Long underwear

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Two-piece long underwear

Long underwear, also called long johns or thermal underwear, is a style of two-piece underwear with long legs and long sleeves that is normally worn during cold weather. It is commonly worn by people under their clothes in cold countries.

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.

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 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"[edit]

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 is also been posed that the term is an approximation of the French longues jambes, which translates to “long legs.”

History of long johns[edit]

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.


  1. ^ The Fashion of Long Johns. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  2. ^ Quinion, Michael (21 February 2004). World Wide Words. Retrieved 5 August 2011.