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Two-piece long underwear

Long underwear, also called long johns or thermal underwear, is underwear with long legs and long sleeves that is normally worn during cold weather. It is commonly worn by people under their clothes in colder climates.

In the United States, it is usually made from a cotton or cotton-polyester-blend fabric with a waffle weave texture, although some varieties are also made from flannel, particularly the union suit, while many newer varieties are made from polyester, such as the Capilene trade name.[citation needed]

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

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 U.S. – two layers of only artificial fibres, which uses trapped body heat to insulate against cold air.

Etymology of long johns

The manufacturing foundations of long johns may lie in Derbyshire, England, at John Smedley's Lea Mills, located in Matlock. The company has a 225-year heritage and is said to have created the garment, reputedly named after the late-19th-century heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan; the company still produces long johns.[1]

In 2004, Michael Quinion, a British etymologist and writer, postulated that the john in the item of apparel may be a reference to Sullivan, who wore a similar-looking garment in the ring. This explanation, however, is uncertain and the term's origin is ultimately unknown.[2]

It has also been posed[by whom?] that the term is an approximation of the French longues jambes, which translates to 'long legs.'[citation needed]

History of long johns

Long johns were first introduced into England in the 17th century, but they did not become popular as sleepwear until the 18th century. They were first used as loungewear but then later became popular in Truro, Nova Scotia. In 1898, Myles and his brother John had developed a product called Stanfield's Unshrinkable Underwear for their garment manufacturing company.

Long johns first appeared in North America when Frank Stanfield, a Canadian, applied for the first patent for the long johns design. He and his brother started with non-shrinking cotton underwear and formally applied for a patent for long johns on December 7, 1915, becoming the pioneer of long johns.[citation needed]

Washing long underwear

From 1914 to mid-1918, the item of underwear most purchased by various military forces was a garment known as a union suit; it is a one-piece form of underwear covering body and legs and was the prototype of the Chinese qiuyi (秋衣), the top part, and qiuku (秋裤), the bottom part.

After 1918, countries returned to producing more and more daily usages.[clarification needed] The Industrial Revolution progressed in accordance with the concept of the assembly line and division of labor. Manual laborers who were physically active were divided into laborers who performed more upper-body activity and laborers with more lower-body activity. It then became more and more obvious that qiuyi and qiuku as separate parts was better than a one-piece garment.[citation needed]

In 1940, the United States did not have today's indoor heating solutions; many people used stoves to heat rooms in winter. At that time, one not only had to wear long underwear or the union suit but also a nightcap when going to bed, and the frequency of bathing was far less than the current time.[citation needed]

Long underwear in other countries


In China, people use separate words to refer to the two parts of long underwear, and the terms vary across the country. In the northern part, people refer to the top as xianyi and the bottom as xianku. People living south of the Yellow River and north of the Yangtze River refer to the top as qiuyi and the bottom as qiuku. People living south of the Yangtze River call the top mianmao yi and the bottom mianmao ku.[3]

In the early 2010s, a myth spread through Chinese social media that long underwear was part of the Soviet Union's conspiracy to prevent Chinese military powers from invading Soviet soil in the far east. The myth suggested that the Soviet Union believes that long underwear reduces Chinese soldiers' adaptability in cold climates based on the since-debunked theory of Lysenkoism popular in the mid-20th century.[4]


  1. ^ The Fashion of Long Johns Archived 2015-12-26 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  2. ^ Quinion, Michael (21 February 2004). World Wide Words Archived 2007-01-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  3. ^ "The History of Qiuku in China (中国秋裤兴衰史)". Sohu. Archived from the original on 2021-12-06. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  4. ^ 宗, 合 (19 December 2014). "图文:关于"秋裤君"的那些传说". 荆楚网. Archived from the original on 6 December 2021. Retrieved 6 December 2021.