At the turn of this century, outdoor enthusiasts embraced a new way to beat the cold. The union suit, one-piece long underwear with a convenient flap, quickly became must-have apparel. Chilly homebodies wore them, too.
The union suit, which was also adapted for warm-weather use, got its name either from the labor unions that organized textile workers, or from the union of the top and bottom of the garment.
The 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog sold union suits for 80 cents each. The catalog states, "Nearly every man has suffered from time to time the annoying tendency, particularly in warm weather, of his undershirt to roll up his back and the inclination to the drawers to slip to an uncomfortable position."
The Duofold company patented a two-layer insulated wool union suit in 1906.
John Cronce, a spokesman for Jockey, says that in World War II the War Department issued the Nainsook, a lightweight union suit that combined a T-shirt with boxer shorts.
The demand for the more comfortable Nainsook and the introduction of central heating into more homes led to the union suit's demise, Cronce says. But many stores still sell nonwool versions.
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