When you think of a one-piece outfit of any description today the aptly named ‘Onesie’ may spring to mind. To me it’s middle aged men and women parading down their local high-street at 3 am on a Saturday night dressed as some sort of scene from the Lion King or something along those lines. Stepping back, these modern day counterparts are a mere drop in a ocean in comparison to the rich history and design of these all-in-ones.
The roots of these suits came about almost 90 years before the use of synthetic materials and Velcro fastenings. The primary use was deemed as a form of leisure wear due to the ease, comfort and lack of restriction when taking long days and evenings in. From this point on, this multi-functioning suit was taken to by various individuals and adapted to suit each wearers needs. For mechanics, builders and service men etc. they offered a clean cut, simplistic alternative to bulky multi-layered alternatives.
From the 30s onward the overall design did not deviate far from its original camp. Additions of details and fabrics were experimented with in the decades to follow, finding itself as a staple item during the efforts of WWII civilians, armed forces and political figures. In fact, it was this image of Churchill that was the catalyst for this very post.
Named by him as the Siren suit (or the Romper suit, as it was known by his children as). A one-piece garment made from most typically wool or other materials available under clothing rationing. They could be bought ready-made or as a pattern from which they could be hand-made from. A design of the times – perfectly suited for use on the way to and when inside air-raid shelters, hence the name ‘Siren’ suit. The suit found that perfect balance between warmth and modesty when seeking shelter during nighttime air strikes.
The Prime minister (Sir Winston Churchill) of the time played a large part in popularising it as an item of clothing during the war and he had been documented wearing it on regular occasions and state visits with the likes of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and Stalin.
Churchill had several of these suits. The most commonly known was the pin-stripe version which he wore during the war years and then for portraits by Oscar Nemon and Frank O. Salisbury after the war in the 1950s. Another suit, made of bottle-green velvet, was created for him by Turnbull & Asser – which they now have on display in their London-based flag-ship.
Much like his ‘trademark’ cigar these pieces have built up quite a reputation with his grey wool suit (arguably the most iconic) selling in auction in 2002 for close to £30,000.
So next time you come across one of these suits you can understand the depth of history and the expanse of decades that it has survived through. It may be time to revive this item before the modern day onesie taints its credibility forever.
During the most recent Goodwood Revival weekend (See previous blog post on it) which I attended, I was able to wear a vintage example of this suit that I had picked up several months before. I too can see the ease of the garment whilst wearing it and also the way that it still keeps up appearances. Something I’ll be looking into for the Scott Fraser Collection potentially at some stage.