I’ve mentioned before that though I love many different brands and styles of overalls, my personal “Platonic ideal” of overalls is the classic ones that used to be made by Lee Jeans. They’re the ones that look like this:
(If you’re curious about the Poofy Shirt, I briefed on this last November!)
Or, in their Hickory-striped version:
Mention “overalls” to me and this is almost certainly what I will visualize. Lee has not made overalls like these in decades, sadly–at least not in the United States; from what I’ve seen, these styles are still made by Lee in Japan. To find Lee overalls like these, one has to delve into the wonderful world of vintage dealers, which can be a bit…pricey.
Lee Jeans did get back into the overalls game in the 1990s, though, when overalls suddenly became significantly more popular than they had already been. Many people think that overalls came out of nowhere to prominence in the 1990s as part of the whole “grunge” movement and the concurrent nostalgia for the 1970s, but in truth, overalls were common in the 70s and 80s, though they were never as ubiquitous in those decades as they were in the 1990s. Then a backlash happened in the 2000s as clothing became all about tight fits that displayed every single curve of the body. But I digress….
The overalls that Lee made in the 1990s were neat garments indeed, but they took their inspiration not from the classic Lee overalls of most of the 1900s, but from makers like Washington Dee Cee. Gone was the two-compartment bib pocket with snap enclosures; in its place was a single pocket with a single snap-down flap enclosure, and also gone were the old buckling hardware with the classic Lee logo. None of this should be interpreted as a complaint, though! The Lee overalls of the 1990s are neat looking all on their own, and a while back I finally found a pair that fits nicely.
I like these a lot! They’re made of thick and solid denim, and the stonewashing is not overdone to the point of giving the overalls too much fade. The hardware is solid brass, which isn’t always a standard–some overalls of the 1990s have hardware of aluminum or some other softer metal, which means that it’s not unheard of for clasps to break completely. I am keeping my eye out for more of these; I’d love to know if Lee made these in a hickory stripe or even in other colors. (One problem is that Lee also made virtually identical overalls for women, and a lot of eBay sellers don’t know the difference. Not only do womens’ overalls fit completely differently, they’re sized differently and they don’t have a functioning fly. I fell victim to this years ago, when I thought I was getting a neat pair of white Lee overalls. The Wife ended up getting them….)