Saturday, May 16, 2020

Buckeye Mike, Union Suit Fan, Joins the Conversation

Here’s my story, Chris. I grew up in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania. Actually my ancestors were the original Europeans to settle that area. While I’m sure it wasn’t as cold as northern Idaho, our winters were quite harsh. As a boy I lived one cow pasture away from my grandparents on my father’s side. My grandpa wore union suits all year long. Each wash day there were at least two of them hanging on the clothesline. Even at a young age I thought they looked really cool and I wanted to wear long underwear like his. I never knew my father to wear thermal underwear of any kind which I thought was odd because he didn’t like being cold. Instead, he would wear two pairs of carpenter jeans. I never thought wearing two pairs of pants were at all comfortable.

In 1958 when I started to grade school a lot of Pennsylvania men wore union suits back then as you can imagine. I don’t remember when I first began wearing two piece thermal underwear but I’m sure I was quite young. Our winters were indeed cold. We kids had to walk about a quarter mile to catch the school bus. However, unlike some poor unfortunates, we didn’t have to walk uphill both ways. The walk back home was downhill. Virtually all of us boys wore long underwear in the winter. Some of my schoolmates wore union suits. Since I had little say about the clothes I wore, there were no union suits in my underwear drawer. My mom bought all of our underwear.

Let me say here that I was a tall, gangly kid. At age 13, I stood 5’ 11 3/4” tall and weighed 142 lbs! The only clothes that fit me correctly were shoes, socks and tightey whiteys which I didn’t like then and still don’t to this day. But like I said I had little say about my clothes. However, I did manage to talk my mother into ordering me a union suit from the Sears catalog when I was in seventh grade. I was so excited when it came that I wore it to school the next day. Alas, like most other clothes, it didn’t fit me very well at all. It was woefully too short in the torso. I couldn’t wait to get home to take it off. Imagine my disappointment getting something I had wanted for as long as I could remember and then having it be so uncomfortable. Anybody who has put on a union suit that was too small for him knows what I’m talking about. Since I had asked for it I had to pretend to be wearing it but in fact I got almost no use from that first union suit. I went back to the two piece thermals.

My high school years were from 1966 to 1970. Nobody wore thermals at least not on the days we had phys ed. No, we were much too cool to wear anything as "old mannish" as long underwear!! I mean this was the swinging sixties after all. In retrospect, I think we were trying desperately not to look like the country bumpkins we actually were.

 For a short time I worked in the deep coal mines of Pennsylvania. Everyone wore thermal underwear. You had to in the 1970’s as it was too cold to work in the mines without them. A few guys wore union suits including my buddy, Francis, who was about my size. Before I could find out where he bought ones that actually fit, he quit the mines and I never saw him again.

After working in the mines I moved to Ohio. I worked for many years in the automotive business mostly in “parts and service” but also in auto salvage yards. This work was cold in the winter months with cars coming in and out of the garages. Massive amounts of cold air blew in with each garage door opening. I became increasingly frustrated with the two piece thermals. The shirts had a habit of pulling up and out of my drawers leaving me with a cold lower back. In 1978 or so, while perusing a local discount / closeout store, I discovered two union suits that appeared to be about my size. I decided to try them on. And miracle of miracles, when I pulled them on they fit very well. They were so comfortable I thought I had died and gone to underwear heaven. I bought a red one with white buttons and a navy one with red buttons. 

I immediately became a Union Suit Fan. I wore them day and night, all winter long. They were labeled “Sears Winter Skins.” I don’t know who really made them because Sears didn’t. They just put their name on them. If anyone reading "My Story" knows who made them I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. I would like very much like to buy a few more if they are still being made. They were a lot like Duofold Union Suits.

In the early 1990’s I found four athletic union suits (one button shoulder strap) on a close-out table at Sears. The fell just above my knee in length. I bought all of them, imagine that. I would purchase and wear them again if I could locate them.


Over the years, I have taken a lot of mostly good natured teasing for wearing union suits. But I have also had many guys ask me “where do you get those one piece long underwear?” I am only too willing to point them in the right direction. I know some of you guys say you wear your union suits from … to .... with the months of the year inserted. I wear mine as soon as it gets cold to as long as it is cold. Where I live it is only about 50 miles from Lake Erie so our weather can be quite unpredictable. It can go from balmy to frigid in a day's time or less and vice versus. So I just wear mine when it’s cold regardless of what the calendar says.


When I was that gangly kid I was very self conscious about my appearance and cared what people thought. Now I am way more comfortable in my own skin and also my “winter skin.” I don’t tuck my underwear into my socks and if they peek out under my pants or shirt sleeves, oh well. I just consider me wearing union suits as being an ambassador of comfort, and I am proud to be one.

There you have it, Chris. I wanted to be a writer when I was in school but my guidance counselor said “you might as well forget that.” Since I never was encouraged much when I was a kid I did as she said. Thank you for letting me share my story.


When Buckeye Mike of Canton, Ohio is not wearing his Union Suit, he races around in his Boxer Shorts. Thanks,  Buckeye, for sharing your story... Chris 






Added May 19, 2020 from Ben of Portland, OR:

Morning Chris, I remember this kid from one of your earlier posts. He wears red union suits like Buckeye Mike when he's in his garage working on his car. As soon as he kicks his pants off he'll be ready to get to work. LOL... Ben

Right you are, Ben... Chris


6 comments:

  1. Hey Nice Blog!! Thanks for Sharing!!! Wonderful blog & good post. I really enjoyed this article, waiting for a more, a new post. Keep Blogging... Itailorfr

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  2. Buckeye Mike looks like quite a character! Bet he'd be fun to sit down and have a beer with. Of course we would both be wearing our union suits. BTW he looks alot like Uncle Ubb in his underwear holding umbrella.. Tyler, Tulsa

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  3. Chris, I don't remember guys in their boxers being featured in your union suit blog. Maybe you should start? LOL. Ray (Quincy, Mass)

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  4. Thanks for the compliment Tyler. Being called a character sure beats being called a wallflower. Glad you liked my Uncle Ubb portrayal. Gotta have fun with it. I would welcome sitting down with you to shoot the breeze and naturally we would be buttoned up! Just can't say when I'll be in Tulsa.

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  6. I enjoyed this introduction to buckeyemike. As a union suit wearer myself it's always interesting to hear another man's story. You said you wanted to be a writer. Well you did a good job of it. Thanks.
    Rich

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