Donning the dungaree


When it comes to attires and dresses and such things occurring as fashion even when it is primely a stemming out of necessity and only then a pursuit in fancy, there are so many of this kind that the Indian identity comes to rest on. Of course the most prominent assertion in this traditional take on wearing happens to be the versatile expanse of the wonder drape globally distinct in its appeal as the sari even as other as Indian attires of the dhoti and the ghagra or the kurti and the dupatta tend to be ubiquitous as well in their different manner and modes of wearing. But amidst all these dresses of somewhat flowing essence that which helps establish the whole expression of Indian fashion as something really unique and distinctly stylish as well emerges a certain more global and perhaps even contemporary item of clothing that seems to be a stark diversion from the typical Indian rendition. It might perhaps be not so appropriate to attribute this particular piece in wearing as being rooted in the Indian context, let alone in the tradition of a nation unfurling in hues and shades and tints of vibrancy galore. Nor would it make sense to interpret this attire in question as any modern derivate strictly eked out upon considerations of style. In its origins that date back by more than at least a couple of centuries, this staple of both style and sensibility though has managed to stay as relevant in the current confines of time as a truly iconic outfit universal not just in its donning across the physicality of space but also in being as convenient and yet as fashionable a dwelling for boys and girls and men and women alike even when one might be inclined to think of this garb in singularity as harbouring a rather youngish vibe.

Our case of concern happens to be the dungaree, humble in its non pricey attributes in affordability and yet fashionable enough to be sported by whoever fancies its differently made appeal. Once a vital piece of workwear catering to a certain class of people that which found expression also as a convenient one piece wear for children to going on to chart even greater heights of popularity in the fun and casual taking to it, dungarees are versatile that most other similar items of clothing despite it being a style of its own. Classifying as an overall in its essence of that one piece length of diverting from the more popular way of donning clothes in parts, the dungaree truly stands for a style that is resident in retro nostalgia and redefined nuances of what it means to dress up according to one’s own. And despite the classic style in wearing that it today refers to in all specific alluding to it, the very term dungaree originated as one that referred to a fabric instead and not the item of clothing as such. And it is in this maverick little bit of detail of this garment in continued history that the Indian connection comes to characterise this otherwise out and out western creation in fashion. In referring to a coarse thick cloth produced locally, the term dungri came to characterise this stemming from the village of Dongri near the city of Mumbai in India where it was used to produce rough work clothing. From such origins of it in the 17th century, dungri came to rest in this modern knowing of it as dungaree only after the fabric itself crossovered to English territory, taking upon itself its present day interpretation in the specific style of it through the encompassment of an additional syllable in its identity.

But while Dungarees might have asserted itself as a definite piece of clothing evolving from its resting in the more general premise of cloth when it was used to produce cheap and robust work clothes in the UK, the even more precise eking out of it in terms of the bib overall style of attire that it is today understood and worn as followed sometime in the mid 1800s. That, despite the fact that the dungaree that we know of as today had already originated in 1792 while the dongri version of it was already a definite element in the English lexicology since the early 1600s. Working upon the British idea of making trousers out of this fabric would be the emergence of dungarees in that visage of the bib joined with shoulder straps and trousers that presented tremendous opportunities in convenience. This ease and comfort of wearing along with the durability of it owing to its roughness and toughness in fabric was what made dungarees so essential a part of attire of the workforce of those times that virtually every profession saw this uniform as part of them though in different and definite color coding of it. Popular therefore a sporting through the times both in its ingenious design devised by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis and with a host of other associated factors holding in good stead, the dungaree was the standard work uniform across America during that period of the later part of the 19th century. Blue of course was the most sported color in different shades of its variation, deriving perhaps from the basic nature of the cloth itself being indigo dyed even as white would be equally prominent in its representation of painters. Train and railroad workers took to hickory stripes as an assertion of their professional identity while mechanics and craftsmen stood out as alluding to their fore of work in fisher stripes even as everyone from miners to farmers also stepped into this functional mode of heavy duty regimen every single day. Today however it isn’t any marker of trade that dungarees are worn in, flaunted in a range of different colors and also made of such material that need not be so conducive to the demands of heavy labour. And despite the prevailing notion of dungarees being a fashion component definitely rooted in the dimensions of what occur as the forever favorite fore of the denim, the dungaree fabric in fact predates denim. It perhaps is the similarity that denim and dungaree resides in most prominently as the indigo hued flash of distinct texture that contributes to this opinion in confusion even when they are definitely and more than distinctly different.

Dungarees today might be no longer just a uniform of working inclinations but through its evolution in history, the dignity of work had never ceased to underline this garment in this basic essence of it. Particularly in the 20th century and specifically during the period of the First World War, the dungaree was charted out also by the women of the world till then not so holistically engaged in the fore of manual labour and ushering in therefore no less than a revolution of sorts not just in emerging to become the image of the empowered women along the lines of the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter but also in managing to make the attire itself more mainstream. And with such foray into the expanse of what could warrant as at least as fashionable as functional, the dungaree came to encompass a whole many changes in its nature of being. The colors of course began to be experimented with and the fabric itself overrode the coarse premise of its characterisation even as there entailed also corresponding changes in the style and fit of the garment as well. Typically worn till then as not so well fitting uniforms for sheer convenience and comfort, dungarees soon transcended the realm of being work appropriate clothing to venture into exploring the lofty heights of high end fashion instead, fancied by Hollywood celebrities and personalities and from there finding the favour of common people outside the work aspiration till then dictating terms to that effect.

Even before this effect in stylised mannerisms found prominence though, the fashion attribute had already come to characterise the dungaree at least in venturing outside the folds of functionality. Sometime in 1930 smaller sized dungarees began to be marketed for kids, paving the way for this popular notion in them being very childlike indeed fits in fun and ease to gain centerstage. And furthering this appeal in innocence to cater to also the fancies of the adults albeit in a manner strikingly diverse, being as inclined to the ‘raw’ appeal of rugged sexiness while manifesting also across other elements of casual, easy going, no fuss assertions in style have been the dungaree that relied indeed on such scope of its versatility to emerge as potential cult items as well. As a refreshing breakaway from the sophisticated suits and gorgeous gowns typically accorded the luxe sensibilities supposed to be seeping through the exalted status of celebrity fashion, and yet residing essentially in the coveted ideals of a style aesthetically pleasing as well as assertive of the personality of the wearer whether that be a stemming from a true blue fashionista or the more ordinary human strutting about in doing the daily chores of life, whether manual or not, but managing to still stand out in that definite vision of a single entity in wearing, not just extending till the toe as trousers today but also as skirts or frocks or dresses, the dungaree makes for a one of its kind case in the forever evolving and always captivating alleys of fashion. As distinct a piece of historical leanings as it is a modern day unfurling of style, the vintage and classic charm of the cool and casual dungaree look is what makes it so readily charted out a one way course across the multidimensional exploration of what one understands as fashion.