The Obsolete Pattern: Re-creating a 1930s Men’s Union Suit
As a fan of vintage patterns, I am especially drawn to styles that are no longer (or rarely) worn today: garments like smoking jackets, painters’ smocks, ladies’ bed jackets, and formal gloves. On eBay recently, I purchased a vintage men’s pattern lot that included a pattern for a men’s union suit, Simplicity 1335 (in my size no less), which dates from the early-to-mid 1930s.
A rare find
Notice the NRA eagle in the lower left-hand corner symbolizing FDR’s National Recovery Administration, founded in 1933—and declared unconstitutional two years later. Simplicity 1335 is a rare pattern, although the union suit itself was ubiquitous in the early decades of the 20th century. It was popularized in advertisements by such well-known menswear manufacturers as BVD, Munsingwear, and Hanes. The word union refers to the combination of top and bottom into a single garment; in the United Kingdom, this undergarment style was known as a combination.
I own two vintage original union suits, also eBay purchases. Both garments are made of a finely woven cotton called nainsook, which is similar to a lightweight muslin or dimity. These were intended as summer undergarments: The lack of a waistband was thought to provide less bulk and more freedom of movement. Wool-blend union suits with long sleeves and long legs are what we call long johns and are still worn today for warmth in cold climates.
The summer union suit combines a sleeveless top with boxer-style shorts. Generally, the neckline and plackets are finished with attached facings. The armholes are finished with narrow facings or self-fabric.