Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hung Out To Dry – Part One

Ever hear of National Clothesline Week? Well, neither had I until this observance was featured recently on a television new's report. Apparently there is a nation wide movement to encourage folks to save energy by hanging their freshly washed clothes outside and to quit using dryers for a week each year. The first week in June has been designated for this purpose. If you missed this years hanging like I did there is always next year.

Just like most of our moms and grandmothers did in days gone by, activists want us to hang our wet, dripping clothes outside. If saving energy is our national goal then this makes sense. Perhaps it should be adhered to more often than one week per year. My mom didn't have a clothes dryer until after I left for college. Like millions of other mothers, she diligently hung out our jeans and shirts, socks and sheets on the clothesline to dry.

Following is an article out of Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, dated June 7, 2015, which I ran across this week. Hopefully, the Historical Society there won't mind me reprinting a portion of their informative report.

This is International Clothesline Week. It celebrates a free and easy way to dry clothes naturally, right in our own backyards. Clothesline protocol however has mostly passed out of existence and that might be a good thing. A mere 50 years ago neighbors knew a lot about one another and judged each other by the way the wash was presented. Monday was wash day. Anybody who didn't know that was pretty dense....

Clothes were always hung by color, never haphazardly. Sheets were always on the outer lines thus guarding the families' unmentionables, though it was hard to understand why Grandpa’s woolen long johns were always visible. He wore those woolen things winter and summer. They kept him warm in winter and he said they soaked up sweat in summer and kept him cool. Kids who ran around in shorts and tank tops never believed it. For some reason long johns weren’t as unmentionable as other underwear, but perhaps by the 1950s, it was only the old coots who knew much about the things often called 'union suits' ….

Grandpa's Long Red Woolen Underwear
Hung Out with the Rest of the Laundry
Protocols differed throughout the country and, of course, women had to make do with what they had. Our pioneer ancestors spread wet clothing on bushes or lines that were strung from tree to tree and then taken down when the wash was dry.

"Lines sagging with the weight of sheets and work clothes were held up with clothesline poles placed in the middle of each line. Today, neighborhood covenants often prohibit clotheslines and outdoor drying, or allow retractable lines only. In a society where "green" is "in" and solar power is big, clotheslines are not. Who knows? In years to come, National Clothesline Week could be a real celebration!”

Well, mom didn't have to hang our wet clothes on bushes or on a rope strung from tree to tree. She had a “real” clothesline of metal poles with four long wires strung between them. And, she didn't bother with hanging our unmentionables behind bed sheets. No, our underwear was hung along side all the other clothes with no thought as to what the neighbors might see or think.

This never seemed to be a problem until I got my first union suit at the age of fourteen. We lived next door to two teenage girls, one of whom I was smitten with. Those young ladies never seemed to notice my underwear until mom started hanging out that dang union suit. Before then, they didn't give a second thought as to my brothers' and my two piece long johns or our printed boxer shorts when displayed out on the clothesline. Or if they did, we didn't know. But did they ever enjoy giving me fits over my union suit.

Even thought their daddy wore union suits, those girls loved to point at my long button-down underwear and hoot and holler over our fence. This whenever they saw my union suits flapping in the wind especially while I was out in the yard tossing around a football or doing a little late autumn yard work. At first, my face would turn a bright crimson and I would run for the house taking refuge indoors. I could have hidden inside during every wash day but was just stubborn enough not to do that. No girls were going to push me around! When I complained to mom about their incessant chiding suggesting that maybe she could hang my union suits up in the bathroom to dry, she refused and simply said, “Just ignore them, Christopher.” And, for her that was that. But ignoring those girls was difficult.

After several fall and winter seasons, the girls finally grew tired of picking on me. Apparently, even union suits lose their comedic appeal. And I got over my embarrassment, enough so that I began dating the younger of those neighbor girls. From time to time she would bring up that sore subject by inquiring, “Chris, are you wearing that silly winter underwear?” or “Did you remember to button your flap?” or "Did your mommy iron your long johns for you this morning?" Stuff like that. I loved that girl anyway. We separated later though when we went off to different colleges. We saw very little of each other after that. Now and again, I wonder about that girl and whether she married a union suit wearing man. My wife certainly did.

Surprisingly, you can find dozens of photographs of union suits hanging out on clotheslines across America. Why would so many people take pictures of their long one-piece underwear without anyone in them? Oh well, here are a few of my favorite photos.


Added July 15, 2018:
Some guys hang up their Union Suits inside...

For example, Coach Wentz of Silver Spring, Md tells me that he hangs his long underwear inside to dry as he has no exterior clothes line where he lives....


  1. Washing lines are still very common over here in the UK, and whilst we English are very reserved about our underwear - we never talk about it - we have no qualms about letting it be seen on the lines. My long johns have caused a bit of joshing, but they are becoming more common over here, and their warmth cannot be beaten! Great post as always.

  2. Malcolm: such a pleasure to hear from one of my British friends. Thanks for checking in and please keep in touch, Chris

  3. Luke of Atlanta emailed me: "great pics of the hanging union suits in your latest posting. I thought it so funny about your episodes with the girls next door and your little brother manipulating your union suits! I especially liked the pic of the little kids gathering wood with their daddy with his long underwear hanging out to dry. Thanks!"

    Thanks, Luke. Happy to hear from you! I wish I had a photo of of my brother in his union suit to share. Maybe one of these days as he, like me, wears unions to this day ....Chris

  4. This from Stan the Man: I wear a union suit every day from mid October and wear them thru the month of April. At least that is my commitment to myself. I didn’t realize how many men are actually wearing union suits these days – all of my neighbors did in the 40’s and I could see their union suits, short and long sleeve, hanging on the clothes line in back of the houses on either side of ours in Indiana. My grandfather always wore union suits as did most of his friends who were farmers as well. At church on Sundays, you could see the ankles of their unions suits through their dress socks when they crossed their legs in the church pew.

  5. My funniest story about union suits and church: When I was about 16, I knelt at the alter to take communion. My pant legs cropped up as I was kneeling showing about six inches of my white union suit cuffs. Everyone on the first and probably second row could see my underwear poking out. Embarrassing then but funny now.