Appalachian Dialect

Long Johns

ice cold

long handles, long handled drawers, long handled underwear noun Underwear with long legs and sleeves, worn esp by children.
1954 GSMNP-19:16 yeah, he had on some long handles, underwear. 1966 DARE long handles (Brasstown NC, Burnsville NC, Spruce Pine NC, Gatlingburg TN). 1981 Whitener Folk-ways 53 Knitting mills and department stores indicate that their sales of long handled drawers are up 200 per cent or more over last year’s sales, with demand exceeding supply in many parts of the country. ibid. 54 Of course, modern long handles are a far cry from those of by gone days. They have been prettified, thermofied, and advertised until they have achieved social acceptance. 1997 Montgomery Coll. long handles (known to ten consultants).

Long johns noun
1968 DARE = a child’s stilts (Brasstown NC).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

I think I’ve heard more about long johns this winter than any in my entire life.

Our winter hasn’t been drastically colder, but the girls haven’t had much if any heat at work. It’s a large concrete building so the inside stays pretty cool year round and in the middle of winter well you could hang meat in there!

The morning rush of heading off to work is now encumbered by trying to find a pair of long johns to wear and a pair of pants big enough to fit over the long johns 🙂

We call them long johns although I have heard long handles my whole life. What do you call them?


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 10, 2021 at 10:07 pm

    I just looked at the clock and it’s 10 PM. I looked at the thermometer and it said 49.8ºF. That’s a heat wave! I don’t know how to act!

  • Reply
    Gaye Blaine
    February 10, 2021 at 8:34 pm

    Long handles is what I grew up hearing. Our house was not warm by any stretch of imagination in the winter except near the wood stove. I wore my brother’s outgrown long handles under my dress with the legs cut shorter. Wore long brown stockings all winter till midApril. Flannel petticoat made by mama also over long handles. Then a long sleeved sweater over that. Now I think cold is 60 inside the house. All depends on your perspective I reckon.

  • Reply
    Donna W.
    February 10, 2021 at 8:15 pm

    I call mine thermal underwear. From November through February you’ll find me wearing them, not only outside, but all day long in the house. Saves on the heat bill, don’t you know.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 10, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    I used to work in a sub zero freezer and wore only blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt. I did have a Refrigiwear jacket I wore if I was going to stay for any length of time. It was so cold we couldn’t write with pens. The ink would freeze. We had to use pencils.
    But that was then. I don’t wear long johns now. Like Miss Cindy I add layers of insulated walls between me and the cold. Brrrrrrrrrrr!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    I heard them called both long johns and long handles and sometimes long handled underwear.

    We were living in Arizona and my father-in-law died in January in North Carolina. It was 85 degrees when we left Phoenix and 11 degrees when we landed in Atlanta. I took my carryon to the bathroom and put my long johns on for the drive to NC.

    I don’t even have a pair now but my wife dresses in several layers. Sometimes in late Spring or early Summer people will ask her, “Why are you losing weight? Have you been sick?” The answer is, “No I just took off two layers.”

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 11:04 am

    LOL, This older lady is wearing Long Johns right now. I remember my granddaddy and daddy being cold natured and so am I. It seems once I passed 65 and the temperature dropped below 50, I had to find some long johns. Of course, they have those cuddly duddly type in the stores and I have a pair but they don’t keep me warm. I use men’s cotton waffle. Don’t even know if you can buy them anymore but they are wonderful.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 10:39 am

    As a young boy, my son Jon had an older neighbor friend named Johnny. Big Johnny passed his out grown clothes down to Little Jon. It the winter both boys wore long johns as pajamas, Little Jon’s having come from Big Johnny.Big Johnny’s mom gave birth to another boy and they named him Alec. One night while Little Jon was getting ready for bed he asked if we would give his long johns back for Alec to wear. When I said yes he then asked me, “Mommy will they be called long Alec’s then.”

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    February 10, 2021 at 10:31 am

    Wore them as a child. Not much use for them in Hawaii…

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    February 10, 2021 at 9:39 am

    My daddy wore long handles. Our log house he built in the early 1930’s of pine logs cut on the farm was cold and he was outside most of the time. I wore them too in grade school under my dresses as well as an undershirt. Now it’s called dressing in layers. I always wore a dress (1950’s) but in the cold wore corduroy pants under my dress. Daddy called me “Whistle Britches”. For you who don’t know, that’s the sound of corduroy when walking or running. When a classmate moved to Fl after 1st grade and returns in 3rd grade she remembered me saying that I was the girl who wore red dresses and underwear with a flap in the back!
    When I did soap making and old time laundry activities at Townsend festivals and other places in the Smokies and in Tn I first heard it said that long underwear was put on at the first of winter and worn “until the blue flags (bearded iris) bloomed”. Also for some that was the time to finally take a bath after a long winter. I used a clothesline as background to my demonstrations with vintage clothing and my “signature” red or white long johns hanging in the center of the line. They brought many stories and conversations.
    I agree with the comments about wearing more clothes to keep warm instead of turning up the heat. It’s just plain common sense to me. Keep warm!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 9:14 am

    It was impossible to heat the half mile long buildings where I worked. Huge overhead doors remained open all day as the planes landed just feet away. Some employees tried to wear ski suits but the fast paced work required moving more than the bulky clothing would allow. The only other option was to wear long handle underwear, or sometimes two pairs, and hope to find a pair of pants big enough to fit over them.

  • Reply
    Alvin Meeks
    February 10, 2021 at 8:50 am

    A opinion of a ole fool, i remember in my youth wearing long handles in winter, sadly the modern ones at least to me not as warm as the old ones. Reckon just done got old.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 8:43 am

    This goes along with the comment by Harry. We all live or did live Greenville County, SC . One of my granddaddy farmed all of his life with a mule into the 60’s and both of my wife’s granddaddys farmed all of their lives. Mine would always wear a thick long sleeve cotton light colored work shirt in the summer. My wife’s grandparents did the same thing along with the other farmers that I knew. I have head my father in law say that his daddy would even wear an unlined overall jacket when using a cradle to cut wheat. They all said they would be cooler when these clothes got wet with sweat. I have noticed a lot of the Hispanic people that work outside in the summer heat will wear a light colored long sleeve shirt.
    They all would long johns or long handles in the winter. I have heard them called by both names

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 10, 2021 at 8:42 am

    As best I recall, I heard long handles and long johns about equally growing up with no lean toward one more than the other. I’m liable to say either with no preference because of circumstance.

    I wear them when out and about in temperatures below 30-degrees Fahrenheit. My former boss used to rib me about how many layers I had. I told him one day, “I’m not going to be cold on purpose.” I also found that in the work I did I could use my time to better purpose indoors if temperatures were in the 20’s and below. I could stand the weather but I would only get about half as much done.

    • Reply
      Larry Paul Eddings
      February 10, 2021 at 9:06 am

      We always called them long handles. They are a welcome item of clothing when the temperature gets down in the teens or single digits. We called the one piece version with the “trap door” a union suit.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 10, 2021 at 8:21 am

    My Grand Pa used to wear those full body long johns in the winter, back then they were very common.
    My solution to the bitter cold weather is to not go out in it! Guess that make me a sissy. I can live with that but I don’t do well with bitter cold weather!
    However I may add that the very weather we occasionally have is not enough to make me move to a warmer climate. I love these mountains, year round, hot or cold! This is home!

  • Reply
    harry adams
    February 10, 2021 at 7:54 am

    When I was around 16, I visited my grandfather by myself and sat with him for an afternoon. One question was how they survived the hot SC temperatures when plowing. He said they wore long johns that after they were wet with sweat they kept them cool. I have also heard the same said about the wool uniforms worn by the civil war soldiers.
    I am a firm believer in thermal underwear and have worn it during winter most of my adult life. I find it hard to understand people complaining about cold buildings when they could just dress more sensibly. I worked around hot glass furnaces where next to them was extremely hot and 10 feet away water would freeze in a bucket. Thermals protected against both extremes.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein (
    February 10, 2021 at 7:52 am

    I know fellers who put long johns (with the drop seat) on at Thanksgiving and wear them until EASTER. They claim to have red ones too. I’ve not seen them personally… lol… I say stay warm whatever you have to do. Fashion is highly overrated and somewhat ridiculous. A warm tushy is always in style ( privately of course.) I worked in a ladies clothing factory and it was very cold because the steam dummies shot steam to press the shirts and it went straight up, turned to rain and pelted your head. I worked like a dog never seeing daylight for 180$ a week take home pay…. that’s when I went to college… lol

  • Reply
    Kathye Holcombe
    February 10, 2021 at 7:45 am

    My parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression. My mother and father were children so they did what they had to. Not having long underwear my father and grandfather wore their pajamas under their work clothes. My husbands always called them long handles but I don’t know where he picked that up from. He told me the other day his mother was very strict about their speech so they wouldn’t sound ‘poor’. They weren’t but that was her perception.

  • Reply
    Tammy Howard
    February 10, 2021 at 7:11 am

    And we called them Long Johns!

  • Reply
    Tammy Howard
    February 10, 2021 at 7:10 am

    Love your comment! I enjoy this website so much! I’m 60 now and was raised in Kentucky. Lived there my whole life up until 2 years ago when I moved to Ohio to be nearer family. I can relate so much to a lot of the stories. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 10, 2021 at 6:37 am

    I did not realize that union suits were originally designed for women in New York. Men folk apparently “smartened up” enough to start wearing them at some point. I remember the old style having a buttoned “trap door” in the rear. I did not do enough reading to determine if that was included in the original design. My guess it was not not but evolved out of necessity over time?

  • Reply
    February 10, 2021 at 5:57 am

    Such a luxury to be able to throw on an extra layer to protect against the biting wind. I do remember long johns mostly seemed to be worn by men back in the day, because many jobs required being out in the weather. Also it was thought you had to wear a tea shirt from the first sign of Winter chill on up until after Easter. Going barefoot was also something you only did a few months. In my Mother’s large family they mostly only had shoes for Winter, and the rest of the time except for church they went barefooted. I do not think they were able to afford the long johns, and it was a good walk to school. I recall hearing “Two miles and six tenths.”
    My youngest Uncle passed a few days ago. With large families it was not uncommon to have uncles and aunts the same age as nieces and nephews. I will miss his stories of walking to school to build a fire in the pot bellied stove in his one room school. He was paid a small pittance by the school board for janitorial duties. Even though he had a warm house, his favorite thing was heading out to the garage to build a warm fire and restore an old Opel. I remember as a child I would help him turn and cook whole potatoes on top of their stove in the living room. As always we wish we had asked more questions.

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