Boxer John L. Sullivan.
Longjohns get a bad rap in our culture—I sense that people mostly think of them as goofy-looking and unnecessary, the kind of thing worn by men too old for vanity or shame.
But this Christmas, I got a pair of longjohns that changed my life. I live in Montreal, which is extremely cold in the winter. It’s so cold that Montrealers have built an entire underground city, composed of trains and tunnels and shopping malls, so they never have to go outside. On the days when it’s minus thirty with the wind-chill, I marvel bitterly at the indigenous people and French explorers who thought it was a decent idea to try and live here. Right through December, I had been suffering through long treks to the library, or to my neighbourhood bar, which is actually a twenty-minute walk away. My whole body would fill with this intense, organ-rattling cold that seemed to augur imminent death.
Enter the longjohns. (The etymology of the word is unclear, but it might be traceable to the late-19th century boxer John L. Sullivan, who fought in long underwear.) “Longjohns” actually seems like too folksy a word for what I’m talking about: my aunt Caroline, to her eternal credit, bought me a pair of high-tech Mountain Equipment Co-op thermal underwear for Christmas. These things are serious. They’re made of “Polartec® Power Dry®” material and are stitched together with a “bi-component knit,” according to the MEC website. They have ridges of fluffy grey synthetic stuff on the inside—this is the “voided grid construction,” I’m guessing. What this means in practice is that they are really fucking warm.
I wear my thermals everywhere now. And guess what? Montreal doesn’t seem so cold anymore. It turns out that what I thought of as this city’s all-permeating, invincible, bone-infecting coldness was really just chilly legs. Now not wearing longjohns seems insane to me. Most people wear about four layers on their torsos in the winter, or Arctic-quality, duvet-like Canada Goose things. Somehow these people think one layer of denim or corduroy will suffice for their legs. Why? Legs are flesh and bone too. If you prick them, do they not bleed?