Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Long Johns – Long Handles – Drawers

Last February Barbara  left this comment on the Blind Pig:

Just wondering…what do you know of the different names that folks call these clothes I’m wearing under my street clothes these cold days? You know…long underwear, thermal underwear, Long-handled underwear, etc.  (I own a pair of red one-piece with the back flap, but that darn flap won’t open as quick as I need it to!) I would love to hear your name for them! My best to you and your girls!


Like Barbara I’ve heard the clothing called long handles, long underwear, and thermal underwear. I call them long johns so we can add that to the list. I’ve also heard them called long drawers so thats another name.

I’ve heard the one piece ones called union suits and union-alls.

With the chilly temps we’ve been having the girls wore their long johns to school under their regular clothes at least once this week. I can’t stand to wear long johns unless I know it’s going to be brutally cold or I’m going to be tumbling off a sled into the snow. Oh I get cold-anyone who knows me will tell you I’m extremely cold natured-I’ve been known to get cold in July. But I also get itchy and wearing tight clothes under my clothes sometimes makes me want to go running into the hills screaming. I guess I don’t like feeling restricted or confined.

Pap and Granny have an old oil heat stove. Its outdated and seems to be giving them trouble more and more each winter. The other day it tore up and it took Pap all day to get it to running again. Granny said “We got so cold in the house that both of us had to go put our long handles on before your Daddy got the stove fixed.” In recent years I’ve noticed Pap wears a long john shirt under all his button up shirts in the winter. He’s gotten to be cold natured in his old age.

When the girls were little they had some of those union suits Barbara was talking about, in fact they had a red Oshkosh one. Funny how certain pieces of clothing sticks in your mind. Every time I put that red union suit on one of the girls to sleep in I thought they were the cutest thing I ever saw.

So what do you call them? And do you wear them often?



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  • Reply
    May 23, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    Our family in the Bay Area of California called them long johns, but my dad also called them long handles or “John Ls,” after boxer John L. Sullivan. I found this site while searching for any origin/use of John Ls, which I have yet to find.

  • Reply
    Lee Ann Bonner
    December 29, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Someone young must have written this because we baby boomers ( I’m in north Louisiana) always called them long hannels. I’m sure hannels was a child’s derivative of flannel. It’s not handle just like roaring boil I just saw in the new Southen Living. It’s rolling boil, etc.

    • Reply
      Suzn Garland
      December 15, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      I’m from Northern Louisiana too.
      My Granny always called them
      LONG HANNELS! I still call them that
      especially on a cold morning golfing’

  • Reply
    Long john Lee
    July 31, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    Over here in the UK I call them long johns, just like my dad and Granddad. However, the trendy young things call them base layers, and pay twice as much for them as they need to because of it! I would rather be warm than fashionable!

  • Reply
    Anita Raley
    January 6, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    I’m curious if you ever found out why they are called long handles? I haven’t found any answers on my search tonight. I’m in SC and my family always called them that and I’ve been curious about it since I was a child. Thanks in advance.

    • Reply
      January 7, 2018 at 11:25 am

      Anita-check out this link for the origin of the phrase-at least a good guess at what it is : )

      • Reply
        Clelie Bourne
        March 31, 2019 at 8:44 pm

        Nice link, but it gives no information on where the term long “handles” originated or why.

        • Reply
          April 1, 2019 at 6:50 am

          Clelie-thank you for the comment! The long john info on the page is in an answer. Here’s what they said about Long Johns:

          The history of long johns is a funny one. A big man named John Sullivan , a boxer in Boston Massachusetts, bragged that he could lick anyone at anytime. Modesty may not have been Big John’s forte, as John became known not only for his hard-hitting, bare-knuckled style or fighting, but also for the mark he left upon the world of fashion. Unlike other fighters of his time, John entered the ring wearing only long underwear, otherwise known as the Union suit. As his notoriety grew, John’s wardrobe took on the identity of the man, himself. The term “long johns” lives on, a tribute to a truly colorful character in American history. Silk long johns bear the name of someone that was quite a man.

          From Wikipedia:

          Long johns’ manufacturing foundations may lie in the heart of Derbyshire, England, at John Smedley Mills 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 prides itself on producing long johns to this day. Michael Quinion, on his words’ Website, is one of those who postulates that the “john” in the item of apparel may be a reference to John L. Sullivan, who wore a similar looking garment in the ring. This explanation, however, is uncertain and the word’s origin is ultimately unknown.

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    January 11, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Long johns, union suit, BVDs, Dr. Denton’s — I never wore them but my daddy and my brothers did.
    I still don’t wear them. If we lose power during a winter storm our furnace doesn’t work. The house gets cold, I just wear two pairs of sweat pants and two sweatshirts. I guess you would say I “make do.”

  • Reply
    Rosamary Christiansen
    January 23, 2016 at 9:29 am

    My dad called them “long-hannel underwar” He came from WV.
    My friend used to work outdoors in Reno-LakeTahoe area in winter. She swore by a brand called Cuddle Duds. (spelling may be wrong) These may be kinder to your hide than other brand names.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    hi tipper ,longjohns they girls wore flannel lined blue grandma bought me underwear that come to my knees .hope the weather doesn’t get too bad there in nc.god bless.jesn

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 22, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Long handles. My husband starts wearing them with the first frost. I’m like you and can’t stand it–I don’t even like to have to wear a coat. After Mama got into her eighties, she wore the bottoms under fleece sweat pants nearly year round.

  • Reply
    Sallie R. Swor
    January 22, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    I had to wear the suits with drop-down back as a child under my dresses and a friend who had gone to school with me moved from TN to FL. When she returned a few years later she said that is what she remembered about me! Our house was cold except near the fireplace or wood stove. I have heard that old-timers wore the same ones all winter and it was time to change and bathe “when the blue flags bloomed” meaning the native iris flowers. Maybe that guy Goober was just carrying on tradition!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

    We always called them ‘Long Johns.’ I must admit I didn’t acquire my first pair until I took skiing lessons when I entered my thirties. I lived up North most of my life; my mom would make us put two pairs of pants on and our snow jackets. Speaking of snow – I see from the weather reports you are to be granted your wish – white, fluffy snow!

  • Reply
    James Smithson
    January 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I always wore long handles in winter times. When I was a soldier I wore them the most. I like wearing the thermal Henley shirts with a t over it. The bottoms that have caught on now as lounge wear are nice to wear around inside the house. I ride a motorcycle and they come into good use there too.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2016 at 8:44 am

    We call them “long johns” but I’m from WV. I think the native SC people call them thermal underwear.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 22, 2016 at 7:24 am

    It is long johns, mostly. Although, my Mom and Dad also use long underwear on occasion. Last week it got pretty cold up here and I wore my union suit to bed. My city wife called me Pa Ingalles! My daughter calls my long john bottoms “Nutcracker pants” because she thinks they look like ballet tights.

  • Reply
    ray j , winburn
    January 22, 2016 at 7:24 am

    long johns, and long handles is what we call them, in fact i had to put mine on this morning its freezing rain, down here in hartsville sc. i remember back in 1973 Feb. on a friday it snowed all day and part of the next, we had about 3 feet, a lot for this part of south carolina,

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    January 22, 2016 at 4:32 am

    I missed your email yesterday too! Here in East Tennessee we had two inches of snow. All I’ve ever heard them called is long johns. Hope I can get an email today!
    Carol R.
    East Tennessee

  • Reply
    January 22, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Tipper, I haven’t been getting your blog for three or four days now. I tried to resubscribe, but they say I’ve already done it. I’ve been going on line to pull it up each day. I noticed that a couple of other people have also had problems. Anything I should do to make this work again?

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Long Handles is what we are use to calling them, and they do come in handy only if your gonna be out in the weather a long time, and believe me I’ve been out a long time in bad weather, 24 to 36 hrs in extreme weather, and that’s the only time I wear them, they burn me up other wise…

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    My parents and their families called them ‘long hannels’. I’m familiar with all the above, though not intimately.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    January 21, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Didn’t get the post today and went to the end of the one for yesterday and clicked on the end of it and found it. We had about 5 inches of snow here and was really “ooshie” this morning. Wish someone else had it.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I mostly heard long johns growing up. Now I hear mostly thermals. I have heard BVDs and flannels.
    I can’t stand them now. I don’t even wear long sleeved shirts. If it gets down to freezing I might wear a jacket. I’ve had people ask me if I don’t have a coat. I tell them “Yes, but I didn’t want to wake up the dog.” I told one lady the 2nd amendment to the Constitution guaranteed my right to “bare arms.”

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 21, 2016 at 11:19 am

    A brief history of the Red Union suit can be found on “Wilderness Woolies” website…manufacture of
    long johns, union suits and other outdoor gear…
    I found that the Union suit is called a Union jack in Great Briton…interesting history…
    After reading this I also remembered my Dad…who worked outside so much in the winter wearing his long handles many a day and had several pair of them…It was one of my Mothers favorite gifts to him at Christmas…especially if she could find the red ones. “No wool”, he would say, find me some cotton!”…As he said the wool itched him to death…and he had enough of that growing up on the farm in winter….
    I remember one extremely cold night when he came in from work. He about froze to death all day. He said that (we will call him “Goober”) he could actually work along side “Goober” that day fer it was so cold Goober’s outside britches froze and kept the stink of his long handles out of the air! ha Goober, was not prone to warsh his long handles. He wasn’t married and Dad said he probably only had one pair…but thought he could at least warsh them on the weekends…ha
    Mom would always tease Dad about putting on clean long handles later in life after his comment. She would say, ” ’cause people will think you’re Goober when you’re working!”…
    I never owned any winter long handles when we were children…We usually layers pants, sweaters, etc. My Mother got my brothers long handles…actually (thermal underwear), when they begin fishing in the winter around junior high school.
    We all had thermal underwear here when our kids were growing up…since we loved to fish in the cold early Spring…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….I know this was long…like those long handles….ha But, it is funny how memories come rolling back from the past…

  • Reply
    Pat Shumway
    January 21, 2016 at 10:15 am

    When I was a teenager, I had a yellow “Dr. Denton” with a drop seat. I once wore it to a slumber party and really stood out in a room full of pretty pastel baby doll nighties! A friend of my parents sewed artificial flowers on white long underwear and went to a Halloween party as a bloomin’ idiot !

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Long Johns. I used to wear them top and bottom (separate pieces, not a Union suit) when I worked in the woods all day, but now I just wear flannel-lined dungarees and a cotton t-shirt as a undershirt when I do the barn chores, and the t-shirt is soaked with sweat when I come in. I went from cold-blooded to “easily overheated”!

  • Reply
    Grandma Cate
    January 21, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Taking after Mom, I call ’em long johns, or long-handled underwear. Full body coverings are unionsuits. I wear them under slacks all winter.
    There are also leggings designed to be seen, not underwear. I was sent home from school for wearing “pants” to school when they were actually white wool leggings with silk linings to keep me warm walking to school! Mom being from SW Va pitched a hissy-fit as you can imagine.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 21, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Long Johns is what I’ve heard them called, also union suit. Think I’ve also heard underalls. I’m with you Tip, I don’t like to wear them, they are too itchy and get tangled with my clothes.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 21, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I’ve heard every one of them but I’ve always called them long johns.
    If I’m going to be outside on a really cold day I’ll wear them but I really can’t stand to wear them. They are too confining and like you they make me itch something awful. I get that dry winter skin anyway and those things jut make it worse. I must say though that there were days when I wished I had them on and would’ve given a hundred dollars for a pair. How much snow did y’all get in Brasstown? We only got a dusting here.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Those can be itchy. Leggings work just great, and work fine under jeans outside when you have to peel off that extra layer inside. Never could get long handles nor gloves on my grandson–he would have none of that.

  • Reply
    Glynn Harris
    January 21, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Union suit…..long handles…..long Johns. That’s what I grew up calling them in Louisiana.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 21, 2016 at 7:36 am

    My daddy always wore long johns. Back when I was little, I did too. You had to in the Wintertime to keep from freezing to death. But I seldom use a Coat anymore, just an insulated long sleeved shirt.
    Today, I didn’t receive a Blind Pig e-mail. I had to bring up yesterday’s blog and look under “Recent Posts” and click to get it. …Ken

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    January 21, 2016 at 5:45 am

    My grandpa (born 1900) used to always call them long handles and so did my dad. I tend to call them long johns. I wonder where the name “long handles” comes from?

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