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Fashion in the 60s and 70s

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We get a lot of inquiries, presumably from children of boomers, about clothing fashion in the 60s and 70s. We are very hesitant to get into that, 'cause the entire Boomer Crew has always been fashion-blind. But we'll give it a try. Perhaps some of you boomers can help us here.

(Most of our description relates to fashions in the U.S. When we get this down pat, we'll stretch our boundaries. But for now, we know our limits.)

The most important thing to note, I believe, is that fashion for us kids in the early 60s was way, way different than fashion in the early 70s! For us, the whole scene changed in the 60s. What you wore to get attention in 1965 you would not get caught dead wearing in 1968. That's just the way it was. We show you some of both here. The differences are amazing.

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What Our Parents Wore

This is President-elect John Kennedy and President Eisenhower heading to the inauguration in January 1961. Note the tails and vest. Yes, this was formal, but it was standard for formal occasions of the day.

The biggest change I recall in fashion for our parents in the 60s was the disappearance of the formal hat. I remember that my dad wore a hat to and from work. I never could figure out why. As a young kid, I had to wear one when I went to church. It was so stupid; it did not do a thing... except blow off. The part of my head that I wanted most to shelter from the cold was my ears. And the hat did absolutely nothing for my poor, heat-starved ears. Apparently President Kennedy had a disdain for hats, too. He wore a tall top hat to his inauguration (that's JFK and his father, Joe, Sr.); but after that, he was nearly always hatless. That set the trend.      

When you see pictures of men from the first half of the century, nearly always you'll see them wearing hats; even at baseball games. That came to an end in the 60s. By the late 60s they were gone! I'm not talking about baseball caps or visors; but rather those silly, brimmed hats.

    Recently I saw portions of an interview with Eleanor Roosevelt on "Meet the Press" from sometime in the late 50s or early 60s. She was wearing a frilly hat. So was a female correspondent who questioned her. (That's Mrs. Roosevelt with President Eisenhower.) When women dressed up, they wore hats... even indoors. Most women remember the "pillbox" hat that Jackie Kennedy wore and thus made popular. I think the men were first to shed their hats; but the women got rid of theirs, too, sometime in the late 60s.

Despite what you see on "Leave it to Beaver," women did not vacuum the floor and do the dishes wearing a dress, pearl necklace, and high-heel shoes. More than likely, they wore a blouse and skirt, though. Pants for women did not become popular till the 70s... I think. Pantsuits? Some brave women wore them, but only the very brave wore them to anything but informal events.

Suits and ties were standard for men... usually white, beige, or tan shirts... and thin ties. If you were a man working at IBM in the 60s, a white shirt was a must; no sport coat... a full suit coat. And no facial hair.

There were no "casual Fridays" when we were growing up. The trend was definitely more formal. After dark, most adults dressed in suits and dresses. Look for pictures of crowds at baseball games: hats... and suits. I recall seeing a picture recently of the audience at an "Ed Sullivan Show." Everybody was dressed up. I can confirm that. My family was in the audience for "What's My Line?" in the mid sixties. Yep; suit and tie... but no hat. I packed a suit and tie for our trip to New York so that I could be appropriately dressed to be in the audience at "What's My Line?"

Collarless T-shirts, sleeveless shirts, undershirts.... were not acceptable in the 60s. I don't know if Nike and Adidas existed then, but they did not put their name on their clothing. I don't recall wearing free advertising for clothing designers back then. Though a BBHQ visitor offers this: "Preppies" in the 60s wore: Weejuns, Gant shirts, Villager (the round collar blouse was a must have). No young lady worth the preppie label was seen without her circle pin.

Designer jeans???? A creation of the marketing people in the seventies or eighties. Our blue jeans were simple - blue. But most adults wore slacks - not jeans.

What Boomers Wore

My first memories of brand name "fashion" as a kid of about 6 was the Buster Brown shoe:

I mention the Buster Brown shoe and show it to you here for a specific reason; it will all tie together before we're done.

    Girls (from about 9-13 years old) often wore saddle shoes in the early 60s: white shoes with a streak of black... I guess like a saddle might look on a horse... I donno. (I told you we were fashion-blind.) You can barely see it in the picture; but the price was $2.85. (That's about $7.00 in today's money - whew!) Anyway, overnight in the mid 60s, they disappeared. You were "out" if you wore them in the late 60s.

The same thing was true for guys and white socks. As I recall, one day we all wore white socks, no matter what shoes we wore. The next day, white socks were out, except with tennis shoes. I must have missed the message on that one. I was a dork for the next six months. Who knew? (I sure didn't.)

When young ladies in the late 50s and early 60s wanted to dress up, they might wear a poodle skirt. Do not even think about how that name or style came into existence... any more than how platform shoes (shown below) became the rage in the 70s. Folks, you have to understand... fashion has no logic. (In a few years they'll be saying the same thing about the obscene use of rings.)      

Now... to our teen years:

 Click to see larger image

 Click to see larger image     Until the late 60s, dress styles for kids were pretty simple: shirts, slacks, tennis, or black or brown lace shoes. Guys in my school were not allowed to wear pants with the seam on the outside of the pants. Period; end of discussion. The shirt had to be tucked in. No T-shirts, sleeveless shirts, or undershirts. No trench coats!

The picture on the left is from my high school, in 1966. Below are the boys in the hood (after school hours) from the same year. They'd probably prefer I not mention their names.

 Click to see larger image

That's Jim Schwartz on top, Tommy Sanfilippo below on the left, Ted Musarro next to him and Carl LoPresti on the right.

This is a picture of an "American Bandstand" audience in the early 60s. You can see Dick Clark at the top. This was maybe a little more formal than you would find at your typical high school sock hop, but not much. (And no, the guy on the left is not me.. and no, he is not picking his nose.)

 Click to see larger image

We were not allowed to wear long hair. In 1964, the Beatles (on the right) came to America wearing what was called "mop top" hair. Believe it or not, this was pretty extreme. In another five years, most every guy wore long hair, but not in 1964. Nope; no beards, no facial hair. Guys in high school did not have tattoos (rest assured that girls did not, either); and believe me, if any guy showed up wearing an earring, he would have been laughed out of the state! And nobody but Yul Brenner shaved his head.    

Real tight pants became popular for guys in the mid sixties; you could barely get them over your ankle. Then fashion went the other way in the late 60s and early 70s with bell bottom pants for both girls and boys. Bell bottom pants flared out, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. usually starting between the knee and the ankle.

Girls wore skirts and blouses, even in the winter; no pants (except in parts of trend-setting California, where "anything goes" has been the policy for decades). Many girls wore knee-high boots in the winter. But I remember many times standing at the bus stop at the corner of Lomond and Traynham with several girls when the temperature was below 20 degrees... sometimes near zero. And there were these poor girls with their upper legs exposed, wind blowing right up where my eyes had no business going. It really was unfair.


    That did not stop them from wearing short, short skirts, though... or at least trying to. As I recall, in high school the skirts had to go down to the knee-cap. Some girls got away with wearing culottes - kind of like a cross between a skirt and a pair of shorts. After school in the late 60s, they wore the real, real, real short shorts that were aptly called "hot pants." Hot, they were!

To make up for the exposed upper thigh, some women wore boots that climbed up half the leg... lest they reveal too much flesh, ya' know.

     Click to see larger image

    Loafers were popular in high school - shoes, not kids - penny-loafers, too. They had a small notch on the front, where you could store... a penny, for safe-keeping, I guess. Why not a dime? I donno'; I guess the term "dime-loafers" just did not click.

You younger folks will have to pardon us if we boomers scoff at walking shoes, running shoes, climbing shoes, hiking shoes, racquetball shoes, pump-up shoes... and hundred dollar sports shoes. When we were kids, we had tennis shoes - black or white - period. They cost about $25, in today's terms.

Guys might wear a watch; and for a short while in junior high, ID bracelets were popular for guys. But there were no chains or necklaces, gold or otherwise. Pocket protectors? Not used as widely as you might think.

I'm no expert on this, but girls did not get their ears pierced as early. Many of them never did. As I recall, they did not wear earrings to school. Too dressy. A lot of girls confiscated their dad's long sleeved white shirts and wore them after school.

Permanent press came into existence in the late 60s. But I still remember ironing my shirts in college, permanent press or not.

A little more on shoes: we wore shoes back then... at least where I grew up. For us guys, there was not much choice: dress shoes and tennis shoes. Dress shoes usually had laces. Tennis shoes were black or white, usually white. There were no Reeboks, no "walking shoes" - just tennis shoes. For females, there were flats, low heels, high heels, and tennis shoes.... and penny loafers. A toe showing meant you needed a new pair of shoes. No boots; boots were for horse riding.... except when it snowed. A female BBHQ visitor offers: "In the later 60s, I would wear go-go boots or pretty chunky-heeled shoes."

When it rained... we wore rubbers... yep, that's what they were called; rubber "overalls" for shoes. In the winter, we wore boots; big thick, plastic-like boots over our shoes for guys. Girls usually wore boot-shoes and carried their regular shoes... I donno'... somewhere, and then switched when they got where they were going. Life was tough back then.

 Click to see larger image     Tie-dyed shirts became popular in the late 60s. Take a plain t-shirt (solid color - white is good). Tie it in a tight knot (or two tight knots), and dip it in dye. Dry it, tie it in another knot(s), and dye it a different color. And maybe a third time. This may take some experimenting, but the world has an enormous excess of white t-shirts. Show some spirit. Think of Fruit of the Loom as your personal, ever-expanding palette. Anything to be different. This is not how Salvidor Dali started; but that's the whole point! (The picture on the left is one of the better-looking ones. Most of the ones I recall looked much more... plebian.)

This is singer Creed Bratton of the Grass Roots in the late 60s. Yep, the rock groups led us into goofiness. But we followed, eagerly.

The Seventies

My first memories of brand name "fashion" in the 70s was the Earth shoe:

Does it remind you of anything specific? What goes around... comes around, huh?

 Click to see larger image     If you're looking for real wild stuff... the 70s is your decade. The 60s broke down the barriers, the 70s went nuts! Bell bottoms were in till about 1975, and teens added flowers and other adornments to their jeans. There was no Gap back then, and no store sold stone-washed jeans. In the early 60s you'd throw away jeans that looked beat up. In the late 60s, you might go to the Army Surplus store to find some. (And in the 21st century, you pay top dollar for beat up jeans at Old Navy... what a world!)

I am convinced that the Beatles led millions of impressionable boomers; their influence went far beyond music. Note the smaller picture of the Beatles on the left; that was 1964. The larger one is the Beatles in 1970:

Beatles - 1964 Beatles - 1970    

This comparison provides an excellent example of the differences between the mid 60s and the 70s. The Beatles did not follow any trends; they set them. And we did follow! The good, the bad... and the very ugly!

    Beads for belts, long hair for everyone, afros for blacks, long sideburns for wannabe hippies, sandals, platform shoes (on the left - they had large, thick heels, for both guys and girls - honest!), frilly collars, leather, paisley shirts... whew! Do you recognize that visual statement of defiance over there on the right? Now... not everybody bought into this stuff, any more than everybody gets a tattoo today. But still... it was more than a bit nuts.    

Many other adults got in on it, too. (Come to think of it, many boomers were adults by then.) The poster-boy for banning long sideburns was ABC News dude Sam Donaldson. He looked horrible with them! But then, most men looked horrible with them. Some men wore "leisure suits" (light colors, polyester... stupid looking), and for a while Nehru shirts were popular (a thin collar up around the neck, worn without being tucked in; straight at the bottom. They were named after and made fashionable by the Indian leader at the time). Why the Nehru shirts? I have no earthly idea, believe me; things were just nuts then. The thin ties of the 60s gave way to wide, colorful ties in the 70s - the wider the better (3-4 inches at the bottom).

Collars for men's shirts went from narrow to wide, to real wide, and then back to narrow. In the 60s the collars were usually button-down. But button-down collars were out in the 70s. No, along with everything else, collars were not to be constrained in the 70s!

BBHQ visitor roadrat57 adds: "Some girls wore knee socks with loafers and short skirts. The scooter skirt, looks like a skirt in front, but is really shorts, got a start. The heavy black eyeliner was popular. Peace symbols on chains were also popular."

Many women took off their bras, and then burned them! (Please... don't ask me why; ask Gloria Steinem.) Streaking was popular in the early 70s, and a few daring women went topless at the beach. (Shucks, I missed that trend, too.) Many women wore their hair long and straight.

In addition to the sideburns, many guys grew beards and mustaches: long, wide, and untrimmed. Broadway Joe Namath wore one of those Fu Man Chu mustaches. As I recall, Willie Nelson wore an earring and a bandanna. But he was out here pretty much by himself back then.

    Glasses!?! You wanna' talk glasses!?! In the 60s, it was mostly plain frames; not much different from what we wear today. Tortoise shell; I think they call the style and/or color. But in the 70s, it was big frames, little frames, round frames, square frames, no frames, wire rim frames, granny glasses. It was really... nuts! Lots of people wore glasses. Contact lenses were popular (but very expensive), but many people could not wear the hard (or the soft) lenses. Extended wear lenses were not available till the 80s. And there was no surgery to correct near-sightedness.

In 1970 I paid $300 for my first pair of hard contact lenses. (And that's when $300 was a lot of money.) The right one had a black dot on it to identify it. I had to sterilize them every night in a contraption the size of a bread maker. When you lost a lens, everyone nearby got down on their hands and knees to look for it. ABC Sports paid for replacement lenses for any NFL player who lost a lens during a televised game. The last thing in the world they wanted was to waste 15 minutes of air time while 30 guys in spiked shoes looked for a contact lens. I never lost a contact lens; never. (I never played in the NFL, either.)

If you want to see the more of the madness of the 70s clothing fashions, rent "Saturday Night Fever," which was filmed in 1977. It pretty well captures what was "in" in the 70s. In fact, many people think that it was "Saturday Night Fever" that killed both the disco and the fashions of the 70s. The movie held up a mirror to us. We took a good look at ourselves, freaked out, and then sobered up and got back to "normal."

Whew! We get a slew of comments about fashion. About half of the people responding think the 60s and 70s clothing was cool. The other half thinks it sucked. So... there ya' go.

This comment is from an anonymous visitor: "You guys were wonderfully blind. Hope you find it in you to forgive yourself for truly sullying the history of the 20th century fashion preferences." (The comments from anonymous visitors are usually more ridulous, but usually more entertaining, too.)

We welcome your comments, no matter. But our favorite thus far is this one:

"Your mom should have smacked you for wearing such ugly clothes!"

Hard to argue with that.

A BBHQ Pop Quiz: Aw, every boomer remembers this pair: it’s Gunther Toody and Francis __________.

Your final answer is....

Give us your thoughts about fashion in the 60s and 70s... please! (Include your e-mail address if you want a response.) Though... please don't ask us for more pictures or more descriptions, or links to other web sites. As we get information, we will post it here. But we have nothing more in our "private stock."

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BBHQ Boomer-in-Charge Hershel Chicowitz always has something to say, offering a boomer perspective on current events:

In This Week with the Chicowitz, This week, Hershel shares memories of the sock hop:

I would take my sandwich, milk, and Oreo cookies into the office next to the gym and talk to my friend Roger Pryor while he played the records. Roger taught me to start with a song with a strong beat, but not too fast a song... something like “Quarter to Three,” by Gary U.S. Bonds. After that, I could go with a slightly faster one, but then I should slow the tempo down. Every third or fourth song should be a slow one... “Theme From a Summer Place” by Percy Faith or “A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy.  

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