Friday, February 11, 2011

Taos A to Z Excerpt: Long Johns

Definition: “underwear with closely fitted legs that extend to the wearer's ankles, often with a long-sleeved top.” Long underwear, often called “long johns,” is a newer style of two-piece underwear with long legs and long sleeves that is normally worn during cold weather. It offers an advantage over the more old-fashioned version of long johns or “union suit,” in that the wearer can choose to use either the top, bottom, or both parts depending on how cold it is. The one-piece long johns, traditionally made of red flannel was buttoned all the way up the front and had a button-up rear “access hatch” so the wearer could eliminate bodily waste without undressing.

Depending on the size of the suit, some have the maximum of 11 buttons on the front, to be fastened through buttonholes from the neck down to the groin area. This warm and practical garment remained in common use in North America into the 20th century. As its popularity waned, it became chiefly working men’s wear. In the mid-1900s, it was not uncommon for rural men to wear the same long johns continuously all week, or even all winter. Normally, no other type of underwear was worn with it. One of the major events of the spring was when the union suits were removed, washed, and put away for the summer. In films and television, wearing long johns was a sign that the character was completely out of touch with the modern world. For example, a funny scene in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” has the six brothers refusing to take off their long johns for their older brother’s new bride to wash. ~Jean

A Bit of Personal Long Johns Trivia: With our inclusion of the term “long johns” in our Taos A to Z directory, let it not be confused with the delicious donut-like dessert called by the same name. When I was a young girl, one of our favorite treats was the “long john” (donut dough bar) with chocolate or maple icing. My mother would get them from the bakery of a local discount market called “Big Giant.” And occasionally, my aunt would treat my cousin and I to a chocolate long john and a Grapette (in an icy-cold, tall glass bottle) when we would run errands in El Reno, Oklahoma. Although they taste exactly like donuts, the preference for a long john over a donut had to do with the fact that a long john was more substantial, and therefore, more satisfying than the average, somewhat puny donut. ~Jean

See the complete glossary of terms, definitions and descriptions of everything Taos at Taos A to Z

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