The invention of the Long John is credited to one John Smedley of Matlock, England. Smedley manufactured clothing at his Lea Mills in the late 18th century. During WWII, American G.I.s sported Long Johns, to some dismay, as documented in the Wisconsin Rapid in 1944.
“Many a rookie has been ridiculed and laughed at the first time he swallowed his pride and donned his LONG JOHNS. They are the winter underwear issued by the Army, and have the disturbing effect of making a G.I. look like a scarecrow trapeze artist. It might be added that they itch but good! After a soldier finally gets into his LONG JOHNS, he invariably swells his chest, flexes his biceps and struts around the barracks like a John L. Sullivan (pictured here), after whom these practical if not slightly garments have been named.”
Fast forward to the winter of 1981 and a frozen suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where an 11-year-old boy loved to play winter boot hockey. While he relished playing his sport outdoors, even in the frigid temperatures, he hated the Long Johns his mother forced him to wear.
This obnoxious extra layer of clothing made the boy hot and was bulky and constantly bunching up at his knees. One pair of scissors and two cuts later, these boys’ Long Johns had now become Short Johns. His mother approved of the boy’s modified Long Johns, so long as he pulled his socks up to his knees. This compromise between mother and son, now 40 years later, has led to the evolution and official birth of Sir Short John.