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?