You Can Pry My Unflattering Pandemic Overalls From My Cold Dead Hands

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 
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Something happened to our clothes during Covid. The entire world was thrown on its head in so many ways, and if anything serves as the perfect metaphor for the chaos of this time, it’s our communal wardrobe. I wore so few bras that I don’t even know where they went, and I bet stock in Champion skyrocketed as everyone on the planet invested in more and more sweats. Sweatpants, once a sign of “giving up,” became a sign of snugly settling in. We were accepting our lot and deciding we didn’t have to wait it out with restrictive pencil skirts or crisp, collared shirts–or even shoes.

Now that restrictions have been partially lifted, it looks like everyone around me is “upping their game,” investing in flattering pants and loafer-y things, waistbands and elasticized undergarments. I, however, am not.

For years I have secretly yearned to go back to the uniformed days of Regina Dominican High School. We wore drab, just-above-the-knees houndstooth-y skirts, dingy white oxfords. I even had a breast-reducing weskit (which was kind of a polyester pullover vest). The only way we could spice up our outfits was to add micro-heeled shoes, so under my bed I stuffed an amazing amount of cheap, toe-crunchingly jazzy flats.

When 1985 hit and I was released from all-girls Catholic prison (and we burned/melted our synthetic skirts–either literally or figuratively), I spent my birthday money on clothes, clothes, and more clothes. These days, people might express themselves through tattoos and wherever-you-want-them piercings; in those days, it seems like we had fewer options. So I chose stirrup pants + shoulder-pad-y things + “Frankie Say Relax” cropped sweatshirts + rhinestone neck-brooches. And I draped them over my body canvas.

When I look back, it’s not just the styles themselves that mortify me; it is the sheer glut of clothes. But, honestly, when I look in my closet now, I haven’t exactly pared down. The hangers and cubbies are overloaded with business-casual wear–and I haven’t had a semi-professional job in a decade and a half. I have any knit or crocheted girly thing manufactured between 1977 and the 2010’s. And skirts? I have skirts up the wazoo.

Portrait of laughing woman in front of white wall

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What’s funny is that, amid this excess, I’ve been day dreaming that the jumpsuit would finally take center stage. Not the dry-clean-only, repulsively pricey Saint Laurent version. I’m talking about something along the lines of what the T-Birds wore during the “Go Greased Lightning” musical number in “Grease”–khaki, archetypal auto mechanic coveralls. (My nephew owns his own garage, but it’s not 1950, so I’ve never been able to get my hands on some.)

But mid-2020, I found something close, and maybe even better. They are used, they are huge, they barely touch my skin, and they are fabulous. They are my low-crotch and inimitable “pandemic overalls”–which have now graduated into my “post-pandemic” overalls. When I bought them, they were the answer to my prayers. At first, they were strictly for at-home use, an effective way to avoid crotch-flashing my sons when I sprawled on the couch. Soon after, I was wearing them to Starbucks drive-thru too. Then I decided I could walk the dogs in them, as long as it was before 6am.

I started getting attached to my overalls. Really attached. I could wear them multiple days in a row (or, ahem, all days in a row); I could get up on cold days and put 17 layers under them and go about my business; on warm days I’d de-layer and wear boxers underneath instead. Best of all, I could just roll out of bed, pull them over my PJ’s and voilà! I was technically dressed, and no one would be the wiser. I was streamlining my over-accessorized wardrobe into a single pair of full-body dungarees, and I was doing it like a rockstar.

I expected to eventually shelve my overalls. They had served their purpose and, like my son told me, I looked like a rodeo clown. But the truth is: these babies aren’t going anywhere. I do my grocery shopping in them, I go to tennis matches in them, I have coffee with my girlfriends in them. And, I’ve gotten three compliments (in the last 400+ days) and that’s three more than zero. They have too many plusses.

Not everyone is on board. Last time I was at my octogenarian mom’s house, she was about a centimeter away from forbidding me to leave the house in them. (Also important to know: she once shamed me, an adult, for trying to venture out in public with bedhead.) My brother wants me to go to church with him, but won’t bring me if I wear my overalls. (Praise the Lord!) Some guy insinuated that I looked like I belonged on the set of “Deliverance.”

The fact is–these sloppy, hillbilly, fashion-don’ts are here to stay because they actually make me feel good. I’m a little footloose and fancy free when I wear them. (They are so voluptuous that the air can flow right through and that’s definitely a liberating feeling.) Nothing’s digging into my skin, skritching or pinching me; I’m not obsessively rotating a skirt so the tag is not in the front. It’s really hard to put overalls on inside-out, so I never have to try and duck in a secret crevasse to right-side them. I don’t have to suck my stomach in or worry about my thighs slapping each other in public view. I blissfully get to trot through my day unencumbered by any of that uncomfortable “body stuff.”

There’s a lot of outside pressure (that’s right, Mom, I’m talking to you) to look “presentable” and “lady-like.” I’m not biting. I might, however, get a couple more upscale pairs for events like weddings and funerals–because nobody wants to upstage a bride or a corpse. But, my day-to-day uniform is going to stay my day-to-day uniform.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a trendsetting influencer, and all the half-century-year-olds will reduce their wardrobes down to a practical, so-unflattering-they-are-flattering denim onesie.

I don’t really care, though, because it feels like I’ve found the love of my life.

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