Did Boomers Pave the Way for Athleisure?

Have you noticed that more people are wearing what most boomers would consider gym wear in all sorts of public venues, from shopping and casual evenings out, to heading in to the office for a day’s work? Evidently, it’s not your imagination, but a nationwide trend that is shaking up the world of fashion. As you might suspect, Millennials — you know, that demographic that is now overtaking boomers to become the most influential spenders for retailers — have taken to the trend like comics on Silly Putty. This new blend of what used to be called sportswear and active wear is now called athleisure. Merriam-Webster dictionary has included the term in its latest edition, defining it as “casual clothing meant to be worn both for exercising and for general use.” What? How can clothing be used for both exercising and general use? Well, maybe we only have ourselves to blame.

At the start of the Boomer Generation, Americans had a post-war dress code that was split between more formal attire and casual wear. Both were upended, first by the Beatniks and then into the sixties, where boomers replaced “sensible” with eccentric combinations of fabrics and patterns, more often than not paired with blue jeans. It was the Boomer Generation that started us on the path to what Mister Boomer has called the Casualization of America. Mister Boomer has written about this trend as he watched the first blue jeans make their way into his church. In just a couple of short years, horrified parishioners who once wore only dresses and suits to church were accepting kids walking in wearing jeans. “Anything to get them into the pews,” was one of the rationales you’d hear. Other than military academies and parochial schools, the lack of stricter dress codes allowed the boomer casual look into the schools to the point where jeans and, ultimately, t-shirts, became the new norm.

When the Boomer Generation began, there wasn’t much need for gym-style exercise for a lot of people. Instead, physical labor supplied all the muscle tone most people needed, or so they thought. Technology was changing the workplace, and television tempted people to sit more than they used to. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, having experienced the need for a fit fighting force in World War II, established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in July of 1956. Unfortunately, people weren’t sure what exactly constituted “fitness,” so the program floundered.

By the time John F. Kennedy became President in 1960, the government was running ads to make people aware of widening waistlines and sedentary tendencies. Only a month after his inauguration, Kennedy reorganized the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to promote and improve fitness. It was more than likely through this program that a good many boomers were introduced to gym clothes as more schools made Phys Ed mandatory.

What did boomers wear to gym class? In Mister Boomer’s experience, both boys and girls wore the same practical outfit: t-shirt with the school’s name printed on it, cotton shorts, tube socks and gym shoes, otherwise known as sneakers. However, other than taking the clothes home from school for washing, gym class was the only place this clothing was worn. It was the sneakers that first made their way into the summer wardrobes of boomers, which turned out to be a welcome addition to more than one style of boomer fashion.

Fast forward to the times when most boomers were raising families themselves and you’ll see the slow but steady acceptance of more casual attire in the workplace. Factory workers had always taken the lead in casual comfort, wearing overalls or jeans more often than not, for durability as well as mobility on the job. Into the 1970s and ’80s, as office jobs were more prevalent than factory jobs, the question of “proper” attire was a battlefield for some employees, while a place of freedom for others. By the 1980s, the trend was given a name, and it was called “business casual.” Boomers took to it like screaming fans to the Beatles. By the 2000s, business casual was the norm in many industries.

And that brings us back to athleisure. Mister Boomer supposes it comes down to this: have you ever worn sweatpants to shop at WalMart? Did the clothing you wore to play football with the kids become OK to wear while visiting Aunt Martha? Did you ever buy a running suit, but never took up running? If so, then athleisure is your baby. Mister Boomer prefers his jeans.

How about it, boomers? Will you embrace your kids and grandkids coming to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner wearing athleisure clothing at the end of this year?

Boomers Made Their Own Frozen Concoctions

Boomers kept cool on hot summer days, first of all by staying outside in the shade more than indoors. That being said, cool drinks and especially frozen things did a heated body good. Mister Boomer has written about how there was practically nothing better than an ice cold root beer from A & W, or an ice cold Coke from the corner gas station’s soda pop machine after an afternoon of playing baseball. Yet that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to frozen things. Boomers cooled down with all types of ice cream, from Popsicles, Creamsicles and Fudgesicles to push-ups; sundae cups to Nutty Buddies and ice cream bars; and everything in between. Still there was more: many boomers liked to freeze candy. Frozen Milky Ways and Turkish Taffy were among the most popular in Mister B’s neighborhood. Mister B’s mom was partial to frozen Milky Ways, while he and his sister liked the vanilla flavor Turkish Taffy when frozen.

He and his sister would buy a couple of Turkish Taffy bars at the neighborhood store in the morning so it would freeze by the time the day was hottest in the afternoon. They generally stuck with vanilla, but on occasion there was strawberry or banana flavor. Once frozen, the fun happened when Mister B and his sister grabbed the bars from the refrigerator’s freezer and walked out the front door. Sitting on the porch steps, they placed the bar in the palm of their hand and smacked it on the concrete. Contained in its package, the bar shattered in irregular pieces, sometimes large and sometimes very small, but that only added to the enjoyment of crunching the frozen candy.

Even at 1950s and ’60s prices, boomers like Mister B could not afford to go to the store two or more times a day for a frozen treat. The answer for them was to make their own. Mister B and his siblings tried to freeze practically anything they drank: Hawaiian Punch, orange juice (or Tang), Flavor-Aid or Kool-Aid, and root beer were among the more successful. Mister B once had an ill-fated attempt at making his own Fudgesicles using Bosco and milk. The resulting icy cube tasted more like flavored ice than it did a creamy, fudgey ice cream bar.

Freezing stuff was easy enough that boomer kids could complete the process themselves. The only equipment they needed, other than a freezer, was some sort of sticks and an ice cube tray.

No one knows exactly when and where the first ice cube trays were made and used. In 1844, there was an American physician named John Gorrie who wanted a device that would cool down his yellow fever patients so he patented a refrigerator that would also make ice to cool his patients’ drinks. His device relied on blowing air over large blocks of ice into a cooling chamber. Of course, in the pre-electric refrigerator days, large blocks of ice were placed into the backs of “iceboxes” to act as a cooling agent, but that was not intended for cooling drinks with smaller cubes or freezing other products. Mister B’s mother never called it a refrigerator, but always an “icebox,” which is what she had in her house when she grew up.

The first U.S. patents for ice cube trays were issued in the 1930s, when people began buying electric refrigerators. Mister Boomer, like a lot of boomers, became familiar with the types of trays that were popular in the 1940s and ’50s. In Mister B’s case, they were stainless steel trays that had removable louver-like slats sitting in the tray, connected to a central lever. Once frozen, a pull of the lever-handle caused the movement of the metal slats to crack and release the ice cubes from the tray.

Mister B and his siblings would take an ice cube tray, or empty the ice from one in the freezer if none was available, and pour the liquid of their choosing into the tray. The next step was to place a stick for a handle into each ice cube tray compartment. Sometimes they had kept and washed ice cream sticks to reuse, but more often than not, they used the round, pointed wooden sticks that their mother used to make City Chicken (See: Boomers Ate Economical Dinners Like “City Chicken”). They rested each stick on the metal slat of the connected compartment, attempting to suspend the stick so it wouldn’t poke out the top when frozen. All that remained was to pop the tray into the freezer and wait.

Did you freeze your own ice pops and other things, boomers? What homemade frozen concoctions were your favorites?