Our Sunday Best for Easter

Boomers can attest to the changes that have occurred in all aspects of their lives, and certainly fashion is among them. Mister Boomer, as many of his generation, recalls that certain times of the year — especially holidays — were marked in part by new clothes: Christmas always brought underwear and socks, and sometimes pajamas; August ushered in back-to-school necessities; but it was mainly in spring — particularly Eastertime — that most people got new “dress” clothes. It was only a few decades ago that it was not only expected that one dress in their finest clothes for Easter celebrations, but preferably that those clothes be new.

The practice of donning new clothing as a sign of respect, renewal and cleanliness when engaging in spring religious ceremonies dates back thousands of years. It crossed religions and cultures through the millennia to manifest itself in various forms of official and ritual costuming, as well as acting as an annual reminder for ancient peoples — not known for their closets-full of clothing — that it was time to change things up. Some historians postulate that Emperor Constantine helped the tradition along in the fourth century. The story goes that Easter was the only holiday when he invited his entire staff and court to join in his holiday celebration and dinner. His only request was that they arrive washed and dressed in their finest clothing.

Mister Boomer worked retail in the early 1970s. At that point, the new spring/Easter tradition was still going strong. There wasn’t a man, woman or child who did not get at least one new spring article of clothing. Elaborate hats, of course, were popular with women, along with dresses, shoes and accessories in pastel colors, while coats could get downright brilliant in hue. Children received new shoes, at the very least, but the family could also take the opportunity to replenish dress clothing for growing siblings, handing down gently-used garments to the younger children.

A decade earlier, Mister Boomer’s family always participated in the annual ritual. His mother and sister would get new spring dresses, pocketbooks and shoes, while the males would get new suits and, in the early sixties, hats. Mister B doesn’t have to conjure memories of these outfits since they were documented each year. Before heading to Easter Sunday church services (or after, if they were running late), Mister B’s family would pose in front of their house, a few steps from the front porch, for a portrait with their finery. Mister B’s father was never in the shots since he was behind the lens of the Kodak box camera. The dates for Easter shift from year to year, from early March to late April. In the upper Midwest, that could mean temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the mid-70s. The photos show that sometimes the family was shivering in the cold, and patches of snow remained on the lawn. Other times the sun shone brightly to accentuate those Kodachrome colors. Inevitably, the roll of film had been sitting in the camera since Christmas, so now it could be finished and processed into prints.

These portraits illustrated the history of the dwelling — with landscape changes and front-porch renovations — as well as a growing family in the 1960s suburbs. In one photo in particular, Mister B recalls wearing a new three-piece suit. The coat was blue, in a mid-weight knobby fabric, while the pants were plain, straight-legged, and Navy in color; his vest, however, was patterned in contrast to the pleated pants and textured coat. On top of his head was a Navy blue hat, making the ensemble suitable for a Frank Sinatra album cover.

Mister Boomer’s family was not fashion-forward. They dressed in the popular clothing of the day. That began to change throughout the culture in the mid-60s as individual personalities gained a larger say in dress habits. It was probably 1967 when Mister B’s brother, a high school student at the time, suggested that the males get their Easter suits from a nearby urban source rather than the usual suburban regional chain stores.

Mister B, his father and Brother Boomer drove to the big-city establishment. Immediately on entering the store, it was obvious they weren’t in suburbia any more: BanLon shirts, pencil-thin ties, straight-legged pants and sharkskin suits packed the racks and shelves in a wide array of colors. Sharkskin suits had been around since the 1950s. Composed of two contrasting thread colors woven so as to contrast, the result was a sleek, sharkskin look. Now, with the addition of rayon, silk and acetate fabrics joining the traditional wool, 60s sharkskin often had an iridescent ripple running through the folds of fabric as light passed over it.

Mister B’s father quickly tried on a burgundy sharkskin suit and was gazing at it admiringly in the mirror. Brother B chose a sharkskin suit in dark blue that looked like it had walked straight out of a Beatles photograph. Lapels were as small as they could be, but Brother Boomer’s choice had a velvet strip running across the top of the collar, slightly framing either side of the neck. Mister Boomer was a little hesitant in his search, but did find an olive-green sharkskin suit in his size. It had a golden-colored thread woven into the fabric, so a slight gold metallic sheen gave Mister B an adult, sophisticated sartorial look well beyond his teenage years.

sharkskin

That Easter, the Boomer family males sported white shirts and super-thin ties in solid colors with their stylish suits. A new era was happening, and men no longer wore hats as a required accessory to top an outfit. The Boomer Three looked more like a musical group than family members heading to church, and a few heads did turn, but they didn’t mind. Mister B got another three years’ wear out of the suit before it no longer fit. There are still times Mister B dreams of that sharkskin suit. No article of clothing ever caused the physical attachment of that outfit since.

How about it boomers? Is there a memorable spring outfit in your past?

Boomers Count Down Another Year

Well, boomers, this week we’ll flip the life odometer on another year. 2011 will see the youngest boomers turning 47, while the oldest among us will reach 65. As the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still be wondering what “Auld Lang Syne” means. For the record, it’s Scottish for “times long past,” a phrase popularized by the poet Robert Burns in the song from the late 17th century. Are there boomers of any age who can recall all the lyrics to that traditional New Year’s song? Probably not.

Perhaps the reason is, unless your family was Scottish, the version you probably heard during your formative boomer years was an instrumental played by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadiens. It’s probably playing through your brain right now as you read this. (Sorry.) His TV presence and rendition of the song became synonymous with New Year’s Eve, first for our parents, then passed on to us through family TV osmosis. Mr. Lombardo had performed on a radio broadcast each year since 1928, then his first live New Year’s TV broadcast was aired beginning in 1956. He continued the tradition until his death in November 1977. His brother Victor took over for a year, but the band disbanded in 1978. In addition to his live broadcast from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, there would be coverage of the Times Square ball drop. While most boomers that Mister Boomer knows couldn’t stand Guy Lombardo (the “old fogey” that he was represented the past, man!), we did want to see the ball drop. That is yet another shared memory we boomers have in our history.

New Year’s Eve was one of the few days of the year when boomer children were allowed to stay up late. Mom and dad, along with possibly some family members, friends and neighbors, would down cocktails and watch Guy Lombardo on the black and white TV, until the time arrived for the big New Year’s countdown.

In Mister Boomer’s household, the children were dressed in their pajamas (with the feet on them), had coats draped over their shoulders like capes to ward off the winter chill, and were issued pots, pans and wooden spoons. The young troop was then marched out the front door, where Mister B and his siblings lined up along the porch edge waiting for the countdown. The TV volume would be turned up so it could be heard from the porch, as the group shivered in anticipation. “5-4-3-2-1 … Happy New Year!” was their cue to bang as furiously and loudly as possible. Their percussive cacophony was joined by a few neighborhood children also banging pots and pans on their porches, along with the sounds of horns, shouts of “Happy New Year,” and car horns that echoed through the neighborhood. Then, as the noise began to diminish, Mister B’s father would step out on the porch with his shotgun that he used for pheasant hunting. All eyes were on him as he loaded a shell into the gun. He raised it to his shoulder, and, aiming at the front lawn, fired into the ground as if the bang were a finale to the neighborhood noise-making.

As the years progressed, shotgun firing was dropped from the family tradition. It wasn’t long after that, that the banging of pots and pans also became “times long past.” We were getting older, and Guy Lombardo wasn’t going to cut it for the Pepsi Generation. Finally, in 1972, Dick Clark offered boomers another choice. Calling his show New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, he put the older generation on notice that his was not your father’s New Year’s celebration. We already knew Dick from American Bandstand, of course. We liked him, and we trusted him as a voice of our generation. If he wanted to rock New Year’s Eve, we wanted to rock with him.

As the decades-old tradition of one television for the whole family began to crack, boomers had New Year’s parties in basements, where they could watch Dick Clark on a second TV while their parents sat in front of Guy Lombardo, upstairs, for another year. That first Rockin’ Eve show in 1972 featured Three Dog Night as hosts, and musical guests Blood, Sweat & Tears, Helen Reddy and Al Green. Mister Boomer recalls several house parties in the seventies, when, rockin’ or not, the show seemed pretty boring. Since it wasn’t Guy Lombardo boring, we would continue to watch.

Any overview of boomer New Year’s celebrations would be remiss without the mention of The Soupy Sales Show. Almost every boomer remembers some version of The Soupy Sales Show on TV. It was New Year’s Day 1965 that marked a momentous day for boomer fans of Soupy. The network had forced Soupy to work the holiday, and that didn’t sit too well with the pie-man. Soupy jokingly looked at his young viewers and asked them to tip-toe into their parents’ bedrooms while they were sleeping and remove the “funny green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards” from their pockets and purses. He then instructed his viewers to “put them in an envelope and mail them to me.” That week the station, WNEW in New York, received what has been reported as $80,000, though Soupy himself revealed that most of it was was play money or Monopoly money. Soupy was suspended for two weeks, but his show was not canceled and continued another two years.

It is said many boomers like to say they were among those who sent Soupy some dollars in 1965. Unfortunately, Mister Boomer cannot make that claim. Others say it’s more likely we have the same situation at work in the Soupy incident as the number of people who claim to have been at Woodstock. How about it, boomers? Does Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark or Soupy Sales loom large in the annals of your New Year’s memories?