The boiler suit is having a moment. Luisa Metcalfe reports
Boilersuits on the catwalk at Dior, left, and, Stella McCartney, right
They’re on the catwalk, all over the high street and even celebrities aren’t immune to their comfortable and (whisper it) practical charms. Margot Robbie teams hers with high-heeled mules, former J Crew creative director Jenna Lyons drapes a camel overcoat over pink ones, and model Iris Law wears hers over a striped top. Not since the 1970s have fashion and film’s most glamorous women proudly showcased outfits usually worn by mechanics and airport ground control – yes, the boiler suit is back.
Made from hard-wearing cotton or denim, boiler suits are emerging as a modern multitasking wardrobe saviour, designed for almost every activity, from rummaging in a car’s engine and gardening to doing the school run and going to parties. In this age of Hollywood’s anti-sexual- assault campaign, Time’s Up, and as #MeToo sweeps social media, it seems the boiler suit is the perfect feminist fashion statement.
Left: the Queen in a boiler suit as an army mechanic during the war. Right: Abba in 1979 in their all-white all-in-ones
Maria Grazia Chiuri certainly agrees. The Dior designer behind the ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ T-shirt sent a denim boiler suit down the A/W 17 catwalk. Meanwhile, Stella McCartney showcased a baggy denim onesie at her S/S 18 Paris show. The high street isn’t far behind: MC Overalls opened a permanent store off London’s Carnaby Street last year, MiH’s boiler suit sold out when it hit stores last year, and brands including Agnès B, Donna Ida and Winser London all do versions of the loose-fitting all-in-one.
What’s more, Spry founder Daisy Bridgewater’s cult £160 classic boiler suit, a serviceable blue cotton number inspired by mechanic’s overalls – as well as by her boiler-suit-wearing mother – has been snapped up by famous names including Rachel Johnson (who wore hers on Celebrity Big Brother), Thandie Newton, Alice Temperley, Sharleen Spiteri and Cathy St Germans, the director of the Port Eliot Festival.
Left: Frances McDormand in her boilersuit in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Right: Rosie the Riveter poster designed by J Howard Miller, 1943
But they’re not just for fashion influencers or the A-list (or Frances McDormand’s character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, who wears blue overalls for most of the film). YOU’s acting fashion editor Emily Dawes says all women need such stylish, hard-working clothes, advising: ‘Add heels for the office and a pair of statement earrings for evening. Layer it, adding a lace cami to dress it up, or dress it down with a striped tee.’
So why is this functional and body-covering all-in-one suddenly back in fashion? Pamela Church Gibson, reader in cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion, sees a link with feminism, from the women working in factories in the Second World War – made famous by the US morale-booster Rosie the Riveter – to the campaigners of the 70s. ‘Wearing a boiler suit is desexualising,’ says Pamela. ‘And there’s the freedom of movement. It’s not about being looked at, but being busy working.’ (Emily Weiss, founder of beauty brand Glossier recently dressed sales assistants at her London pop-up in roomy pink overalls.) Pamela adds: ‘The boiler suit is the ultimate practical garment – you can do anything in one.’