While these two terms, overalls and coveralls, often cross conversational streams, the fact is they’re not the same tools. An anecdote will illustrate my point better.
When I was in the junior high, I asked my girlfriend the difference between a skirt and a dress. To my 14-year-old brain, they both lived in the no-pant-leg universe, A.K.A, nothing I was gonna wear anytime soon.
She was kind enough to explain that dresses started at the shoulder, skirts at the waist. It was an enlightening moment for a 14-year-old, life-changing in some ways.
This blog will cover the same life-changing ground but with respect to coveralls and overalls, breaking down the variances within each category then covering the best applications for each.
To get started, one must understand the categorical differences between the two.
Coveralls vs. Overalls
The differences, which separate coveralls and overalls aren’t much different than the details separating skirts from dresses. It comes down to fabric real estate.
Despite the fact that these clothing items show up for the same events — formal occasions for skirts and dresses, worksites for coveralls and overalls — one of these covers more of the body than the other.
The key difference is, getting it wrong on the job site could ensure that you’re doomed to have “one of those days,” which would have been avoidable with a little education.
It’s important to note that there are features within each subcategory, coveralls, and overalls. For example, not all coveralls actually cover-all. Some cover only most.
Don’t worry. This will all makes sense in short order.
The more straightforward of the two, overalls may not cover all, but they tend to go over all. Other than a jacket, one will put these on as the last item of clothing, pulling them up and over underwear, thermals, socks and even other pants sometimes.
A defining difference of overalls you’ll find in the shoulders. Overalls don’t ever cover them, not more than a thick strap over each shoulder to hold them up.
Upsides of wearing overalls include but are not limited to no need for a belt, protection of most of the body from spills, and even fire in flame resistant models. Not to mention, they come with more than one handy place to stash doughnuts stolen from the break room.
They usually come with not only extra pockets but larger-than-life pockets due to the extra real estate stretching up the chest.
Downsides with overalls are with the ease of disrobing. They always seem to slide on pretty easily, but getting out can vary. In a bathroom emergency situation, fighting one’s way out a pair of tight overalls inside a cramped space can be a special kind of nightmare.
That said, most simply unbutton at the shoulder, falling to the ground with little effort. No need to panic.
From a fashion standpoint, overalls don’t always wear off the job-site as well as a pair of jeans, but fashions do come and go. Some years, overalls make their way into nightclubs as if they belonged there. Other years, they don’t even look right at the country music bar.
An added bonus with overalls is that they often come with a pocket or several pockets just below the chest. Those pockets make a great place to stash anything one needs easy access to, plans, tools, and cell phones to name a few items.
Speaking of pockets, most overalls come with more pockets overall than any single person can use, five to eight, plus a hammer loop. It’s a wonder overalls don’t take more a front seat in fashion for that reason, giving folks plenty of space to stash their gear.
As the name would imply, coveralls cover more than a pair of overalls. Like their more simple brethren, coveralls go over most everything else one might wear. The key point of differentiation is again with the shoulders.
In short, coveralls do cover them, as in covering all.
Some coveralls come in short sleeved versions, some as long sleeve. While overalls will almost never serve as a single piece of workwear — most employers require at least a t-shirt with overalls — coveralls can zip a nude human into a complete, enclosed look.
That said, we don’t recommend donning your coveralls without undergarments, lest you should forget and unzip during a sweaty job. That’s always embarrassing.
Both overalls and coveralls come in insulated versions. You can find flame-resistant versions of each, but only one of them does the best job insulating one from the elements without help, and that’s coveralls.
If your workspace gets cold or hot, you’ll need more than a pair of insulated, flame-resistant overalls to do your job.
Where coveralls turn problematic for some is their mobility. Strapped into a single uniform, ankle to shoulder, some feel restricted when reaching in coveralls.
Most of today’s coveralls take into consideration that the wearer will need to move, but some still find them restricting.
To gauge your personal preference, you may want to try on a few example of each, reaching up and down as much as you can before deciding. You’ll look silly, but that beats feelings cramped at work.
Last, the front pockets on most coveralls vary from overalls. Unlike the bib-pockets on overalls, coveralls chest pockets tend to work more like the pockets on a button-up shirt.
Historically, rail workers wore overalls due to the dirty environment of the train. Today, however, the quintessential overall job goes to either the professional painter or the handyman.
To figure out if they are the right choice for you, consider the nature of your work. Does it have you holding items against your body to carry them?
During the course of your work, might fluids or object fly with abandon, spoiling or damaging your clothes if not protected.
Modern-day painters like overalls because they allow for sufficient mobility while providing more protection from wet paint than without.
Of course, any painter worth her brush will tell you a good painter doesn’t get paint on the overalls, that they’re worn for the sake of tradition. Perhaps, but just in case, they do protect the stomach, chest, and back of the wearer.
For this reason, many people who work in workwear environments opt to wear overalls as a matter of tradition, foremen, admins, contractors and other less labor-intense roles.
Without being too cumbersome, overalls complete the look of someone who knows what they’re doing.
Simply put, one who needs shoulder-to-ankle protection needs coveralls. Those threats from which one needs protection range from grease to fire, and could include freezing cold, sometimes all at once, with all points between.
With everything they have to dodge, it’s easy to understand why today’s rail hands prefer to wear coveralls. So do their cohorts in chemical, electrical, and hazardous materials work.
Even in the hottest places on Earth, the hard-working men and women laying down roads tend to wear coveralls. Hot tar on a heat-resistant duck is not comfortable, but it’s nothing like hot searing tar on human flesh.
Many factories employ the coverall more as means to protect their product from the employees than the other way around. Often in those cases, everyone wears coveralls, from the CEO down.
Military forces, especially the Navy, wear coveralls as part of their uniform, but it goes further than that, to outer space.
Although not carried by All Seasons Uniforms (not yet anyway) the uniforms worn by astronauts are coveralls. Even the space suit worn outside the International Space Station is an advanced sort of coverall, because how effective would a pair overalls be in space?
All that said, everyone should own a pair of coveralls, if no other reason than to wear around the house on Sunday mornings.With a pair of good slippers and a strong cup of coffee, there’s little more a person could desire.
Other than the bulletproof versions of coveralls (kidding, there’s no such thing… yet) they’re darn comfy. Plus, robes are drafty.
Be advised, however, where overalls can prove challenging to unfurl in a bathroom emergency, coveralls can be even more challenging, especially if one can’t find his corrective lenses.