Discover 300 years of class consciousness
When you think of "iconic blue cloth clothing", the first thing you think of is denim jeans. Yet while they were a hit across the Atlantic, it was the blue overalls that made their mark on modern Europe.
Never has a garment embodied the profound changes in the world of work. It is filled with the demands of the working class.
If most people associate it with the 19th century, at the heart of the industrial revolution. But blue overalls go back to a much earlier time. It even predates the French Revolution. In many ways, there is a lot we don't know about its role and origin.
It is a textile steeped in values, labor and struggle. It carries nearly 300 years of social, economic and symbolic history.
An ideal cut to protect and facilitate the gesture
If it is its bright color that attracts attention, the main interest of the overalls lies in their function. It is the choice of a cut before the color. Designed for work, it responds perfectly to the transformations of the working world.
It all starts at the beginning of the industrial revolution. From 1760 to about 1840, machines appeared in workshops and factories. Mechanical and then automated, the production tools were modernized. In this context of innovation, the organization of work was turned upside down. And the life of the workers with.
In the factories, work accidents were on the increase. Many workers were caught in the gears of the machines. Clothes and limbs were often torn off. It was not uncommon to see workers mutilated, having lost an arm, a leg or a hand caught in the gears.
It was therefore necessary to find a garment perfectly adapted to the new work methods. A garment that could protect the worker from danger. The overalls are the answer to this safety requirement.
Gone are the days of civilian clothes with too wide sleeves and too large a cut. We prefer a simple and straight cut. Ideal to protect the body without limiting movement.
The choice of the material is on the canvas. A thick fabric that is suitable for both hot and cold weather. Very resistant, it avoids cuts and scratches.
The advantage of canvas is also its ease of maintenance. It takes less dust. The overalls can be kept longer than ordinary clothes.
Initially, it consists of a single piece. A blouse closed with a belt around the waist. It is comfortable and practical. The pockets are flat without flaps, large enough to accommodate the tools of daily life: meter, instruments and technical notebook.
Then it transforms into different clothes: jacket, pants, shirt. Each trade has its own needs. For the metallurgist, it is worn with a leather apron. Ideal against the strong heats, the burns and the jets of embers. For the textile worker, its dark color hides dirt and splashes, as well as grease projections.
Blue overalls greatly reduce accidents. It became the first PPE (personal protective equipment) in the history of work. Easy to put on, it is made to protect the worker and his clothes.
An unexpected and revolutionary color: Prussian blue
The blue coat almost never became blue.
Moreover, the choice of a dark color is not so obvious for the time. Although dark colors had the advantage of making stains less conspicuous on the fabric, coloring clothes was once tedious.
Dyeing was expensive and did not fix well on the fabric. So dark colors were rather reserved for the rich people. They were not at all intended for workers who wore out their clothes quickly.
The original color of the blue work is the blue of prussia. Also called Berlin blue because of its city of origin, it is the first modern synthetic pigment.
Like other inventions, its discovery was purely accidental. It was discovered between 1700 and 1704. It was invented by a color merchant, Johann Jacob Diesbach. He discovered this color after a failed experiment.
He wanted to reproduce the lacquer of Florence, carmine color, ie red. A pigment that is obtained by a mixture of cochineal, alum, iron sulfate and potash.
Short of potash, he borrows some from his colleague. But his was already mixed with a preparation based on animal blood. Once the chemical process is completed, the long-awaited red color turns to purple and then to blue. This is the accidental birth of Prussian blue.
This error of mixture will be transformed into vast profit. Thanks to the blue of Prussia, the pigment obtained is very deep. It has an excellent behaviour on the canvas and is obtained by an easy and economic process. For years, its composition is so profitable that it will be jealously guarded.
The uniform of the working class
Practical and economical, its resistance proved itself. It opened the doors to all workshops and factories. In the middle of the 19th century, it was the work clothing par excellence. It became the standard for workers.
The bosses of large factories provided it free of charge. In small workshops, it was the worker's responsibility to buy and maintain it.
The piece is kept as long as possible. It can be mended as needed. The patching of the blue work is indeed commonplace. This successive patchwork of blue pieces can still be found today in some thrift stores.
The workers' unions fought for it with the bosses. It is part of the social achievements of the working class.
Its success took it outside the factory. It was adopted by painters, sailors, railway workers and letter carriers. With its democratization, it is also a feeling of class belonging that emerges.
If blue overalls were the worker's uniform, the working world was divided over their symbolism.
For some, wearing blue overalls was a source of pride. It marks one's belonging to one's factory, to one's social class. For others, it is the sign of an inferior classification. To the point where some workers refuse to wear them.
This is particularly true of skilled workers. They see it as a sign of their subservience. Their more technical jobs are also beginning to be affected by the automation of tasks.
By opting for blue overalls, the worker distinguished himself from the bosses and foremen. It was the beginning of the separation of white collars and blue collars. The blue overalls became a way of life and a class consciousness.
A hijacked work garment
From the 1970s onwards, workers abandoned blue overalls. It is no longer synonymous with dignity. They prefer the blouse. Or they want to come with their own clothes. They claim their freedom to dress as they want.
At the same time, it is recovered by a whole fringe of students during the demonstrations of May 68. Although they are not part of the working class, some activists proudly wear it. The overalls represent the convergence of the workers' and students' struggles.
It leaves its first utility to enter the popular culture. Then it made its appearance in the fashion shows. Taken up by designers such as Dior, Marithé and François Girbaud, it is paraded on the catwalks. Thus becoming a timeless garment.
After the workers, students and fashion, it is the artists who adopt it. Like the New York photographer Bill Cunningham who likes its large pockets. They are perfect to slip his camera and his notebook.
For the artist Annie Perrin it is its symbolic value that attracts her. In her artistic installation, she exhibits overalls piled up. Through them, she denounces the relocations that shatter the lives and jobs of local workers.
Whatever its evolution, the overalls remain intrinsically linked to the values of work. It is associated with the working class identity in the first sense of the word. To the culture of making. Artisanal and artistic.
The HABILE overalls
If the overalls are making a comeback today, it's for the same reasons as before. Workwear enthusiasts love its foolproof practicality.
It is the durable garment par excellence. And it is precisely in this logic of durability that the French brand HABILE updates the blue work.
It is now the standard of a wardrobe both timeless and profoundly modern. It is an iconic piece that can be worn for a lifetime.
The cut of the HABILE jacket is straight, unisex without being uniform. It was designed to fit all body types, small, large, girl or boy.
Its material is cotton twill. 100% natural. A comfortable, breathable and above all ultra-resistant fabric. With an appreciable flexibility, especially compared to Moleskine, thanks to its crossed threads.
Durable, it respects your skin and the environment. It is made in Portugal under the Oeko-tex standard 100 label, the most demanding environmental certification in dyeing. The color does not bleed. No risk in washing. This allows it to be worn again and again, for a long time.
Functional, it is suitable for all seasons. Summer and winter. It replaces the denim jacket and avoids the double denim effect. This explains its success with streetstylers. It can also be worn under another jacket and offer a nice shade of blue.
Reversible, it can be turned over in a gesture to change the look. The HABILE overalls are two jackets in one. A unique advantage compared to traditional overalls. It can be worn during the day or in the evening. According to your desires and your daily life.
Reinventing the overalls also meant a perfect finish: the HABILE jacket is worked in its smallest details: double stitching and a print directly on the back. No lining effect. Double-headed snaps, both chic and practical to button the jacket in both directions ... A condensed know-how revisited for you.
For all those who want a proud and functional garment. In its French blue color or its variants (ultramarine blue, pine green or blue gray)
You will love to wear it. For a long time.