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?

Boomer Fun in 1961

The vast majority of the 74 million boomers can vividly recall the year 1961. It was momentous for many reasons, but what boggles this boomer’s mind at this point in time is that it was 50 years ago! Set your Way-Back Machine and let’s take a look.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States. It was a big deal for many people, not the least of whom were the Catholic nuns at Mister Boomer’s elementary school. They were thrilled that “one of their own” was assuming the highest office in the land for the first time. Besides, like most women, they thought he was handsome. Have you ever seen a nun blush? Of course, they knew nothing of his extra-curricular activities.

It was 50 years ago this very month that the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The launch heated up the Space Race (The Final Frontier), and the Cold War. A week later, our new president was forced to disavow any involvement in the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba; Fidel Castro had quickly put down an attempted revolution by Cuban exiles that had the backing and support of the CIA. Kennedy had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Things began to turn around the following month when Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, as the Mercury space program took root. This launch was responsible for giving many a boomer the space-age bug, including Mister B. He would watch every launch of every mission from that point through the moon launch eight years later.

The world was changing in the decade of the sixties: Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps; gas was 27ยข a gallon; construction began on the Berlin Wall; Rudolf Nureyev sought asylum in Paris while on tour with the Russian Ballet; residents of Washington, D.C. were given the right to vote via the Twenty-third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and the Vietnam War officially began for the U.S. Meanwhile, the world of popular culture had begun a shift of its own. The Beatles had their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; Bobby Lewis captured the summer as Tossin’ and Turnin’ stayed number one on the charts for seven weeks; the film version of West Side Story won the Oscar’s Best Picture Award; Diana, future Princess of Wales, was born; Joseph Heller first published Catch-22, a novel which figured prominently in many a boomer’s education years later; Mattel introduced a boyfriend for Barbie, the Ken doll; Pampers disposable diapers were first sold; Libby’s Foods began marketing Sloppy Joes in a can; and Top Cat, the cartoon featuring the irreverent, irrepressible title feline, began its two-year run on TV (Which Cat Was the Coolest?).


In retrospect it sure looks like poor Ken didn’t have a chance right from the start. Can you say “emasculate,” boys and girls?

Yet Mister Boomer, like many boys of his age, didn’t know much about the serious goings-on of the outside world. It was much more interesting for a pre-teen boy to dream of space travel, follow Roger Maris’ march toward hitting his record 61st home run in his team’s (N.Y. Yankees) last game of the season, and tune into the latest rock ‘n roll on his portable transistor radio.

Certainly, the Mister Boomer household ate copious amounts of canned food, but Libby’s Sloppy Joes was not among them. Mister Boomer’s mother made a vat of sloppy joes once or twice a month in her electric frying pan using onions, green peppers, fresh ground beef and tomato paste. It was an inexpensive family meal and all she had to do was toss the ingredients into the pan, turn the knob to low heat and let it cook. Slap the hot concoction on a mashed white-bread hamburger bun and you’d be full before Wagon Train began.


Mister B wonders if today’s kids would buy such a blatant marketing ploy. Probably, but there would be some discussion as to who got to wear the “beef” T-shirt and who’d be the “pork.”

Mister B was a baseball fan as a youngster, so he was aware of Roger Maris’ record-breaking feat as the neighborhood scuttlebutt brought up the latest major league buzz. No player had been able to break the home run record Babe Ruth had set in 1927, until the year 1961. Yessiree, and Mister B had Maris’ baseball card that year, along with his teammate’s, Mickey Mantle. Unfortunately for Mister B’s collection, the cards were lost in a Midwest flood a few years later.

Baseball was near top-of-mind for a young Mister B from spring through fall, so when he didn’t make a Little League team in 1961 (Going Batty for Spring) he joined city recreation baseball. When it came time for the boys to give their team a name, they chose to go with their dreams: the team would be called the Astronauts, combining baseball with their other true passion. Dinosaurs were a big thing with young boys even then, but giant prehistoric animals could not compare with the imaginative stirrings that the Space Race had opened in their young minds.

Along with Tossin’ and Turnin’ emanating from Mister B’s burgundy radio (Boomers Strike Solid Gold), it was Pony Time with Chubby Checker, while the Shirelles wanted to know, Will Still You Love Me Tomorrow? Dion was telling us to stay away from Runaround Sue and Del Shannon sang about the Runaway. The top names on the charts still included the likes of Lawrence Welk, Pat Boone and Jimmy Dean — even Elvis and Roy Orbison still had number one hits — but the winds of change had begun to blow back in 1961.

One year later, Mister B’s family would visit Washington, D.C., where they paid a visit to the White House. Standing in line, the tourists were all abuzz, hoping they would catch a glimpse of the First Lady or maybe even the President. It was not to be, but Mister B thoroughly enjoyed his visit and it ultimately stoked the embers of his life-long interest in history. Less than a year after that visit President Kennedy was assassinated, changing many boomers’ lives forever… but that was not 1961. 1961 was a time for fun in a young boomer’s life, filled with promise and imagination.

How about it, boomers? What memories help you define 1961, that year now 50 years past?