Twinkies’ Shelf-Life May Have Expired

This past week, Hostess Brands, Inc., current owners of the Twinkies, HoHos, and Wonder Bread brands, among others, announced that after filing for bankruptcy in May of 2012 and the failure of mediation with its striking union workers, that it was shutting its doors after 85 years of operation.

This, of course, came as a shock to much of the public, which promptly went out and emptied store shelves of all types of Hostess products, especially Twinkies. Hostess snacks were a big part of every boomer’s childhood, but its origins date back a generation before ours.

Twinkies were first produced by James Alexander Dewar as a baker for the Continental Baking Company (originally the Ward Baking Company) in 1930. Looking for a way to keep factory machinery that produced strawberry cake treats busy beyond the strawberry season, Mr. Dewar concocted a recipe of yellow sponge cake filled with a banana cream. Known as much for its shape as its moist, sweet taste, Twinkies became an almost instant hit with consumers.

A decade and a half later, World War II helped change Twinkies history. Bananas were being rationed, and that forced the company to change the Twinkies filling from banana to vanilla. Consumers liked the vanilla cream so much that after the war it was kept as the only filling for the snack cake. After a failed foray into a strawberry filling, the company re-introduced banana cream-filled Twinkies in 1976, coinciding with the release of the movie, King Kong. It has remained a part of the brand line since.

Twinkies became one of many food brands to be marketed toward kids via commercials during the children’s television boom of the 1950s. Most notable among the programs that Hostess chose to sponsor was the Howdy Doody Show. That exposure was probably the earliest introduction to Twinkies for the first wave of boomers.

As the number of boomer children continued to grow, so did sales of Twinkies. Even after the boom had ended, the company chose to continue to relate the brand with children by introducing the Twinkie the Kid mascot in the 1970s.

Mister Boomer certainly recalls days of Twinkies in lunch boxes, though it wasn’t a regular occurrence for him. For cash-strapped families such as Mister B’s, though, two Twinkies per package allowed boomers’ moms to separate the cakes and wrap them individually with wax paper so two children could enjoy a single snack from the ten- or fifteen-cent package.

Mister B preferred the squiggle-topped chocolate cupcakes to Twinkies; then his taste buds evolved to include the original Hostess Sno Balls. Still, as time went on, Mister B only ate one out of a package at any given time. In the early days Mister B only saw the Sno Balls in white. He may have quickly disavowed liking the snack if forced to eat a pink version. Nonetheless, on rare occasions, Twinkies were purchased and consumed from the lunch boxes of Mister B and his siblings.

The company changed hands several times through the years, including its final incarnation as Hostess Brands, Inc. after the Intercontinental Baking Company was bought out from its first bankruptcy filing in 2009. The company has stated that it is considering selling individual brands from its product line, including Twinkies. Several firms have already expressed interest, including ones that produce Chef Boyardee and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Weighing in at 2.5 grams of saturated fat per cake, changing tastes for healthier snacks may have contributed to the demise of this iconic snack food, but it appears that nostalgia may be just the recipe to save it from complete extinction. Industry analysts are reporting sufficient sales to suggest a niche market does exist to be able to sustain the brand.

How about it, boomers? Do Twinkies hold a special place in your memories, or are they a relic of a time gone by?

Boomer Fashion: I Feel Dickey, Oh So Dickey…

In the boomer years of the 1950s through the 1970s, fashion trends came and went. One that survived those decades in various forms, though, was the dickey. Literally a false shirt front, dickeys have been around at least since the 1800s, and possibly back as far as the mid 1700s. A dickey is a meant to add a layered look or complete the look of an outfit, for either men or women.

No one knows exactly when the practice started, or why this garment accessory was called a “dickey.” In the 1800s, dickeys for men were primarily meant for tuxedo shirts. They were one of the first fashion items to be made from celluloid — the earliest form of plastic — and looked like a “bib” that was worn over the neck and under a shirt.

For men and boys in the boomer years, dickeys could be made of knit material, cotton or polyester fabric. They were primarily turtleneck or mock turtleneck styles. They could be worn under shirts or sweaters to give the appearance of another collared garment under the first. As far as Mister B knows, the only real practical reason for men to wear dickeys other than pure fashion sense was to have another layer of neckwear without the added bulk or warmth of another full garment under a shirt or sweater.

For women and girls, dickeys completed necklines in dresses, shirts and sweaters. They sometimes had embellishments like bows, buttons, lace or even complete collars. Like the male counterparts, they could be made from knitted, cotton or polyester fabrics.

Whether styled for men or women, the dickey was often a plain color or of limited patterns, used as an accent to a main garment so as not to overpower it. The main shirt, dress or sweater was usually boldly patterned or more colorful in itself.

Mister Boomer was a big wearer of dickeys in the falls and winters of the late fifties and early sixties. His parents had purchased knitted turtleneck styles for him and his brother. Mister B often wore them with V-necked shirts, and occasionally with V-necked sweaters, recalling TV and movie idols of the era. Mister B and Brother Boomer more than likely received the dickeys as Christmas gifts. At the height of his dickeys collection, Mister B had them — all knit turtleneck styles — in black, blue, brown and red. On occasion the Boomer Family males would dress wearing matching shirts and dickeys, though usually the three would each have the same style shirt in a different color.

Right up to the very early 1970s, Mister B wore the dickeys, though by the turn of the decade, he wore them almost exclusively with flannel shirts. Somewhere around the time Mister B entered college in 1971, his dickey wearing days were behind him. Fashions had changed, to be sure, but Mister B was never a slave to fashion. The dickey fell from favor by that time, so continued wearing of the accessory would — like wearing a thin tie — be thought of as a throwback to earlier days, and man, that would be a drag to us modern college art students.

Howard Wolowitz, a character on TV’s The Big Bang Theory, often sports dickeys under his fashionably sixties and seventies shirts.

Today Mister B no longer owns any dickeys, though they seem to be readily available for purchase for both men and women in more styles than ever before. They say what goes around comes around in fashion, so it appears we haven’t seen the last of the dickey … but will it ever regain its cool status that it once had in the 1950s and ’60s now that it’s been relegated to the same category as pocket protectors?

What memories of wearing dickeys can you recall, boomers?