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Memories of red long johns

Posted November. 30, 2013 08:38,   


More than 300 youths clad in red long johns made surprise appearance at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul Friday afternoon. They danced and sweated to the rhythm of the theme song for the “Incheon Asian Games 2014” for an hour. It was a flash mob staged by students from Seoul Arts College to promote the aim of holding the Incheon Asian Games as a low-carbon, eco-friendly event. Long johns, which was demoted from a high-end gift in the 1960s to an object with an inelegant image, has regained its stature as a symbol of energy saving, eco-friendliness, and love of the Earth these days.

As the standard of living improved, long johns lost its popularity. If one wears long johns, it causes the trouser to protrude in the knee section to spoil fashion style. Perhaps memories of poverty from the era when people could not afford adequate heating would also have added to its inconvenience. However, there are many different long johns products that are produced as thin as stocking these days, because they are made of superfine fiber textile. A woman’s apparel maker introduced sexy stylish long johns, whose arm and collarbone sections are decorated with see-through laces.

The clothing business where competition is most intense over long johns is the outdoor apparels segment. Long johns are an essential item for manias of winter sports, including mountain hiking, skiing and snowboarding that require robust physical activities, because they offer strong moisture absorption and fast drying effect. Seamlessly knitted long johns that come with fewer sewing lines to boost the sense of comfort are reportedly being highly sought after. Sales of winter products are significantly affected by temperature variations. Sales of mufflers reportedly soar at temperatures between 1 – 5 degrees Celsius, down padding jackets at temperatures below that level, mittens at minus 10 degrees Celsius, and long johns at minus 15 degrees Celsius or lower. A survey found that more than 70 percent of Koreans wore long johns during last year’s winter.

The situation was quite different up until 20 to 30 years ago. Long johns sales reached peak during the employee recruitment period irrespective of weather conditions. It was a prevailing practice that when a person received his or her first salary after employment, he or she would buy red long johns to the parents as gifts. It is believed that red color looked warm and symbolized wealth and health since ancient times. Though it was merely a set of long johns, it meant the son or daughter’s self-reliance and filial piety for their parents, and was something like an order of merit for the parents who were honored for growing the child well and successfully. Any parents who had a chance to receive long johns as gift from their children would naturally remember that ill-styled long johns from that period were far warmer than highly functional, stylish long johns of today.

Editorial writer Heo Seung-ho (tigera@donga.com)