Today we call them jeans and they are a fashion item. You can buy them in J.C. Penney’s or you can go to fashion shops in New York City (like 3×1) and pay ten times the Penney price.
We used to wear dungarees (now called jeans) because they were cheap, sturdy, and anything but fashionable. Today they are worn to cocktail parties, weddings, and even red carpet moments. But for many of us, they are still a utilitarian piece of clothing that has little to do with fashion. The history of the fabric and the product dates back to the 17th century.
Dungaree was mentioned for the first time in the 17th century, when it was referred to a cheap, coarse thick cotton cloth, often colored blue but sometimes white, worn by impoverished people in what was then a region of Bombay, India a dockside village called Dongri. Hindi name of this cloth was “dungri”. Dungri was exported to England and used for manufacturing of cheap, robust working clothes. English began to call “dungri” cloth a little different and it became “dungaree”. Everyone who needed clothes for hard work that would not tear after a short time, from workers to slaves, began to wear dungarees. It was used for making of utility uniforms in the United States Navy during the World War One. Dungaree was also used for working clothes of women during that same time. It was used as a material for sails from which sailors later made their cloth for the same reasons as above. Because of all of that, name “dungaree” was starting to be used for a fabric as well as for an item of clothing (as plural “dungarees”). They were used the same way as jeans clothing.
Dungaree is often compared to denim but there is a difference. While denim is woven from uncolored yarn and only colored after weaving, dungaree is made from pre-colored yarn. They became fashionable in the other half of the 40s and by the start of the 50s they gained wider acceptance as casual wear because they are comfortable, easy to wear and practical. (History of Jeans)
In the United States, dungarees had their beginning right here in Rhode Island. Wikipedia tells us:
In the United States, the mill at Shady Lea, North Kingstown, Rhode Island, was built in the late 1820s by Esbon Sanford to manufacture a cotton-wool blend twill fabric called Kentucky Jean, resembling a cross between burlap and the dungaree fabric of today.”
There are many varieties of dungarees, or jeans. It would seem, of late, that the term dungaree has become archaic, and is used primarily to refer to non-couture clothing. As this post-World War II generation passes, I suspect the term dungaree will also. There is a chain of stores with that name, so it may well become a captured term. But in common, everyday conversation, I suspect the term “jeans” has replaced its practical application.
We who have long passed the “skin tight” clothing fads, may well continue to wear them loose and baggy. But the denim-like pants being cranked out by fashion-focused manufacturers will enjoy a long run of basically inexpensive pants with very expensive price tags on them.
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