Coveralls vs Overalls: What’s the Difference? Well, some think the only difference is regional: a British word versus an American one, but really the true definitions are that coveralls are a one-piece protective wear worn for heavy, manual work, and overalls are trousers with a bib, holder, and loose straps for use over your normal clothes - they don’t cover the arms. However, in the British workwear industry, the words are interchangeable. Search on a workwear site for either term, and what you’ll get is the definition of ‘overall’ for both (i.e. garment that covers the torso, arms and legs). Whether you call them overalls, coveralls, a jumpsuit, or a boilersuit, it doesn’t entirely matter as long as you get the garment you actually want!
What are the uses of overalls and coveralls? Read more to find out.
Starting with the denotations (the dictionary definitions) where ‘coverall’ will refer to the full body-suit garment, and ‘overall’ the garment that clips over the shoulders, here are the uses of the two:
Many industries use coveralls to protect workers from harm. Some are designed for warmth, breathability, and/or protection (i.e. water resistance, hazmat, fire resistant, and so on), depending on what your industry needs.
Coveralls are used by different people ranging from skiers to factory workers to medical professionals and firefighters.
Skiing coveralls are often designed to be reflective, insulated, windproof and waterproof. They’re the best type of protection from elements on the slopes.
Factory coveralls are mostly designed to be breathable, comfortable and durable. They protect the body and the clothes underneath from harm/damage in heated, cold or hazardous factory conditions.
Coveralls are also used for military purposes, such as in flight suits and have been used since the beginning of World War II. When aviation was developed, the cockpits were unheated - with low-oxygen, high altitude flying - so pilots needed warm clothing with multiple pockets with buttons, snaps or zippers to prevent them from losing articles when in flight and performing maneuvers.
Pilots first wore leather that protected them from debris, insects, climbing out, landing and oil from the rotary. Leather was durable, but not a perfect solution. Australian aviator, Frederick Sidney Cotton, developed the “Sidcot” flying suit in 1917, which kept pilots warm and provided ample storage. It was hugely popular, and was the forerunner of the modern flying suit.
Furthermore, coveralls can be utilised by the medical industry in the form of hazmat suits and protective gear to protect the wearer from chemical and biological dangers. They can be used by the police and are used by some countries as a uniform. They’re popularly used by firefighters, who wear coveralls made of Nomex, which is flame resistant.
Coveralls are used for a range of industrial purposes, ranging with treatments for anti-static, flame spread resistant properties, different colour options, and accessories.
Historically, outside of the flight industry, coveralls were often used by men maintaining coal-powered boilers. Since these men had to climb into the firebox of a steam train where coal was shoveled in, having a garment with no gap in the middle stopped soot from entering the lower half of the clothing. It also prevented waistband snagging as a person maneuvered inside a tight space as well as coat tail snags as they exited backwards.
For modern purposes, the garment can be worn alone or over clothing to protect both the clothes and the body.
Overalls have historically been associated with farmers and railway workers in the US. Modern American usage sees painters, farmers, factory workers, train locomotive engineers, carpenters, and other tradesmen wearing this style of garment.
However, overalls gained popularity in the 60s and 70s as fashion statements, and deviated from traditional denim into other colours and embellishments. They made a comeback in the 90s around the world as a fashion development.
Outside of the odd trend here and there, British wearers seem less fond of dungarees, as they are called in the UK, than in other countries. The fashion garment has popularised and paved the way for the new jumpsuit trend.
Less popular for clothing protection, overalls are still used, but not in cases where the extra protection of a coverall is needed.
Whether you call them ‘overalls’ or ‘coveralls,’ these garments have a rich history, but make sure you choose one that provides the right kind of protection for your specific industry.
FIND THE RIGHT WORKWEAR FOR YOURSELF OR YOUR COMPANY
If you need help deciding which coveralls to purchase for your needs - or any workwear garment - take a look at our Workwear Buying Guide.