Union suit

Adult male wearing a white union suit.

A union suit is a type of one-piece long underwear. It originated as women's wear during the nineteenth-century United States clothing reform efforts, as an alternative to constricting garments, and soon gained popularity among men as well. The first union suit was patented in 1868 as "emancipation union under flannel."[1] Traditionally made of red flannel with long arms and long legs, it buttoned up the front and had a button-up flap in the rear covering the buttocks (colloquially known as the "access hatch", "drop seat", "fireman's flap", and other names), allowing the wearer to eliminate bodily waste without removing the garment. Depending on the size, some union suits can have a dozen 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. It was not uncommon until the mid-1900s for rural men to wear the same union suit 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 the time when the union suits were removed, washed, and put away for the summer.

Union suits are still commercially available, but because of their association with "old fashioned" usage, and presumedly "unsophisticated" rural wearers, they are considered comical. The rear flap is also associated with humor, and in film and television the appearance of a union suit, viewed from behind, is a form of mild toilet humor.

Today, some people — both men and women — favor two-piece long underwear, also known as "long johns".

Union suits and drop-seat pajamasEdit

Union suits are similar but not identical to drop-seat pajamas (also known as Dr. Denton's). The main difference is that union suits are worn as underwear while drop-seat pajamas are worn as nightwear. Drop-seat pajamas are often more loosely cut, and some types, especially for babies and toddlers, are footed.


  1. Reforming Fashion, 1850–1914, the Historic Costume Collection, Ohio State University. Retrieved on 2006-10-21

See alsoEdit


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