical points. The strong threads allowed workers to lift heavy objects without popping the seams.

A “strong hammer loop” was convenient, and an “extra plier[s] pocket” saved time otherwise spent searching for a tool.

Multiple pockets on the front of the bib would hold a pocket-watch, handkerchief, memo-book, or a pencil-stub. The roomy pockets could hold coins, a piece of candy, a snuff-box or pocket-knife.

With all these fine features, bib overalls were everyday clothes for farmers, carpenters, bricklayers, and railway engineers. Some North Dakotans LIVED in their bib overalls.

Yet these same workaday features also made bibs perfect as rough-and-tumble play clothes for energetic children.

Not surprisingly, the unfashionable bibs turned fashionable in the 1960s. And in modern-times, folks enjoy bib overalls just because they are simply comfortable and fun to wear.

Dakota Datebook by Steve Hoffbeck


  • “The Model Store,” advertisement, Bismarck Tribune, October 26, 1917, p. 3.
  • Jennifer Jacobs, “Tracking the Origin of Bib Overalls Proves Tricky for Trendy Garment,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 5, 1993, p. D3.
  • “Many Uses of Overalls Transcend Generations,” St. Cloud Times, March 14, 2014, p. C1.
  • Ann Revenaugh Hemken, “The Development and Use of Bib Overalls in the U.S., 1856-1945,” M.S. thesis, Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa), 1993, p. 12, 36, 37, 53-56.
  • “One-Piece Overalls, Oshkosh B’gosh,” Bowbells Tribune, July 15, 1921, p. 6.
  • Manual of Work Garment Manufacture: How to Improve Quality and Reduce Costs (Chicago: Union Special Machine Co., 1924), p. 47, 49.
  • “Patrick-Duluth Overalls,” advertisement, Rocky Mountain Husbandman [Diamond City, MT], October 19, 1911, p. 3.
  • Mary Kruger, “Bib Overall Fashion Sweeps U.S., Winona No Exception, Winona [MN] Daily News, March 5, 1972, p. B1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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