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Winston Churchill: style icon and inventor of the ‘onesie’

Discover more about the ‘siren suit’, which bears resemblance to the infamous ‘onesie’, a practical one-piece item of clothing originally designed by Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War.

The British statesman had a variety of siren suits, which he referred to as ‘romper suits,’ including sombre, military-style suits, as well as more extravagant pin-striped and velvet versions. Its primary purpose was simply so Churchill could slip it over his clothes in the event of an air raid.

In Washington in 1943 to see President Roosevelt, Churchill wore his famous siren suit, which he delightedly displayed for American cameramen. Credit: © Illustrated London News Ltd.

There are only three original Winston Churchill siren suits known to be in existence, including a green velvet garment created by Turnbull & Asser. Churchill reportedly returned his siren suits to the Jermyn Street shirt-maker for repair on several occasions – damaged not through enemy action but by cigar burns.

It would seem that the former Prime Minister had developed something of a penchant for the outfit, opting to sport it for the most formal of occasions. Churchill wore one of these suits on a visit to the White House, Washington, in December 1941. At a press conference that week, Mrs Roosevelt declared she was having one made for her husband.

Winston Churchill making a BBC broadcast wearing one of his siren suits in on 30th November 1942. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL
Winston Churchill making a BBC broadcast wearing one of his siren suits on 30th November 1942. Image credit: Science Museum / SSPL

After the war, Churchill wore a siren suit again when he sat for sculptor Oscar Nemon in the 1950s. After the sittings, he gave the suit to Nemon as a souvenir. Small splashes of red paint on the trousers suggested Churchill also wore it whilst painting.

Due to Churchill’s rather large proportions, Turnbull & Asser have commissioned a bespoke mannequin to display the unique garment in the Science Museum. Expertly built using a fibreglass frame, the mannequin is covered in padding to mimic the former Prime Minister’s body shape, bringing the siren suit to life.

For those wishing

The pattern for Sir Winston Churchill's siren suit. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser
The pattern for Sir Winston Churchill’s siren suit. Image credit: Turnbull & Asser

to emulate the British bulldog’s style, Turnbull & Asser are due to launch a Churchill-inspired capsule collection to mark the 50th anniversary of his death this year, celebrating a great man, whose bold style and strong leadership inspired a nation.

You can see the green velvet siren suit on display together with the cigar Churchill smoked on the evening of the 1951 election when he heard he had been re-elected as Prime Minister.

Martin Wise is an archivist at Turnbull & Asser, makers of Sir Winston Churchill’s famous ‘siren suit’.

This blog was published as part of the Churchill’s Scientists exhibition that took place from 23 January 2015 – March 2016.