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Boomer Bytes #53: Styles?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.


By Steve Canipe

Jan. 16, 2015. I was wandering through the mall the other day and a sign assailed me. It said “The best destroyed jeans to break in the New Year.” I won’t mention the retailer by name but if you have grandchildren of the right age, you probably know it.

Got to say I was taken aback by the display. There were numerous pairs of jeans that looked as if there were too torn up even to make rags to wash your car with!! This seemingly effective marketing ploy to foist off, what I consider, trash jeans caused me to start thinking about styles and how they have changed in the lifetime of boomers.


When I was young my mom would have been mortified to have sent me outside even to play with ragged jeans that showed my underwear. I might have been allowed to wear jeans with a hole in the knees if no one else was around and it was only me and my dog that were playing. Otherwise absolutely not!! Mom would not have even considered donating these to the Salvation Army or Goodwill; she would have thought it an insult to two good organizations!!

So what has changed from those days? When I was a young teenager, in the early 1960s) the thing that the well-dressed guy would wear was a collared shirt preferably by Gant. It had to have a hanger loop on the back and the label stitching had to be visible!! One of the aggravations that was perpetrated on other guys was snatching the hanger loop and pulling it loose on one side – basically tearing the shirt!! The shirts were often in plaids and occasionally small stripes. I don’t remember too many solid color shirts. During this time the bleeding madras shirts came into use. These were modeled after an Indian fashion that actually faded (bled) when washed. Everybody wanted one of those but most Moms did not like them – at least mine did not because it was easy to ruin a wash load of clothes and it was easy to get your white underwear turned various shades if they happened to be in the same load as the shirts!

Girls of the time saw their clothing becoming a bit more masculine and tailored. Pants were still not widely worn by females that I remember but perhaps female boomers can weigh in on this. I am speaking from my male, teenage memory. I remember that there were the so called “virgin pins” that were worn. The ones I remembered were just plain gold-colored circles and worn on sweaters and blouses. I looked online to see if they represented actual virginity. The online answers seemed to indicate different things. I do remember that some girls who wore them were definitely not entitled to do so, especially if they were what they purported to be!!

I seem to remember a lot of pleated skirts that my female classmates wore; I also remember that the blouses seemed to have more masculine tailoring. They were also available in the madras type mentioned earlier and worn by the guys. The hemlines, as I recall, seemed to be getting higher showing more leg!! Of course the fashion queen of the time was President Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline. She was such a fashion plate that I suspect many girls (and women) tried to emulate her verve.

Considering the footwear of the time–there were a lot of Bass Weejuns or penny loafers being worn, for both male and female kids. I do remember wanting a pair so badly but my parents not being able to afford it and getting some off-brand knock offs. They sort of looked like Weejuns! For guys it was often the case that we wore socks matching in color the shirts we wore. So it was not unusual to see a pair of light blue socks with a shirt predominantly blue in color. If there was a common color of socks it was white especially if the shirt was fairly unusual in design (stripes or wilder plaids). Sometimes argyle socks were worn as well.

For physical education or just general sport, we wore Converse high top canvas shoes – in white, of course. At least this was true for the male students. Perhaps a female boomer can tell us what the girls of the time wore. These were not traditionally worn just for the fun of it – they were really for basketball or tennis. White socks were worn.

In terms of outerwear, the most common was a London Fog Harrington jacket. It was in a tan color and went with everything. There were the “tabs” at the neck that were never used but displayed what the coat really was. London Fog rain coats were also very common. I understand from my female friends I spoke with, that the long ladies coats served several purposes. Not the least of which was the ability of the girls to roll up their pants legs and with the long coat on and buttoned and belted made to look as if a more traditional skirt might be under it! It was a way to be more comfortable, as I understand it, and yet look like the traditional female model. But perhaps a bigger reason was to hide the fact that pants were being worn in a place where the wearing was unacceptable!!

Styles have changed a lot over the years and we have all changed with them and worn what today would be totally scandalous. Things like bell-bottomed trousers, leisure suits, double knit pants, and similar things. Of course some of these things continued in certain populations for longer than they should have. During my high school principal-ship, I was privileged to take a group of fashion merchandising students to New York City. We visited Macy’s flagship store on 34th street (yep where the Christmas miracle happened). One of the students I had was a young man who was a bit behind in the style department. We were riding up one of the escalators and one of the legs of his double-knit, bell bottom pants actually got caught between the treads. His pants got a bit stretched before he was able to extricate his pants leg! I’m sure he did not find it amusing but I will remember this incident whenever I think of styles and how some were not always safe.

Not only clothes were changing but styles in hair – guys in the 60s began wearing their hair quite long and even tying their locks into pony-tails. A bit later came the wearing of earrings for guys. At first there were allegedly some who used them as statements about their sexual preferences; a guy with an earring in his right ear was gay – or was it the left? I don’t really remember, but one side was to have indicated a same sex preference where the other was just a fashion statement. Was this really true or was it like the “virgin pin” and not meaning anything to the wearer of the jewelry?

This column is mostly about the styles that I, as an older boomer, have experienced. Each subsequent group (boomer and otherwise) has had their own quirks regarding dress and adornment. Currently the big thing has to be tattoos. I personally do not really like these and would never have one; although many boomers who served in the military did get them. Even recently the more avant garde of the boomer generation has embraced tattoos and women as well as men are getting them. Some, maybe most, are smallish and on the ankle, breast, shoulder, or other less conspicuous place. Younger generations tattoo their whole arms, legs, back, etc. with brilliant colors and striking designs.

I guess in hindsight, I was a pretty traditional person; I never wore my hair overly long, never had an ear piercing (or anywhere else); wore rather traditional clothes in what might best be loosely described as a preppy style. Not that I was a “prep,” I just liked the way those clothing and body styles looked for me.

Jeans with holes would never have been allowed as I noted earlier. But recognizing that styles do change, I just am aware that some of them are not for me….ever. Now things like wide or narrow ties and narrow or wide lapels on coats are, to me, just preferences and I can take or leave them. I guess length of skirts might be similar for women – above the knee or below the knee. Wearing pants below the waist and showing too much of one’s rear-end or too much of the underwear is not a style (for me) – just wrong – like ragged jeans!! Guess that is what happens when we get old – we become more opinionated.

Throughout this column, I have mentioned various stylistic aspects that I remembered or experienced. I know that I was writing about the styles that I remembered and generally liked. I also suspect that in the larger boomer group spanning the 19 years from 1946-1964 that there are lots of other memories of “style” that I have not touched upon. I grew up in the south (North Carolina) as a male member of a white, Western European heritage, lower middle-class family. I encourage those of you from other age, sex, racial, or ethnic groups to share “your” styles that were present and used during your teen years. You may do it below in the comments area or send me an email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com and I will post them in a subsequent column. Thanks for reading this first column of the second year of my musings.