UNION SUIT EMERGES Quest for comfort revives, updates an old favorite


Like most articles of fashion, the union suit -- you do remember the union suit, don't you? -- has undergone an evolution over the decades.

The union suit of the 1880s, when it was invented, was a one-piece men's or boys' underwear made by uniting the undershirt to the drawers. Sleeves and legs could be long or short. It was basic underwear, complete with drop seat.

By 1940, the union had been divided and conquered by separate undershirts and boxer shorts, and it joined the endangered list.

Now, 1992: The union suit has been reborn, emerging as a Mallwalker suit in bossy patterns like black-and-white Holstein spots.

Crusty old pioneers would roll in laughter over the sight of Dan Turk's latest collection for Charles Goodnight Co. Mr. Turk, designer and president of the New York-based company, has resurrected the union suit, but he's given it a humorous twist. Instead of the standard gray or parchment shades worn in decades past, Mr. Turk has combined the elements of the union suit -- the drop seat, underwear styling and the flannel or knit fabric -- with contemporary prints to fast-forward for spring '92. Instead of a drop seat, the Mallwalker has a trap door -- a wrap-and-button version for quick escape.

"It can be worn anywhere you're comfortable wearing it," says Mr. Turk, a Detroit native. "It was intended as lounge wear, but I think the teens will find some creative ways to work it into their wardrobes. I can see it being worn under athletic shorts, like the way kids wear bicycle shorts under cutoffs or boxers."

Mr. Turk says he was inspired to create the Mallwalker by watching people strolling in the malls.

"I think it's the kind of thing these people would like to go home and put on," he says.

Those old pioneers probably would croak at the price of this '90s underwear -- $42 for the short-legs version and $50 for the long. It is available in major department stores such as Macy's, Weinstocks and Nordstrom.

Joe Boxer, a line of underwear and pajamas designed by Nicholas Graham, has had tremendous success with its lounge wear. The collection has been expanded to include Joe Boxer Girlfriend, pajamas and robes for women with Mr. Graham's same humorous treatment of prints that made him so successful in the men's underwear category.

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