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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

Simplicity 1335 pattern

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.

Simplicity 1335 back of envelope
The back of the pattern envelope shows the main pieces for the union suit:  A, B, C, D, and E. (F and G constitute the neck facing.)

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.

Vintage Union Suit made of nainsook

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.

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  1. rmcalister77 | | #1

    Hi Peter, I just made the same union suit yesterday, but I’m finding that my back and seat of the suit is awfully baggy... While the front fits me just fine, the back has too much room. Is this how it is designed or what do you suggest I do to tailor fit it better?

    1. User avater
      Peter_Lappin | | #2

      One thing you might try is to adjust the button placement on piece "D" so that there's more overlap, resulting in a less baggy fit. The fit is definitely roomier than a standard pair of stretch underwear: remember that men wore MUCH fuller pants so there was more room for extra fabric. Hope that helps!

      1. rmcalister77 | | #3

        Thank you! I will give this a try!

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