History of the Union Suit

What Is A Union Suit?

It's one piece underwear that combines the shirt and pants. It's used for warmth under clothing or as pajamas. It is often called a onesie for adults.

What Are Union Suit Pajamas?

Made for low maintenance people Union Suit Pajamas are pretty much da bomb as far as winter PJs go. They don't pull up when you're sleeping. You stay warm and cozy from neck to ankle AND when you roll out of bed in the morning you just throw on a skirt or some jeans and you're ready for the day. Plus Mod Unions™ don't have any fasteners making them extra delightful to sleep in (for those princess and the pea types) because there's no hard metal zipper head or plastic buttons digging into you while you are quietly slumbering. 

What Is The Origin Of The Union Suit?

My mental picture of the Union Suit contains a lone male cowboy in a red Union Suit with a butt flap. He's running after his horse or being chased by masked gunman. There is a dilapidated outhouse sitting in the dusty distance surrounded by tumbleweeds. He wears that red union suit for months until tattered, it fall in pieces from his body.

So, it came as an enormous surprise when I discovered that a woman had designed the Union Suit for FEMINISTS. I imagine it is a feeling akin to finding out your granny was a fighter jet pilot during WWII or that your favorite pair of high heel shoes was actually designed to help refugees from war hide their valuables and escape persecution. You get what I'm saying, right?

What Did Victorian Women Wear?

In the late 1800s upper and middle class women fashionable dress included corsets and other restrictive undergarments. 

victorian era hoop skirt, corset and bustle

Upper class women's fashion dictated coverage of their bodies with long trailing skirts that covered those very sexy ankles, bustles to keeps those skirts from dragging on the ground, layers of petticoats and steel rods that were heavy and limited physical activities so that men had to help women at every turn. Tight-lacing was practiced and believed to cause internal organ damage.

What Was The Rational Dress Movement?

Women activists fed up with this sort of dressing looked to reform women's fashion. They began by introducing bloomers to allow the shortening of trailing skirts (that picked up disgusting trash from sidewalks) but the fear of women becoming too much like men meant that women who wore bloomers in public were harassed. Trousers did become acceptable to wear but only during physical activities. 

The punishing nature of women's underwear was where reformers also looked for relief. As part of the Rational Dress Movement, the Union Suit was one of the first reform undergarments patented in 1868. It was promoted as the "Emancipation Union Under Flannel" and was designed to free women from their restrictive clothing.

women's underwear in the late 1800s
The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol II, Jan-Feb, probably 1888. Page 181. “Rational Dress” Underwear for Women.

The Emancipation Suit by Susan Taylor was a top and drawers joined together at the waist and endorsed by the New England Women's Club who were proponents of undergarment reform. 

Several alternative dress systems arose in the late 1800s using some form of the Union Suit as an undergarment.

It was worn mostly by feminists and eventually became so popular that men co-opted it into their wardrobes to wear under their clothing while they hunted, fished and rode horses. The lack of separation between the shirt and pants meant it retained body heat better than any other type of clothing.


Mod Unions™ are the ideal base layer for any situation, whether it's wandering off into the deep wilderness or hibernating in your cave.
old ads from 1900s for union suits mobile