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two-piece long underwear

Long underwear, often called long johns, is a style of two-piece underwear with long legs and long sleeves that is normally worn during cold weather. It offers an advantage over the union suit in that the wearer can choose to wear either the top, bottom, or both parts depending on the weather. Long underwear are also less commonly known as "long handles".

Modern long underwear has largely supplanted the one-piece union suit. In the USA, it is usually made from a cotton or cotton-polyester blend fabric with a box-weave texture, although some varieties are also made from flannel, particularly the union suit, while many newer varieties are made from polypropylene, such as the Capilene trade name.

European manufacturers use wool blends or even 100% wool, usually Merino or other high quality wool. Some models might include a thin layer of polyester to transport moisture away from the skin. Wool, in addition to being fire retardent, provides highly effective insulation and will keep its insulating properties even when wet, as opposed to artificial fibres.

The type known as "thermal underwear" is made from two-ply fabric of either a wool layer and an artificial fibre, only wool or, again mostly in the USA, two layers of only artificial fibres, which uses trapped body heat to insulate against cold air.

An adjustable two-piece design is credited to Truro, Nova Scotia native Frank Stanfield of Stanfield's Limited who patented his design on 7 December 1915. Earlier, in 1898 Frank Stanfield and his brother John had developed a product called Stanfield's Unshrinkable Underwear.[1]

Etymology of "Long Johns"

According to Michael Quinion,[2] "John" may be a reference to boxer John L. Sullivan, who wore a similar looking garment in the ring. This explanation, however, is uncertain and the word's origin is ultimately unknown.

Another story comes from John Morgan, founder of Morgan Knitting mills. He patented a process to manufacture modern long underwear and the term "Long John" comes from his name.


  1. ^ Mario Theriault, Great Maritme Inventions 1833-1950, Goose Lane, 2001, p. 35.
  2. ^ Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

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