Union suits still around after all these yearsPublished 8:56am Monday, January 30, 2012
Column: Something About Nothing
For some strange reason hearing that the State of the Union message was going to be broadcast made my mind start wandering and it kept coming up with union suits. It is not that I do not think the State of the Union address by the president of the United States is not important, because I do, but the term “union suit” seemed to take precedence in my mind.
I wondered when the union suit was invented and why. When I think of a union suit, I think of the red long underwear with a rear flap that has been in comedies and used as a way to make audiences laugh. Union suits were also white. A union suit is different than long johns. Long johns are two pieces while a union suit is a one-piece form of long underwear.
The union suit originated in Utica, N.Y., in the 19th century and was originally made for women. I was very surprised by that because women are usually fashion-conscious even with their underwear and the union suit didn’t appear to me to be very attractive.
I guess union suits were more a more comfortable alternative to the constrictive corsets that women were wearing. According to Wikipedia, union suits were part of an attempt at reform for women. The men then had to steal our fashion idea and union suits became popular with men.
I remember my uncles wearing union suits because I saw them in the wash. Union suits at first were made of red flannel and had a drop hatch at the back, sometimes referred to as a fireman’s hatch. I have my own theory as to why men stole the union suit idea from the women so the women wouldn’t wear them anymore. My theory in modern-day speak is “Victoria’s Secret.”
I could not find why the name union unless it means that the underwear was joined as one. If anyone has any idea, I would love to hear it. I must admit until I started looking I thought union suits and long johns (not the edible kind) were the same. Long johns came later, after union suits, supposedly according to my research which I would only take with a grain of salt, long johns were named after heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan. It is guessed that he wore a somewhat like garment in the ring. All of this is speculation.
My children became very familiar with union suits during their high school years. High school plays are notorious for using union suits to get a laugh. When my sons were a part of New Ricland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School they were also a part of different skits called oral interp.
I distinctly remember one outhouse scene where one of my son’s friends, who will remain nameless so I don’t embarrass him in his old age, wearing a union suit as he sat on the outhouse toilet.
I also remember my daughter in the lead for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at United South Central under the direction of the famous Clay Miller. She had to dispense food for the seven brothers as they were running around at first in their union suits and then in their blankets. It got a good laugh.
Yes, it seems as a costume coordinator for many plays I was always trying to find red union suits until I actually bought one to have in my closet for a time of need. It still sits there today and brings back fond memories.
I wonder if the people back in the 19th century ever thought their invention of the union suit would be around for so long. I also wonder if these same people ever thought of all the laughter and fun their simple invention for keeping warm would bring to generations to come. If you need a good laugh, pull out the ole union suit and have someone model it. You will remember it for years to come.
Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.