More specifically, men’s underwear.
The problem: my hero is shot by my heroine. Oh, she has a good reason. He’s a marshal, and he’s after the man who raised her, the man she considers her godfather. While her ‘godfather’ might not be exactly innocent, he certainly doesn’t deserve to hang. And he’s just barely alive after being ambushed by bounty hunters. She has no option but to stop the marshal by any means possible, and that means a shootout in the street of a ghost town.
She aims for the leg and succeeds because he’s momentarily distracted, but Gideon’s Hope has only a few few residents, it’s up to her to help save his leg.
Thus the underwear problem. She has to take it – or part of it – off to treat the wound. Now I’ve read a lot about historical underwear but not specifically about 1876 men’s underwear. I put him in a union suit, but then I thought, oh, oh, maybe I’d better check.
Good thing I did. I spent a day wandering about internet “underwear” sites. I found a lot of contradictory information, but then I wandered onto “Vintage Skivvies.” It claimed that the Union Suit was invented by Horace Greeley Johnson, “The Edison of underwear,” in 1910. Or at least, that was when it was patented.
Despite western movies to the contrary, men’s underwear consisted of separate shirt and “drawers” during the 19th century. But they were uncomfortable, according to “Vintage Skivvies.” The double layer of cloth around the wearer’s midsection was bulky and the bottoms drooped. (Oops. We really don’t want droopy underwear on our heroes).
Still, it wasn’t until the 1900 , that clothiers tried to unite the two pieces. A one-piece union (so called for uniting the two pieces) suit seemed to be a solution.
However that too presented problems. As one salesman put it, “Some provision had to be developed so that the seat could be opened when the occasion demanded it.” The trapdoor was tried but the drop seat was hard to unbutton and even harder to rebutton (just think about it). Besides that, during laundering the hand-cranked wringers kept breaking off the buttons (not good). Next came the so-called open crotch type union suit, featuring strategically located button-less flaps. But it was criticized as a “humpty, lumpty, creasy, baggy proposition, chafing and cutting your nethers.”
Okay, now I realize this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about men’s underwear. However, a writer rejoices in these little tidbits, even if we never use them. We have an insatiable curiosity about everything, and it leads us into strange and mysterious places.
So I will continue with the story. Again according to “Vintage Skivvies,” Johnson worked in a clothier business. When his brainstorm struck, the solution was simple. His design featured two knit pieces that formed an overlapped X that could be drawn apart when required. (I keep trying to picture that, but I can’t). He called it the Klosed Krotch Union Suit (I truly love that name.). And it revolutionized the underwear market.
So I couldn’t use the Union Suit shown in many westerns, usually by minor characters for obvious reasons now. (I used to think those films were factually correct in such details. Ah, the disillusionment.)
Back to my problem. What would he be wearing? More research. Well, they were called drawers (I won’t bore you with the history of the name.) Could be long or thigh high, according to another source. And undershirts were separate. I’m not even going to try to guess how they often got bunched up at the middle.
And the material? Workmen usually wore wool. The army issued wool underwear, but in hot weather the soldiers would purchase cotton ones.
Other interesting tidbits found on this underwear discovery journey:
–In the 19th century women’s underwear was usually open between the legs but in the 20th century closed knickers replaced them.
–In 1913, Mary Crosby invented the bra. She used two handkerchiefs joined by ribbon. In 1915, lipstick was sold in tubes for the first time.
–Thousands of women died in the 19th century when their hoop skirts caught on fire (this doesn’t have anything to do with anything except trivia games).
— Women began wearing underwear so they wouldn’t expose themselves accidently while wearing hoops. In the 1850’s, when hoops once again came into vogue, they were lighter in weight than previous incarnations. Since women rarely wore any sort of underwear below the waist other than petticoats, a strong wind or clumsy trip could result in embarrassment.
So now you’re armed with a lot of rather bizarre trivia.
I decided to share all this with you because I wasted a whole day researching. I had to make use of it in some way, and you all are the unfortunate victims.
No telling what you’ll get next time I conduct a search.
Tips about underwear, anyone?