Why wearing overalls in Parliament is so symbolic for Julius Malema and the EFF

The EFF members clad in their red overalls are clearly cut from the same cloth. They threatened to wear their birthday suits if overalls were forbidden from today's State of the Nation Address proceedings. Luckily, the ruling handed down from a meeting of the National Assembly went in their favour which means we'll still have to visit the UK to view the crown jewels.

This latest dress code controversy comes just five months after the Gauteng Legislature amended their dress codes following an outcry after speaker Ntombi Mekgwe refused to allow red overalls in the Legislature.

So what's the fuss over this clothing item?

The overall is as functional as its political. And here’s how it all stitches together:

In those early stages of the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) both sides were so disorganized that warring parties couldn’t tell the baddies from their buddies. So a uniform developed: the militia wore caps and workmen’s overalls.

Until then overalls - or boilersuits - had largely been worn by men maintaining coal-fired boilers. Hence the garment's association with labourers, who often happen to also be the downtrodden.

But that was not the first time that militias had worn overalls as part of their war gear. As can be seen below, this garment kitted out soldiers in The American Revolution of 1776!

When local isn't so lekker

South Africa too has a chapter in the overall narrative. Colonization, land dispossession and poverty, among other factors, led to a cheap labour force. Few know that Morris Cooper and Louis Maister, the forefathers of the denim brand Lee Cooper, lived in South Africa before moving to London. As overalls became a pre-requisite - the labour uniform of choice - they recognized the gap in the market and in 1908 they started manufacturing workers’ overalls which were exported back to South Africa!

Glamification

In England during World War 1 women wore drab overalls in factories. It took the Americans, World War 2 and some clever marketing to unbutton the overall’s hidden glamour.

The brief was simple; while the men were at war, women were needed in the factories.

Enter the iconic American wartime worker, Rosie-the-Riveter. She had flexed muscles and a look of determination on her flawless face. With rouged cheeks, eyelashes coated in mascara and perfectly tweezed eyebrows, Rosie was the World War 2 factory postergirl and a clothes’ horse for the denim overall.

Dungaree Girls

While the fashionistis haven’t embraced the overall they have made friends with its cousin: dungarees. Big in the 90’s, dungarees are basically pants with a bib. They went out of fashion relatively quickly but thanks to media exposure from contemporary girl-next-door tv stars like Sarah Jessica Parker they seems to be making a comeback.

Demi wore dungarees for the pottery scene in the 1990's movie "Ghost".

Whether the overall is worn for fashion, work or war - its origins are clearly defined by a struggle for identity, ideology and manual labour.

It remains to be seen whether Ju-ju’s 'overall' political career will last as long as his durable attire.

See today's EWN cartoon related to this issue here


This article first appeared on 702 : Why wearing overalls in Parliament is so symbolic for Julius Malema and the EFF


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