Historical Notes About Long Johns

Where in history did the almost comical Long Johns come from?  We see them on Old Western shows and movies.  Well, I did some digging and I have a few ideas.


Surprizingly, they seem to have come into fashion with women first in the last part of the 1800s.  Women wanted to have small waistlines back then and Long Johns oddly made them think they looked thinner.  I think the original Long Johns actually seem thick and poorly fitting.  Maybe if women's Long Johns were made to stretch to a women's figure they probably did fit without bunching.  I can only guess that the thinking was that perhaps 3 layers of tops and 3 layers of skirts and underskirts resulted in a lot of bulk at the waistline.   Perhaps the machinery for knitting could already knit in a fashion that even a thread made from cotton would stretch.  There is a knit stitch (interlock) that allows non-stretchy thread to stretch a little.  This type of stitching would also bulk up the fabric and allow some amount of air trapping capability which would increase the warmth.  Men saw the functionality of this garment and they quickly caught on with men, too.


It is also thought that the name Long Johns came from the Boxer, John Sullivan.  He does appear in pictures to wear Long Johns tucked into his boots.  It does seem fitting that this item of clothing would be name the Long John after Big John Sullivan made it famous. 


It seems that Long Johns was the name given to the one piece suit given out to soldiers in WWII.  They are mentioned many times by soldiers in WWII and referred to as Long Johns. Excerpt from a letter to home in the Sheboygan Press, Wisconsin on 16 October 1941, " We all hope we don't get our 'long Johns'  for a while because it is too warm yet."


We don't sell the onsie-type of Long Johns at Overland Trails Discount Outfitters, but we have many types of Long Underwear and Base Layers.  Some that we have are highly technical polyester wicking Base Layers for use in extreme skiing and other outdoor sports.  We also have Coldpruf and Indera Mills double-layer wool and Polypropylene Base Layers that are good choices for Camping, Backpacking, ice Fishing and so forth.