drawers, trap doors & other unmentionables

Feb 1, 2021 | 7 comments

Women’s Underdrawers – l. knitted silk 1810-1820; r. lawn,1820

A reference in yesterday’s Daybook entry prompted this comment from Cate:  “Ok, What exactly are “papa’s under drawers”?  I have to admit this sounds a little unsavory.”

Really?  I thought everybody knew what “underdrawers” were.  But maybe you had to grow up around older people of a few generations back.  Especially older people with a country background.  I think today we would simply call underdrawers “long underwear” — a one-piece, long-sleeved garment that buttoned down the front and had a “trap door” behind.  I seem to remember that my grandfather’s had a fly in front, but maybe they just buttoned clear to the crotch.  It wasn’t something a little girl would take note of and I only saw them on the clothesline on washday.

From the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog

From the 1902 Sears Roebuck Catalog

I think  underdrawers were also known as “union suits.”  By whatever name, they were apparently first created in the 19th century for women in an effort to replace more constricting undergarments such as corsets.  They were comfortable and soon became popular among men, as well.  I associate them with winter and cold weather.  I know that my grandmother wore silk bloomers when she was a girl — I still have the pair that was part of her 1897 wedding trousseau.  I imagine that her underwear evolved from from that time until her death in 1954.  I’m not so sure about Papa’s.

All of this made me wonder why I was familiar with the term “underdrawers” and Cate was not.  And it made me wonder what my dear Granny (or even Papa) would have thought about bikini briefs and thongs.  The mind boggles…

7 Comments

  1. Starla Gable

    They would have posed the same question Cate did…”What exactly is a thong…are we talking flip flop or…?”

    Reply
    • sydney

      Starla, do you think they would have known the term “flip flop”? (Maybe as related to making flapjacks?)

      Reply
  2. Dierdre Duewel

    The popular term now is “thermal underwear” available for women and men from numerous purveyors like L. L. Bean, Walmart, Amazon, etc.

    Reply
    • sydney

      Dierdre, Yes… But don’t you think “underdrawers” sounds so much more old-fashioned? Just has a better ring to it than “thermals” — lol!!

      Reply
  3. Bill Grennan

    I remember wearing them in the winter as a small child. Felt a wee bit scratchy, as I recall

    Reply
    • sydney

      Bill, I’ve heard that in “the olden days” — probably the 1800s — kids were sewn into their long underwear for the winter. Made of wool, and often damp from the weather, they were indeed “itchy” and a bit smelly, too, according to Patricia Beatty who wrote “The Nickle Plated Beauty” about this area in the 1880s.

      Reply
  4. Bill

    Sydney, a flip flop would have been a pancake that missed the pan while flipping

    Reply

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