The Surprisingly Complex (And Suitably Weird) History of Footie Pajamas and Onesies

Looking at the origin of onesies and footie pajamas of youth.

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If there’s one de facto uniform of youth, it’s the onesie. You know: footie pajamas, Dr. Dentons, blanket sleepers. Whatever they’re called in your particular regional diction, the one-piece outfit will undoubtedly find its way into your parenting life. You’ll struggle with slipping your kids’ fidgety limbs into it and curse them for locking in crap-filled diapers and you’ll probably cram your toddlers into them for photographs or because you really like the old-timey droopy hat and onesie look. Hell, you might even cram yourself into an adult-sized, animal-themed onesie for Halloween or because you and your partner want to get weird in the bedroom. We’re not here to judge.

All we’re saying is that the onesie is a pretty ubiquitous staple of the parenting world. And, well, the garment has a long and storied history. Everyone from industrial workers to world leaders has, at one time, worn some variation of the one-piece getup before it made its way into your kids’ closet. For your reading pleasure, here’s a brief history.

How’d The Onesie & Footie Pajama Start?

Some trace the evolution of footie pajamas back to the 1400s. But most cite the late 19th century as the first time period in which footed, one-piece sleeping garments were made. They were called “union suits”, and were basically a type of one-piece long underwear, originally created in Utica, New York. The suits were initially designed as women’s wear, but they quickly gained popularity among men who wanted extra layers in cold weather. Traditionally, they were made of red flannel, buttoned up the front, and had a flap covering the rear. At the time, some popular names for that ass flap included: “access hatch”, “drop seat”, “fireman’s flap” and “bum flap”.

Just What The Doctor Ordered

In the 1940s, union suits transitioned into “long johns”, which were similarly-styled swimming trunks, named after their most famous wearer, heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan. In the 1950s, the style became popular in the form of children’s “night drawers” or “blanket sleepers”, which adopted many of the garment’s most popular features, including closed feet, toe caps, skid-resistant soles, and cuffs. A man named Wiley Denton — an employee of the Michigan Central Woolen Company — created the first mass-produced footie pajama, which was sold under the name “Dr. Denton’s blanket sleepers”. The appellation of “Doctor” was a marketing gimmick, added to give the impression that the garments were created and endorsed by a medical doctor. Sneaky, sneaky.

Ready for Bed

The original ad for Dr. Denton’s blanket sleepers touted the garment’s many advantages over traditional PJs. Specifically promoted was the “hygienic fabric, knit from special yarn spun in our own mills from unbleached cotton, with some soft wool.” Made for children up to 14 years old, the garments were a hit a sold in more than 3,500 stores.

Zip It Up

Because the zipper wasn’t invented until the early 20th century, most of Dr. Denton’s blanket sleepers featured button closures, which fastened the front opening and rear flap. The purpose of the zipper was to keep babies and young children from undressing during the night. When the zipper was first added, it ran lengthwise from the neck to the left ankle. The style later evolved to feature the more common “up-and-down” zipper along the front of the garment.

Winston Churchill – The OG Onesie-Wearer?

During wartime, Winston Churchill was known to wear a “siren suit”, a traditional onesie minus the footies, but fully-zippable. Churchill favored the onesie for its comfort and warmth, and was known to wear it over his clothing for nighttime air raids. In 2002, someone purchased his original suit for almost $39,000.

Onesies: Not Just For Kids

In 1998, a company called JumpinJammerz began manufacturing adult-sized footie pajamas, which were originally meant to be a costume gimmick for founder Steve Pandi’s rock band. The popularity increased, and the adult onesies began appearing on shows such as Mad TV and CSI and were even worn by some attendees of the 2007 Academy Awards. Ryan Gosling even endorsed the garment — and the company, specifically — on The Ellen Show, when he showed up wearing a pair, and declared that he “did it to make [them] popular, so [he] could wear them out, and not feel like an idiot.”

Sci-Fi? Or Sci-Fact?

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: in 1972, author Geoffrey Hoyle published a children’s book called 2010: Living In the Future. In it, he described the “uniform” of the future as a jumpsuit-style onesie, similar to footed PJs. While the patterns varied, the basic garment style was adopted by just about everyone, which turned out to be mildly prophetic, considering celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Macklemore have been spotted wearing, uh, “fashionable” variations.

The Onesie To Rule Them All

Today, footie pajamas remain a mainstay in both popular culture and parenting. And the comfy clothes don’t seem to be going anywhere, as the garment is often included in annual lists of best-selling baby gear. Whatever the case, we’re happy to see this piece of ubiquitous kids clothing stand the test of time. ids clothing

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