Why Americans Call Long Underwear Long Johns

Americans affectionately refer to long underwear as "long johns" due to a combination of historical origin and cultural nostalgia. The name stems from the 19th century when a renowned British boxer named John L. Sullivan popularized the style of long, one-piece undergarments during his rigorous training sessions. As word of his attire spread, it became synonymous with comfort, warmth, and resilience. Today, the term "long johns" evokes a sense of coziness, conjuring images of snowy landscapes and crackling fireplaces. It’s enduring use reflects an enduring American fondness for practical clothing imbued with a touch of history and tradition.

What Does Johns Mean Underwear?

Long underwear, commonly known as long johns or thermal underwear, refers to a unique style of two-piece undergarments specifically designed to provide extra warmth during chilly conditions. It’s distinct feature includes long legs and long sleeves, making it a popular choice during cold weather. Johns are typically made from insulating materials such as wool, cotton, or synthetic fabrics specially formulated to provide maximum comfort and insulation in freezing temperatures.

These specialized undergarments serve as a layer of protection against the biting cold, helping to retain body heat and prevent frostbite. They effectively trap and retain warmth close to the skin, acting as a barrier between the body and the harsh external environment. This added layer of insulation makes long johns a practical choice for individuals engaged in outdoor activities or those living in regions with frigid climates.

Johns are designed to be close-fitting, offering a snug and comfortable feel when worn beneath regular clothing. The form-fitting nature of these undergarments ensures that they don’t bunch up or restrict movement while providing optimal thermal insulation. They’re often worn by both men and women and come in various styles, colors, and designs to cater to individual preferences.

Their characteristic long legs and sleeves, coupled with the use of insulating materials, make them an effective choice for individuals seeking protection against extreme cold.

When it comes to winter attire in Canada, one essential item that often comes to mind is long underwear. Known as long johns, these thermal undergarments are donned by many Canadians during the colder months. However, determining whether the weather warrants their use can sometimes be a dilemma.

What Do Canadians Call Long Underwear?

In the Great White North, also known as Canada, a winter wardrobe essential often goes by a rather endearing name: the long john. This beloved garment, aptly named after the legendary American outlaw, is a type of thermal long underwear that most Canadians embrace when the chilly winter months roll in. With it’s snug fit and insulating properties, the long john provides an extra layer of warmth, making it a staple for those residing in colder regions, including the frosty city of Vancouver.

However, determining when it’s appropriate to don these fashion-forward undergarments can sometimes be a challenge. Vancouver, being situated on the west coast, experiences milder winters compared to other parts of Canada. As such, locals often find themselves grappling with the decision of whether or not to don their trusty long johns.

While frosty weather in Vancouver is relatively rare, there are occasions when Mother Nature decides to unleash her wintry wrath on the city. During these frigid episodes, the long john emerges from hibernation, adorning many Vancouverites who seek that extra layer of protection against the cold. Whether it’s a sudden blast of icy winds or a surprising dip in temperatures, wearing long johns is often a wise move for those looking to stay warm and cozy throughout the day.

On the other hand, Vancouvers climate can also hold pleasant surprises. There are times when the city experiences mild temperatures even during the winter months, resulting in locals feeling quite comfortable without the need for long johns. Such moments of respite allow Vancouverites to leave this quintessential winter attire behind, embracing lighter, more fashionable options that align with the moderate weather conditions.

The History and Origins of Long Johns in Canada

Long johns, also commonly known as long underwear or thermal underwear, have a long history in Canada. The origins of long johns can be traced back to the 19th century when they were first worn as a way to combat the harsh Canadian winters. They were primarily made from wool, which provided insulation and kept individuals warm in freezing temperatures. Over time, advancements in textile technology led to the creation of long johns made from other materials such as cotton and synthetic fabrics. Today, long johns are still widely used in Canada, particularly in outdoor activities or professions where staying warm is essential.

Source: Hilarious website informs Canadians daily if they need to wear …

Sullivan. However, some argue that the name actually comes from the long underwear worn by 19th-century American laborers known as “Long Johns.” Regardless of the true origin, long johns have become a staple in winter wardrobes around the world.

Where Did Long Johns Underwear Originate?

Sullivan. However, there’s no concrete evidence to support this claim. Another theory suggests that long johns were inspired by the attire worn by Norwegian lumberjacks, who needed warmth and flexibility while working in cold climates. These early versions were likely made from heavy wool or flannel.

The term “long johns” itself is believed to have originated from the name of a well-known American outlaw and moonshiner, John H. Long. During the late 1800s, Long gained notoriety for his criminal activities and was often portrayed in popular culture wearing full-body thermal undergarments. The association between Long and long johns soon became established, and the term stuck.

Evolution of Long Johns Throughout History

Long johns, also known as thermal underwear or long underwear, have evolved significantly throughout history. Initially, long johns were made from natural fibers like wool or cotton and were used primarily for insulation in cold weather. However, with advancements in textile technology, new materials like synthetic fibers and blends were introduced.

Over time, long johns incorporated features such as moisture-wicking properties, stretchability, and breathability for better comfort and performance. They also became lighter, more durable, and less bulky, allowing for ease of movement.

Furthermore, the design and style of long johns have evolved to cater to different needs and preferences. Today, there are various types available, ranging from traditional one-piece suits to two-piece sets with separate tops and bottoms. Additionally, long johns are now available in different colors, patterns, and styles to suit individual fashion choices.

With each evolution, long johns have become more functional, comfortable, and versatile, ensuring that wearers stay warm and cozy during cold weather activities. This progression highlights the constant innovation in the garment industry to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers.


In essence, the term "long jones" used by Americans to refer to long underwear encompasses a rich cultural history and societal norms that have shaped the linguistic landscape. It serves as a testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of language, as traditional terms like "long johns" were gradually modified to cater to regional dialects and preferences. Appreciating the evolution of this colloquial expression highlights the interconnectedness between language and the communities that employ it, while also shedding light on the historical significance of utilitarian garments in American society.