Boomers Chose Their Summer Footwear Carefully

For a good many boomers, their choice of summer footwear fell into two categories: casual or dress, and generally speaking for boomer boys, at least, there would be one pair for each. Some boomer girls might have more than one pair of summer sandals, depending on a range of factors that included their families’ economic class.

For Mister Boomer and all the boomers he grew up with, casual summer shoes were the very pair of canvas sneakers that had been worn the previous school year in gym class. Some boys had high tops, while others preferred the low rise (like Mister B). These shoes served triple duty during the summer, getting wear from everyday walking to playing sports, or going shopping or to drive-in movies with the family, but never to Sunday church. The shoes could often end up torn and tattered by summer’s end, so a new pair would be purchased for the upcoming school year. Many boys chose to wear their sneakers without socks, but Mister B did not; he always wore gym socks with his sneakers.

Boomer girls wore sneakers as well, but often wore sandals of various styles. Usually, they were made of leather with flat bottoms and a strap of some kind that wrapped around the top of the foot, with or without a buckle. There was usually a heel strap and buckle as well. Flip-flops, the ultimate in casual summer footwear, were not worn anywhere but the beach in Mister B’s area — by girls or boys — at least until the late sixties.

Some boomer boys and their fathers wore leather sandals, which often had thick leather straps to distinguish a manly shoe from the thinner-strapped feminine counterparts. Mister Boomer recalls two fathers of his neighborhood boomer friends who wore sandals with socks, the nightmare of every son or daughter. One of the men wore his usual socks with his leather sandals, which could be navy, black or olive green color. The other wore the proverbial knee-high white tube socks with his dark brown sandals. It was not the sartorial preference of boomers. However, some of the boomer boys in Mister B’s neighborhood had leather sandals. They might have simple (but thick) leather straps of a lighter or darker color, or be gussied up with gold-toned metal rivets that harkened back to gladiator days.

Mister Boomer tried a pair of leather sandals once, but found them immensely uncomfortable without socks, the leather digging into multiple locations on his foot. Wearing socks, of course, was not an option, so he abandoned the idea. Then one day one of the neighborhood’s older boys came back from Vietnam, with tales of how the Vietnamese made sandals from old tires. The boys were enthralled with the homemade factor, including Mister B and his brother. The Army vet gave the boys instructions of how tire treads were cut to foot size, then pierced on either side of the toes so strips of rubber inner tube could be slipped through the holes and knotted underneath to create a strap over the top of the foot. The process was repeated for a heal strap. Since the rubber stretched, the homemade sandals could be adjusted to suit the size of every foot. He said the Vietnamese wore them constantly, and they were very durable.

There always seemed to be plenty of junk material in Mister B’s neighborhood for building projects, from underground forts to treehouses, go-karts, to now, tire-tread sandals. As several boys in the neighborhood attempted to make their own Vietnamese-style sandals based on the neighbor’s instructions, Brother Boomer secured a chunk of tire for his pair, and for Mister Boomer as well. He retrieved his father’s hunting knife from the basement and, in the backyard, traced his feet with a pencil on roughly-cut pieces of tire tread. He brandished the hunting knife to trim the tread along the outline, then placed four piercings for the straps. An old tire inner tube — Mister B thinks it might have been from a bicycle tire — was sliced to a close size. Brother Boomer slipped one end through the hole and knotted it on the sole, repeating the process for the other side and heel. By leaving one side unknotted, the rubber strap was adjusted until it provided a snug fit. Then the straps were knotted completely underneath, with excess rubber getting sliced off with the knife.

Wearing his newly-made sandals and looking out for the safety of his younger brother, Brother Boomer cut tire tread for Mister B. After slicing the strap holes, he let Mister B complete the process to make the straps. While the DIY project was great fun, Mister B found them completely impractical and for him, unwearable. Brother Boomer wore his for more than a week before giving up, while one or two of the neighborhood boys continued to wear theirs well into the summer.

Society had structural rules for practically everything in the fifties and early sixties, and that included going barefoot. If boomers weren’t in the backyard kiddie pool or running through the sprinkler, they would be wearing some type of footwear. By the end of the sixties, rules were relaxed or demolished as boomers wore sneakers in places that were unheard of earlier (like to church) and flip-flops were worn in public by both males and females. Mister B had flip-flops for beach and vacation trips, but rarely wore them. He never got used to having that thing stick between the toes.

What memories of summer casual footwear do you have, boomers?

Boomers Liked “Young Girl” Songs

Boomers grew up in a time when underage marriage was allowed in all 48 (and later, all 50) states, at the very least with parental consent. Marriage laws were (and are) a state matter, not a federal one. Yet more than that, the dating of young girls below the age of 18 by men 10 or 20 years older — if not more — was both vilified and treated with indifference, depending on the state and the persons involved. There are many stories of bluesmen, in the decades before boomers arrived, taking advantage of younger women, and now rock ‘n roll, coming out of that tradition, which seemed to bring the subject out in the open. The developing rock ‘n roll culture of the late ’40s and early ’50s did nothing but shine a light on the arguments on both sides.

In 1958, when a 23-year old Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown, the 13-year old daughter of his cousin, he was riding the wave of world popularity. He had a world tour scheduled that year, beginning with England. His plan was to have his bride by his side, but the British tabloids would have none of it. Forced with the choice of either leaving Myra at home, or lying about their marriage, his European tour was cancelled. In the U.S., many venues in various states refused to book him. His career took a nosedive from which he never fully recovered.

In 1959, Elvis Presley was serving the remainder of his Army stint in Germany when he met 14-year old Priscila Beaulieu, the daughter of an Air Force captain. They spent the next six months dating. After Elvis left the Army in 1960, he kept in touch with Priscilla, inviting her to visit him at Graceland. She convinced her parents to let her go for a visit in 1963, under their provision that the entire visit was chaperoned. Within three months, she begged her parents to let her live with Elvis at Graceland. They relented when Elvis promised to marry her, send her to an all-girls Catholic High School and that she would live away from Graceland with Elvis’ stepfather and mother. The couple married in 1967 when Priscilla was 20, despite persistant rumors linking Elvis to many of the leading ladies of his movies through the years, including Ann-Margaret and Nancy Sinatra.

Chuck Berry had a checkered past when it came to young girls. In 1958, he wrote and recorded Sweet Little Sixteen, which on the surface seems a harmless enough tune. On closer inspection, the song can be interpreted as Berry watching 16-year old groupies from various locales heading to the rock shows and gathering autographs, from

… rockin’ in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Berry sings this “girl” has collected About a half a million … autographs. The song reached Number 2 on the charts. The Beatles recorded a cover version in 1963.

Two years later, in 1960, Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act, which made illegal the “transporting of minors across state lines for immoral purposes.” In Berry’s case, the girl was 14 years old. Berry claimed he met her in Juarez, Mexico, and offered her a job in his St. Louis nightclub. She accepted the job as a hatcheck girl, and after she was fired from the club, she went to the police.

After his first conviction, Berry appealed the decision, and a retrial was ordered. He was convicted on the retrial in 1961 and served 20 months in prison on a five-year sentence.

Johnny Burnette was 26 when he sang You’re Sixteen (1960) to the Top Ten on the charts. For coming-of-age boomers, You come on like a dream, peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/ You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine was teenage love. To guys the age of Johhny Burnette, it was, in the parlance of the age, “robbing the cradle.” It wasn’t any less creepy when a thirty-something Ringo Starr recorded a cover version in 1973.

By the mid-60s, though, songs about young girls took a somewhat hesitant stance in their lyrics. In Younger Girl (1965), John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful sung that:

A younger girl keeps a-rolling ‘cross my mind
No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to leave her memory behind

… but ultimately he concludes …

And should I hang around, acting like her brother
In a few more years, they’d call us right for each other

Bobby Vee and the Strangers sang Come Back When You Grow Up Girl in 1967. Here Bobby admits his attraction to this young girl:

I want you girl but your wide-eyed innocence
Has really messed up my mind, yeah, yeah
I’d rather you get your very first heartbreak
Somewhere else along the line

Ultimately but reluctantly, his reason takes over as the song concludes:

Come back when you grow up, girl
You’re still livin’ in a paper-doll world
Some day you’ll be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap entered the genre with Young Girl in 1969. Gary wants the young girl to go away so he’s not tempted:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way outta line
Better run girl
You’re much too young girl

He doesn’t blame his own actions, but says that she misled him:

You led me to believe you’re old enough
To give me love
And now it hurts to know the truth

Boomers liked it enough that it spent three weeks as Number 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart; the first week it was just behind behind Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, and the next two weeks it was bested by Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey.

Just when we think that these situations celebrated in song during the Boomer Era couldn’t be recorded or happen now, we not only get the rise of the Me Too Movement, but the reappraisal of child marriage laws in many states. Delaware became the first state to completely ban marriage under the age of eighteen in May of 2018. That’s correct. THIS YEAR. New Jersey followed suit in June. Several other states have revised their laws, though all the rest allow it at least under some circumstances.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than 100,000 children age 12 to 16 were forced to marry in the last decade in the U.S., usually due to pre-arranged marriages through religious beliefs, or due to pregnancy. Worldwide, the United Nations has set a goal of eliminating child marriage by the year 2030. Is that something rock ‘n roll will sing about, and will they be catchy enough tunes that people will propel these songs to the Top Ten?

Did you listen to and buy “young girl” songs, boomers?