The boiler suit is back, and it means business. Not since the glory days of Challenge Anneka has the utility all-in-one been so chic, and this season, they are coming in a fabulous array of colours and styles. There really is a boiler suit for everyone.
It has been rumoured that some men don’t find boiler suits the most romantic of garments when worn by women, but actually, some styles are so cute (and some are pink), so they are perfectly suitable, even for date night, and even for Valentine’s Day. On the international catwalks, Hermes showed a loose, wide-leg, zipped boiler suit in a racy tomato red, Dries Van Noten gave us a blue denim style with a fringed yoke, Emporio Armani blessed us with an oversized belted version in white and Jil Sander went for a loose tailored wool number ideal for desk to dinner.
I currently have three boiler/jump suits. A black zipped one from Mint Velvet, bought a few seasons ago (see, I’ve always loved a boiler suit); a loose, black, belted, crepe one from Cos at Victoria Gate in Leeds (a fantastic store, by the way, with lovely staff and excellent sales) – I wear this one all the time and it’s my fashion event go-to, especially when I want or have to wear flat boots; and finally a blue denim one I’ve recently bought from Topshop. Woe betide anyone who hands me a paint brush or a spanner while I’m wearing it. Come the spring, I’ll be teaming it with heeled sandals, to avoid being confused with a plumber, and glamming it up and adding some great hoop earrings for added 80s appeal. But for the meantime, I’m wearing a T-shirt or a fine cashmere knit underneath it and heeled cowboy boots. I’m not tall enough to wear many boiler suits with flats, (the Cos one is an exception) which is a shame because I do love to see a wide-leg loose but tailored boiler suit or jumpsuit worn with monk shoes or with trainers and, when it gets warmer, with a pair of strappy flat sandals.
So, what’s the difference between boiler suits and jumpsuits? Nothing, really. Whatever you call it – and this season, boiler suit does seem to apply more appropriately to the loose-fitting denim and khaki styles we are seeing, heavy on the utility detailing, with long sleeves, high necks, pockets, often with collars, zips and press studs – the boiler suit began life, of course, as an overall, a product of the industrial revolution, made of canvas or denim, designed to be worn over everyday clothes to protect from oil and dirt.
Your typical boiler suit covers most of the body, from neck to ankles, with a belted or elasticated waist and fastenings, often zip and press-studs, from neck to waist. They almost always have pockets and it’s thought they originated in the late 19th century for use by railway mechanics. However, they soon gained street credibility and by the 1930s were being worn by artists and designers and intellectuals who wanted to associate themselves with the working classes. They were taken up too by racing drivers and mechanics, by pilots and the military. One version, known as the “siren suit,” was made famous by Winston Churchill during the Second World War, designed for him by Turnbull and Asser in blue serge but also in pinstripe and even green velvet. He called them his romper suits and clearly adored them as he wore them everywhere. We so get that.
Roll forward to spring 2019 and the boiler suit is everywhere on the high street. At the moment, it’s offering a brilliantly stylish way to apply trans-season dressing, with many styles so loose that they can easily be layered. My tip is to buy a size bigger than your usual, as oversized is the look to go for, and the more so, the better. As tempting as it is to buy smaller if you can get into it, That’s missing the point, so live life loosely, and enjoy.
*There’s more fashion and beauty best buys here